10 Questions is an ongoing blog series in which Tableau Zen Master Dan Murray interviews some of the brightest folks in the world of data.
Alteryx Inspire, Alteryx’s annual user conference, ended a few weeks ago. As part of the conference, Alteryx recognized four of the most influential leaders within the Alteryx community today. These leaders are known as Alteryx Aces. We are big Alteryx fans here at InterWorks, and were ecstatic when Alteryx named our own Michael Treadwell as one of this year’s Alteryx Aces. I recall attending the Alteryx conference 3 years ago and working our booth with Mike who had just recently started working at InterWorks then. He was explaining to one of the Alteryx Aces at that time some advanced technique. I wondered why we had not actively promoted Mike as an Ace-worthy person then.
Before Michael heads back into the field to the good work of analytics consulting, sat down with him for a few minutes to gather some of his thoughts on becoming an Alteryx Ace.
Q: Hey there, Michael! To start things off, what was this year’s conference like? How did it differ from previous years?
Treadwell: Alteryx Inspire keeps getting better every year. This was my third Inspire, and it has been amazing to watch Alteryx grow. From a practical perspective, I feel like Alteryx really understands that customers want to get their money’s worth from a conference. Let’s face it, conferences can cost a lot of time and money to attend, and Alteryx didn’t disappoint in the quality of information, training and community. My conversations with customers were engaging; you can tell they are excited about the product. I heard glowing reviews of the training sessions, and I can tell you firsthand that many of the sessions taught me, an experienced user, a ton of new tips and tricks.
From a less practical perspective, the conference was a blast. The venue was perfect. San Diego is a wonderful host. It is a beach city with great weather, great food and even better beer. The previous years weren’t bad, but you could tell there was something special about the whole thing this year.
Q: In your opinion, what is Alteryx doing to set themselves apart in the world of analytics. What are some of your favorite things about the software?
Treadwell:There is a large gap between the data and the report. It can take a lot of backend work to generate those beautiful visualizations we see on Twitter. Alteryx understands the pain points that lie between the data and the insight: handling multiple data sources, cleaning dirty data, the code learning curve. Alteryx wins because they understand the analyst.
What analysts need right now is a scripting language. Because of the realities of business, most don’t have the time to sit down and dedicate the time it takes. Which analytic language do I choose? R or Python? Which packages and libraries do I need? How do I connect to my data? Oh wait, I need to learn statistics? It’s overwhelming.
Alteryx is a substitute for data-focused scripting languages like Python or R. It is a GUI for analytical programming. Each tool is like a block of code that you drag and drop to create a script and once you are done you have a workflow diagram of your process to boot.
Again, Alteryx understands what the analyst needs. There is a huge hole between data and reporting: self-service ETL, geospatial, analytics and custom applications. Alteryx gives you the ability to do all of these things without writing a single line of code
Q: Any big announcements from this year’s Inspire that you’re excited about?
Treadwell: The user experience sneak peek and George’s keynote were phenomenal. I can’t get over the optimization demo that was given. Until now, optimization was a bit of a hole in the Alteryx platform. It was something that, if you had to do it, there was no real easy choice except Excel, which of course Alteryx wants to avoid.
For those of you who don’t know, optimization is a method to find solutions to a function that maximize (or, in some cases, minimize) an outcome. An easy example would be production and inventory. Varying production from month to month costs a lot; however, sales are highly seasonal and inventory can also be expensive. Given our predicted monthly sales over a given period of time and the costs associated with production changes and inventory, how much product should we produce each month to maximize our profit? Optimization can help to find this answer. It gets even more fun when you begin to add constraints such as minimum number of employee hours per month.
Of course, this wasn’t the only exciting announcement. There was caching, data profiling, access to Spark through in-database tools and even a quick note from Dr. Dan Putler that the interface tools will be integrating better with the R tool.
Q: Being named an Alteryx Ace is quite the honor. How does it feel, and what does being an Ace mean to you?
Treadwell: Being named ACE was an unbelievable honor. There is no better feeling than to be recognized for the work that you do, especially when your name is alongside some long-time Alteryx celebrities. Quick shoutout to all of InterWorks and the other ACEs as well as Tara McCoy, Julie Hamel and everyone involved in the Alteryx community.
Every ACE has a different passion: power-users within their company, bloggers pushing the boundaries of the product, etc. Community is always first for me. Alteryx has done such an amazing job connecting users through the new community forums. Because of my role at InterWorks, I focus on training, enablement and expansion of new users.
My blogs focus on the technical aspects of using the product. I remember how it was when I began using the product three years ago; online help was difficult to come by. So, now I focus on expanding the Alteryx knowledge base online through the community forums, social media and my blogs. If I do something cool with Alteryx, I don’t want you to just see that I’ve done something cool. I want you to come away knowing how to do it, too.
Q: Could you tell us a little about some of InterWorks’ initiatives surrounding Alteryx?
Treadwell: First and foremost, I want to say that Alteryx fits in so well with our consulting philosophy at InterWorks. We focus on client enablement, and that means leaving clients with solutions that they understand and can build upon. Alteryx offers a code-free approach to ETL and analytics, which allows InterWorks to empower employees from all segments of business.
