Definition

Ad Hoc Analysis

Ad hoc analysis is a business intelligence (BI) process designed to answer a single, specific business question. Users may create a report that does not already exist or drill deeper into a static report to get details about accounts, transactions or records.

Ad hoc is an adjective used to describe things that are created on the spot, usually for a single use. Many times, ad hoc analysis is done in response to an event, such as a sudden dip in production or loss of customers.

What ad hoc analysis is used for

Ad hoc analysis is performed by business users on an as-needed basis to address data analysis needs not met by the business's static, regular reporting already conducted daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. The benefits of self-service BI conducted by ad hoc analysis tools include:

  • More current data: Ad hoc analysis may enable users to get up-to-the-minute insights into data not yet analyzed by a scheduled report.
  • Line-of-business decisions can be made faster: Allowing users -- typically, managers or executives -- access to data through a point-and-click interface eliminates the need to request data and analysis from another group within the company. This capacity enables quicker response times when a business question comes up, which, in turn, should help users respond to issues and make business decisions faster.
  • IT workload reduction: Since ad hoc reporting enables users to run their own queries, IT teams field fewer requests to create reports and can focus on other tasks.

Although most ad hoc reports and analyses are meant to be run only once, in practice, they often end up being reused and run on a regular basis. This can lead to unnecessary reporting processes that affect high-volume reporting periods. Reports should be reviewed periodically for efficiencies to determine whether they continue to serve a useful business purpose.

Static reports vs. ad hoc analysis
Static reports and ad hoc analysis serve two different roles in an organization.

Types of ad hoc reports and data sources

Ad hoc analysis begins with BI tools connected to company data sources. Security parameters for user access to the data are specified by IT, and report models can be built for users to utilize when creating ad hoc reports. The product is typically a statistical model, analytical report or other type of data summary, presented in charts, tables and cross-tabulations.

Online analytical processing (OLAP) dashboards are specifically designed to facilitate ad hoc analysis by providing quick, easy access to data from the original report. Common features of ad hoc reporting tools also include drop-down menus and drag-and-drop tools that enable untrained business users to drill down into the data.

Ad hoc analysis can also be applied to big data from sources held outside of the company. This may be more complex than using company data sources due to the large volume of both structured and unstructured data. But the valuable insights held within big data can help companies improve customer service, boost revenue or increase efficiencies.

For example, a company can run ad hoc analysis on internal data sources to see if a drop in sales is tied to a slowdown in production or a recent price change. If neither internal factor is to blame, the company can analyze big data sources to see if there had been a problem outside of the company's control, such as a customer complaint on social media that damaged the brand or a competitor lowered their price, which impacted sales.

This was last updated in November 2018

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How does your organization utilize ad hoc analysis?
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"Although most ad hoc reports and analyses are meant to be run only once, in practice, they often end up being reused and run on a regular basis"... we completely agree. In fact, we recently wrote a whole article about ad hoc analysis issues. 
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