What is Ad Hoc Reporting?

Ad hoc is a Latin term which translates as “to this.” However, it’s also understood as “as needed” or “as required.” Ad hoc reporting is when reports are generated on request or created on request. They are usually created for a specific use or to answer a precise question. For example, if a company had a holiday sale and they wanted to see the volume of sales at a specific store, the sales of a certain product, or an overall amount of discount given to customers.

Ad Hoc Reporting Diagram

Traditional reporting requires technical specialists to create and distribute reports. There are also ongoing and recurring reports that are created on a schedule, which tend to use the same parameters each time.

The ability to run reports that answer specific business questions allows employees to make empowered, data-driven decisions. From operational questions, such as staffing levels on any given day—through to strategic decisions such as products offered—ad hoc reporting offers flexibility, insights, and answers.

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What is Ad Hoc Reporting Used For?

Ad hoc reporting is designed to fulfill needs not being met by standard recurrent reporting. Imagine your last work meeting. Were there questions regarding specific teams or branches? Was an employee looking at updating systems to reflect new needs? Did a manager want to assess the performance of an individual? All require ad hoc reporting. For all day-to-day decision making, ad hoc reporting providers users data to drive their decisions. It allows an organization to stay agile, up to date, and highly competitive.

Sales and Retail Reporting

Was there a specific sale period that a branch wants to examine? Maybe there is specific data required about a range of products or items sold over a time period. How many face masks have been sold since the start of the pandemic? Or how many rice cookers were sold after an email flyer went out to customers?

Ad hoc reporting gives sales teams the in-depth data to show effectiveness of marketing, sales techniques, and even less concrete concepts like store layout or the effects of the weather.

For example, imagine a store notices the rate of shoplifting is increasing. They can start implementing ad hoc reporting to optimize inventory management and get exact stock counts. This means that the store manager can accurately pinpoint the date and time items were stolen. The store can identify patterns and increase staff numbers and vigilance on certain times and days. If the right patterns are identified, the amount of shoplifting could drop as a result, saving the store’s profits.

Healthcare Reporting

Healthcare is an industry which has data for every possible metric. For the best outcomes for patients, doctors and staff should utilize this data. An ad hoc report allows doctors and executives to drill into the specific data and try to understand the cause of problems or bottlenecks.

A hospital or doctor can find solutions via ad hoc reporting to give their patients better outcomes. Suppose a hospital suddenly noticed an increase of readmissions. They can drill down in their ad hoc reports and see which department is accounting for the vast majority of readmissions. Further questioning could reveal why that department had such high rates (such as being understaffed). By finding the pattern and remedying the issue, the hospital could lower the number of readmissions.

Human Resources Reporting

Organizations collect lots of information: timesheets, benefit information, sick and holiday leave day, performance appraisals, and salary information. HR departments can use ad hoc reporting to identify problems or deficiencies with this plethora of data. This can not only improve employee satisfaction but also can improve business practices. For example, a retailer can assess if they have enough staff for the holiday season.

Imagine an organization notices rates of absenteeism are increasing over an eight month period. The executives cannot pin-point the exact cause, so they run some ad hoc reporting. It shows no pattern to the time off. After running another report (showing workflow and days off alongside each other), they note a correlation between busy periods of work and days taken off. The executives can then address the issue, lowering absentee rates and providing a better workplace for employees.

Finance Reporting

Finance, the most data-driven of departments and organizations, is focused on numbers. Ad hoc reporting allows teams to drill down into any financial information they need, whether it is assessing the viability of a new product line or measuring the profitability of a branch, quarter, or action.

Benefits of Ad Hoc Reporting

There are huge benefits to ad hoc reporting, resulting in plenty of scope for improvements that organizations can use.

Agility and Proactiveness

By far, the biggest benefit of ad hoc reporting is the positive impact on the organization. If something changes, employees notice disparities, or there is an opportunity to improve processes, ad hoc reporting becomes vital. It gives fast answers to specific issues and questions. The answers to these questions allow an organization to make data-backed decisions that will result in positive outcomes. Once the changes are implemented, reports can be run again to ensure the results are as expected.

Ease of Use

If the right reporting tools are used, anyone with some basic computer experience can run reports. There is no need to submit requests to the IT department or to the data analyst team. It is simply a matter of building the report needed from a series of listed options and pressing the go button. No delays or bottlenecks.

Real-time Reporting

Because there is no waiting around for IT or analyst teams, reporting is completely up to date. This means organizations can make up-to-the-minute decisions that allow agility and proactive problem solving.

Reduced Load on IT and Analyst Teams

No more lists of reports to run, which means that valuable IT and analyst employees can get on with other tasks that add more value.

