Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan
28Feb/120

Guided Ad-Hoc: It’s Not an Oxymoron

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Limiting the ad-hoc experience may be best for most business users.

Last time, I wrote about how the concept of self-service is driving ad-hoc adoption and presented the kinds of skills users need in order to effectively take advantage of ad-hoc reporting tools. The conclusion was that even though self-service is great for the power users in your organization, it should not be seen a silver bullet for regular business users. Sure, business users want to be able to answer business questions on the fly, but most ad-hoc reporting tools are going to be too advanced for them. So what can you offer them?

Most people need a guided ad-hoc experience or straight-up guided analytics, i.e. dashboards and scorecards. Guided analytics are suitable for most business users, especially executives and managers, and can contain an ad-hoc component that allows for some on-the-fly report creation. To the right, you can see an example of a dashboard solution whose final tab is ad-hoc.

The other option is to offer “guided ad-hoc” to users, meaning that there is some structure to the process; you have the flexibility to generate your own reports within certain parameters. For example, a guided ad-hoc tool may allow the user to build a report from a list of predetermined columns and rows. This way, the user has a solid foundation for creating their report along with complete flexibility for generating the answers they need.

Whether you choose to implement a guided ad-hoc tool or a guided analytic application with an ad-hoc component, features that are essential include familiar controls like undo and redo buttons. Drill-down, filters, and charts are features users expect. Business users may also want to share reports with their peers or decision-makers, so the ability to create a PDF, export the document to excel, or simply print are useful features as well.

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8Nov/110

BI + Excel: A Match Made in Power-User Heaven

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What’s the most popular reporting and planning tool out there? As much as I’d like the answer to be “arcplan” – it’s not. Even in 2011, it’s “Excel.” Excel has been around for 25 years and believe it or not, it’s still the most often used technology in 60% of the organizations surveyed by Ventana Research in August 2011.

There are so many reasons analysts and planners love Excel: it’s easy to use, adjusting reports takes seconds, it’s the perfect tool for local ad-hoc analysis, and it has an extensive formula and function library to address complex calculations. On the other hand, there are times when Excel falls short. After the manual process of collecting, consolidating and reconciling data, Excel leaves little to no time for actual analysis. And worst of all, you may find that your data is outdated or fraught with errors, which compromises your ability to make business-critical decisions. Unfortunately, Excel also lacks data security, which is a paramount concern for IT professionals.

Truly, I’m not bashing Excel here. I’m a data analyst myself and I help our clients develop Excel-like BI applications, so I understand that Excel has its benefits. Power users are going to want to use Excel, at least for the foreseeable future. So consider this how you can reconcile the use of Excel at your organization. The answer may be as simple as your BI system’s Excel add-in!

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