(This is how it would be done in Pentaho 3.0. With the introduction of 3.5 and the new Pentaho Report Designer, there are even easier ways to achieve this. )
This blog entry is an introduction to a video which highlights the fundamentals of creating a Pentaho "Guided Ad hoc", "Structured Ad hoc" or parameterized report using the Pentaho Report Designer and Pentaho Design Studio. Here you will find a Pentaho Wiki entry which has a bit more detail and also demonstrates a slightly older example.
One of the biggest barriers in adopting a Business Intelligence tool is ease of use. It is possible that if the BI tools are too difficult to use, then most business users will not use them and may resort back to the way they used to do things, MS Access and Excel. ;-) No really...if the tools are not being used to the best of their abilities, then the organization is not leveraging their investment in BI. Therefore they are not going to realize a return on investment for that solution.
"Guided Ad hoc", "Structured Ad hoc", advanced parameterized reporting...whatever you want to name it, it is a simple way for non-technical business users to create numerous combinations of reports, without the need to involve the IT department. It not only provides the ability to limit the desired result set, but can have added functionality to re-structure sort groups, change measures and even add user defined drill down paths. Oh, and if you are using the Pentaho BI Suite, then you even have the ability to add components for on demand distribution, alerting, collaboration, scheduling and more. All this integrated under one platform, designed on open standards, reducing IT dependency and providing complete flexibility and end user empowerment.
I like the term "Guided Ad hoc". I used the term when demonstrating similar functionality with my old company's software. I believe the terminology accurately describes the meaning of the tool quite well. "Guided", because it "guides" the business user to the answer they are looking for. "Ad hoc", because the tool is usually used "for a purpose". It makes report generation easy without sacrificing functionality and again, without IT involvement.
"Guided Ad hoc" is really nothing more than a fancy term for parameterized reporting. The concept is to provide an easy to use, familiar user interface for users to interact with. If the business users are familiar with the web and have used eBay or either a banking or social networking web site; or better yet have shopped on-line, then they are already familiar with the concept of "Guided Ad hoc". They have seen the common form controls like text boxes and radio buttons, drop down lists, sliders, folder trees and pick lists. Using a combination of these form controls while providing them a simple navigation interface, allows them to simply pick what they want and how they want it. Almost 80% of reporting needs can be satisfied in this manner while at the same time requiring little to no training to use and understand.
The below video briefly demonstrates some simple fundamentals when creating a "Guided Ad hoc" report with the Pentaho Report Designer and Pentaho Design Studio. It also quickly demonstrates a completed version that I have built using the new Community Dashboard Framework which is now integrated with Pentaho 3.0
Just remember this, whether you call it "Guided Ad hoc", "Structured Ad hoc" or parameterized reporting, the result is always the same; it is easy to use and can be delivered using the Pentaho BI Suite.