Ad Hoc Reporting and Analysis for Dynamics, SAP B1, and Other ERPs

Every once in a while, a company needs to answer a question that is outside the regular BI reporting done for performance management, and this is called ad hoc reporting.  This article will discuss the benefits of this functionality and what to look for in a solution to best meet your company’s needs.

Financial reporting is arguably the most utilized solution in the Business Intelligence (BI) world of analytics – and serves as a foundation for other functions, like data visualizations, budgeting and forecasting, and consolidations.  Generally speaking, financial reporting is analysis done in a comprehensive, routine manner to make sense of company data for better decision-making.  Ad hoc reporting and analysis zooms in for a more particular type of report.

Ad hoc refers to something done for a specific reason, so ad hoc reporting refers to a report that professionals need for a particular query.  Furthermore, ad hoc reports usually drill deeper or answer questions that the regular company-wide reports are not addressing.  Ad hoc reporting enables business users to seek answers to their own questions regarding company data, without interrupting or changing the course of organizational reporting permanently.  Because the data is coming from the same sources, the analysis is consistent and accurate, but much like project budgeting, questions and projects can arise outside of the standard, routine reporting that guides the overall course of the entire company – and different corporate cultures have different needs.

Depending on the number of personnel needing to run individualized reports and the structure of the company, the ability to produce ad-hoc reports can be very helpful in meeting data analytics goals.  I recently spoke with an accountant working in St. Louis about her company’s BI solutions.  She told me that, just the other day, she built an ad hoc report to analyze whether an investment in some new equipment would generate any profit for the company, based on the accounts and contracts that were already on the books.  This report answered a very specific question, but it used the same company data, employing variables, costs, and savings provided by the equipment.  And she told me these kind of requests come up all the time.  For some organizations, it might even make sense to regularly produce ad hoc reports, based on the structure of the company or other criteria.

I spoke to the CEO of another company who relies almost entirely on their large group of direct outside sales force.  Ad hoc reporting is extremely helpful to his company as each salesperson can manage their performance by individually analyzing progress toward sales goals with the actuals in their selling jurisdiction.  While this CEO saw ad hoc reporting in a more mainstream role as a necessity for the dynamic, structure, and culture of his company, most organizations need unique analysis from time to time.  This article will discuss the benefits of ad hoc reporting functionality and what to look for in a report writer for optimization of this feature.

There are several benefits of ad hoc reporting – some obvious, some not as apparent.  As someone who is somewhat new to BI and as a young person whose tenure in the business world is relatively short, I tend to put a lot of stock in something that is easy to use, but I have learned rather quickly that user friendliness is universally popular – and for good reason.  Relatedly, ad hoc reporting allows the business user to access critical information for analysis and distribution right away.  Self-service, real-time analysis with scheduled distribution of reports might sound like the future to some, but this is happening right now.  And this capability allows for timely decision-making, saving time, money, and stress.

Ad hoc reporting allows for streamlined access to specific, important information.  Since BI solutions compete to become the most intuitive and dynamic of their class, this access becomes easier, quicker, and more powerful with every new version of a reporting tool – making the efficient task of ad hoc reporting even faster and easier to use.  Furthermore, because business users can easily generate and distribute reports to co-workers, ad hoc reporting is a task that invites collaboration and inclusion into company data that drives decision-making for the future.  Because specific company questions can be answered easily, independently, and collaboratively, the IT department does not have to be involved in this BI process.  Finally, the truth is that a company’s needs change – sometimes rapidly.  Ad hoc reports can answer new questions and arm corporate leadership to make timely decisions about critical and sometimes unfamiliar thresholds.  With all this in mind, it is important to know what to look for in a reporting tool, so that the ad hoc functionality helps you and your company maximize the return on investment.

Any BI tool should turbo charge a company in the competition to make better, more impactful decisions on their future.  It is important to evaluate who the end users will be for ad hoc reporting capabilities, identifying their function in the context of the company’s overall strategy for success, and select a product that will optimize their experience analyzing and answering specific data-driven questions within their role.  For this reason, as mentioned before, ease of use, from installation to advanced implementation, is important.  But in addition to personnel needing to feel like the application is something they can learn to use, they also need to feel like it is worth their time in regard to its power.  In other words, features and functionalities of ad hoc solutions should motivate employees to rely on the solution over other more basic alternatives.  Some examples of valuable features include drill-down, drill-through analysis, enhanced filtering, and data visualization tools.  It should also be flexible.

As the corporate world increasingly becomes more around-the-clock and around-the-globe, flexibility in terms of access should be a priority when selecting the right ad-hoc reporting solution for your company.  Consider Excel add-ins, web-based, and mobile application options – and decide what will make the most sense for your company in the long run – or go with the solution that offers all three for even more accessibility.  You will also want to think about whether your company will want to run reports live on your ERP – or if you are comfortable generating analysis from a data warehouse or Online Analytics Processing (OLAP) cube.  Finally, think about whether your company would benefit from a product that is cloud-based, on-premises, or both?  Your company will want to weigh which option is right for you, based on the number of users, the maintenance, and the associated costs.  Of course, there are other things to consider, and Solver, Inc. is happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Excel, web, and mobile BI tools with both real-time or data warehouse integrated analysis, comprehensive reporting and collaboration as a way to accelerate company performance management.

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