I wouldn’t say that we have any specific initiatives related to Alteryx other than getting it into the hands of people that need it. Our goal is to empower clients to embrace the methods of a data-driven organization. One of the main ways we do this is through implementation of and training on the best tools in the business. Alteryx is the self-service data-analysis tool, and as an Alteryx Premier Partner, we definitely believe in its value.
Obviously, we are a Tableau shop. We wrote the book on Tableau, and we like to think of ourselves as the best of the best in Tableau consulting. Tableau and Alteryx work so well together, and we’ve seen a ton of success with the two working side-by-side. That being said, I’m speaking to a lot more quantitative businesses with an Alteryx-first approach. Alteryx is a powerful tool that stands on its own and does what it does exceedingly well.
At the end of the day, we want to do more of the things that we see working and less of the things that aren’t. That sounds cliché, but it is true. I am not here to push a specific toolset onto a client. We love to share the things we love, and we love Alteryx.
Q: What enhancements would you like to see added to Alteryx in the next one to two years and why?
Treadwell: I would love to see Alteryx use the upcoming data profiling tools to teach users of the predictive tools about modeling assumptions. Part of enabling users is warning them of potential pitfalls as much as giving them the ability to do even more.
If you talk to our data science guru Alex Lentz, one of his biggest concerns with the democratization of data science is analysts potentially losing sight of the assumptions required for analytic models to be trusted. We want people to be able to do more for themselves but we don’t want them to make decisions based on faulty models.
During the UX sneak peek, Alteryx was automatically checking variable distribution and assessing correlation. If this could be harnessed as part of the predictive tools, it would go a long way to help analysts make more correctly informed decisions.
Q: What do you see happening in the ETL market over the next few years? More self-service tools? Different integrations?
Treadwell: Integration here is key. The thing that we all hate about legacy systems is that they are sclerotic. New technologies happen, and when they do, your business has to be ready to utilize them. For example, Apache Spark is all the rage. Part of the reason is the Data Sources API, which allows unified data access regardless of how your data is sourced. The API is king. Nobody likes to hear that they have to pay even more money in order for the product they just bought to work. It’s like when you got a new toy as a kid, but it didn’t include batteries.
Alteryx, too, realizes this. That is why you see new data source options with every release. At Inspire, I sat in on a Databricks demo using the in-database tools with Spark. The list of connectors is constantly growing. It was announced in George’s keynote that Alteryx would now connect to Salesforce Wave Analytics. If the connector you want hasn’t been released, you can make your own using the Download tool and share it with others on your private Gallery. InterWorks can help you with that!
Don’t get stuck in a stack. Partner and work with the people who are doing the best things. That is the winning strategy. Otherwise, in five years, your brand new platform is just going to be another legacy system.
Q: What kinds of people do you see NOT using Alteryx? Why? What needs to happen in order to expand awareness of what Alteryx does?
Treadwell: The people I see not using Alteryx are the old-school DBAs, developers, etc. The people with the chops to handle whatever comes their way using the language of their choice. The one person in the office that everyone goes to when they are having a problem. These people are usually a little hesitant to pick up Alteryx because they can already do everything themselves.
The problem is that these characters often become overwhelmed or they are building solutions that nobody else can troubleshoot. Alteryx is about democratization. It is about helping analysts help themselves and providing a self-service analytics platform that everyone can understand.
We are always talking to our clients about “embracing the methods of a data-driven organization.” That goal isn’t realized top-down from a few experts. That goal is realized through a groundswell because you are looking for a critical mass point where everyone is creating, sharing and collaborating. You want the process to feed itself. The first step in that process is providing a tool that everyone understands so everyone can contribute and not just consume. That is what Alteryx is for.
Q: We know Alteryx integrates quite nicely with Tableau Software. What other tools do you see Alteryx being used with?
Treadwell: Alteryx does integrate well with Tableau Software. Alteryx also integrates well with a number of tools. They have a ton of tech partners, input/output from tons of data sources and work with just about any tool that has an API.
In my experience with clients, I often see Alteryx used with AWS. Part of that is because AWS is now everywhere. The other part is that AWS partners with Alteryx, and they play so well together: elastic load balancing for Alteryx Gallery, in-database connections to Amazon Redshift, the ability to connect directly to S3, etc.
From what I see on the community forums, there is a lot of users connecting to Salesforce and Google Analytics. Everyone is trying to take their marketing to that next level and the ability to analyze your customer data with Alteryx is a huge draw.
Then, of course, there is R. That is the biggest deal to me. I am a heavy R user, and with predictive tools installed, there is seamless integration with R using the R tool.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to those who want to dig deeper into analytics, specifically in tools like Alteryx?
Treadwell: I’m going to keep this one short because I’m sure everyone is tired of reading by now. Just use the product. The number one thing I hear from people is, “I didn’t know Alteryx could do that.” So, stop wondering what Alteryx can do. Stop wondering what you can do. Just download the trial and start doing. Some of the best Alteryx users, even some ACEs, have been using the product for less than a year. That should tell you all you need to know about how great it is to work with Alteryx.
Just remember: If you have any questions you can ask us.
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