What is ad hoc analysis and reporting, and why should you be careful with it?

· 3AG blog,reporting,analytics

Ad hoc analysis (definition):

In a business context, ad hoc analysis is some form of analysis, often performed by non-technical users to answer a particular business question. With the proliferation of various self-serve BI tools, ad hoc analysis has become much more accessible to broader business users.

Ad hoc reports (definition):

Ad hoc reports are reports developed in response to a specific business question or problem. They are generally not meant to be used beyond their intended analysis, hence the use of the latin term ad hoc "for this".

So what is ad hoc analysis and ad hoc reporting, really?

Ad hoc analysis is just like unhealthy eating choices

In a world where businesses live or die on data, self service BI is the information super-food we’ve been waiting for. Or so the rhetoric around this popular tool would have us believe.

So what is ad hoc analysis? Exactly what the name implies — reporting prepared for a specific or immediate need. Also known as data exploration, exploratory data analysis and data discovery, this form of self service business intelligence has many names, but just one big promise: to radically reduce the time organizations spend on data collection, analysis, and reporting.

Central to this promise is that any employee who wants to can collect and analyze company data on their own. Regardless of training or experience, anyone is supposed to be able to quickly become proficient in data collection, organization and analysis.

Does the promise reflect reality? And do organizations benefit from employees’

widespread use of self service business intelligence tools?

What self service BI does well

Maybe; it depends on what you want it to do. Ad hoc analysis is:

  • agile and easy to use; no one will waste much time figuring out how to use it
  • readily accessible because most such tools live in the cloud
  • flexible: users can interact with ad hoc reporting in many ways (e.g., drilling down or through data on customizable tables, charts, and crosstabs)
  • built from reusable components, so it’s easy to create more and more ad hoc reporting, or have multiple reports interact

These are all good things. However, they can’t guarantee organizations will gain either full understanding of their business data or consistent, superior value from it.

Another victim of self service reporting... Just because you can do ad hoc analysis, doesn't mean you should.

Another victim of self service reporting...