Identifies Bottlenecks

Every business has bottlenecks. These can be problematic to identify and result in huge delays and losses in productivity. Ad hoc reports allow management to drill down and find the causes of the bottlenecks and rectify it. For example, if a large government organization consistently has issues paying invoices in time, they can run ad hoc reports to see why. After identifying that the cause is line managers having to sign off on every invoice, they could implement a system where purchases under $200 are automatically paid.


There is a huge opportunity for organizations to focus on certain areas and run reports that help them resolve any issues. They can build reports from scratch, creating graphs, tables, and charts to suit the reader. These can all be manipulated or changed to suit any business question.

Empower Employees

Staff can find the answers to their questions without waiting for other employees or departments. Ad hoc reports also mean that staff can back up their information with data, making system changes or suggestions more likely to be implemented by management.

Citizen Scientists

While the best citizen data scientists and business analysts have industry knowledge, they will never have the on-the-ground intel and experience that employees do. When employees have data and reporting tools, they may spot problems, trends, and opportunities that data scientists may not.

Organizational Agility

The world evolves rapidly and businesses must too. Ad hoc reporting allows organizations to stay ahead of challenges and the competition. Answering questions on demand means problems can be resolved quickly.

Inspire Organizations to Utilize Data

Data is one of the biggest assets that an organization has. Yet, for many companies, it is also one of the least used resources. Empowering employees and leaders to utilize that data can reap huge benefits.

Challenges of Ad Hoc Reporting

While the benefits of ad hoc reporting are massive, there are still challenges with the technology.

Partial or Inconsistent Data

Poor data access and consistency is the enemy of quality reporting. How can an organization produce accurate reports and insights if the data is wrong? Silos, missing data, erroneous information, and double ups can cause problems in reporting. Organizations must implement a good data management policy and have a single source of data that is accurate and accessible to all who need it.

Measuring the Wrong Thing

When creating an ad hoc report, employees may include information that they think is relevant but miss the real underlying cause or attribute. For instance, when trying to pinpoint its typical customer, a business may include age, gender, and geographical information. However, leaving out details like the income bracket or family dynamics may make the report useless. Good reporting requires not only knowledge of the business, but also of the data that is available.

Reliance on Ad Hoc Reporting

Despite the benefits of ad hoc reporting, there is still a place for static reporting. Static reports provide a snapshot of data and trends over time. Because they are filed after they are used, they are excellent for data analysis over time. They can also help create accountability as they regularly check up on KPIs and other measurables.

Alternatives to Ad Hoc Reporting

Canned Reporting

Static, traditional, or canned reporting is recurring reporting. It is created by IT or analyst teams on a schedule and distributed to the set group of people that require the information. It could be weekly sales data to the branch and managers, quarterly financials to the C-level executives, or annual KPIs to individual employees and their reporting managers.

While these are essential to running an organization and do not replace ad hoc reporting, they have limitations. They require IT or analyst departments to run them, cannot be altered to answer specific queries, do not supply detailed information, and do not provide the ability to drill down.

Excel Reporting

Excel does not produce true ad hoc reporting, as the data is imported, and therefore is not real-time. While pivot tables can be used, alongside charts and graphs, Excel is not “live” data and is also prone to human error. As long as users can edit and change information in the file, it can be inaccurate.

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How to Implement Ad Hoc Reporting

Get Your Data Sorted

This is a mammoth project and requires an overhaul of all your computer systems. Start with a data governance strategy that complies with the GDPR and other relevant laws. Bring all your data together in one centralized location. Put data management systems in place that ensure people can only access the data that they need to. Remove data silos and plan for data consistency across the entire organization.

Provide Training

Although ad hoc reporting tools should be intuitive, managers and employees must be shown how they can get the most from the functionality. Rather than “how” training, this is “why” training such as how to select parameters for reports. Training people isn’t just about the software but about how to use data for optimum outcomes.

Have the Right Tools for the Job

Choosing the right software is vital to the success of ad hoc reporting. Consider these factors when making decisions about the best options for the organization:

  • Access. The tool should be able to funnel multiple channels of data into one place rather than running multiple queries.
  • Visualization Humans are far better at interpreting data when it is in visual form. A great ad hoc reporting tool will offer the ability to present information in charts, tables, graphs, and even pictographs.
  • Simple to use. Empower employees to create their own reports easily. Do not create any barriers to successful implementation or ongoing use.
  • Scalable. Whether the organization has hundreds of employees or just two, ad hoc reporting tools should be able to grow with the business. That is not just growth in terms of numbers, but also in terms of functionality and ability to manage growing volumes of data.
  • Cloud-based. Having reporting systems (and the data) based in the cloud adds functionality and the ability for employees to access and process information regardless of physical location.

Ad Hoc Reporting is What Your Organization Needs

While canned reporting and Excel offer some reporting functionality, it is not enough. For a full spectrum of reporting functionality, ad hoc reports are required. These reports give the flexibility to identify and resolve a range of business problems, allowing for data-backed decisions.

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Related Resources

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Fundamentals of Ad Hoc Reporting

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