Journey into analytics


Thanks for stopping by! I am blogging to share my experiences with you on how i got started into analytics and hope it will give those inspire others to reach out and help others.

How did i get into analytics?

4 years ago while working as an senior analyst within a large insurer,  I was tasked with cutting SAS code to answer questions that business partners had. Why is my revenue ahead or behind budget, could it be due to the volume or price or mix of new business?

The trouble with this was that it took considerable effort and days to get answers to simple questions. I thought that there must be a better way so i went online and discovered that there was called Tableau.  For those new to Tableau, it is best described as a pivot table on steroids! Download it and give it a go. You can simply load data into the tool and then it draws fantastic looking graphs almost immediately.

Don’t take my word for it, go download the product and see how it works for yourself!

Having used Tableau with SAS for a few years, I came upon another tool called Alteryx.  One night , I came across an presentation by a BCG consultant at a Alteryx Inspire 2014 conference and it sparked my interest on how i could be using it within my company to help business users get to the answers they need faster.

For those new to Alteryx, It can be best described as a graphical drag and drop workflow that can be used to combine and pharse numerous data sources together in an easy to use way such that anyone can use it!

Alteryx is really a 3 in 1 product supporting data preparation, spatial analytics and predictive analytics and works fantastically well with Tableau.

Don’t try and do everything yourself!  Buy world class products that can make your analytics lives easier!

Collaborating across the organisation with the Alteryx

Yesterday I had the opportunity to help my organisation train a cross section of new users to Alteryx using the self serve enablement material. The session took 1.5 hours and had a cross section of the organisation of users in it.

In the session we had

  • Data scientists
  • Managers
  • Tableau specialists
  • SQL specialists
  • End to end BI analysts

What I learned by training others

1. Alteryx democratises data science and facilitates cross functional collaboration

Alteryx training is really about bringing different people within the organisation together leveraging each other’s skills and enabling them to have a common language of how data is acquired, wrangled and visualised. The most important take out for me is that people of any skill level can pick up the use of the tool really quickly which then forms the basis for collaboration across the organisation. 

2. Alteryx has a short learning curve

This is in stark contrast to other BI tools who require extensive training to pick up and get value from.The most important thing is that through the use of Alteryx, development times to get insight for business leaders is drastically reduced to hours instead of days.

3 Speed to insight matters

This in turn becomes a competitive advantage for the organisation.

I hope this blog inspires others within big corporations to take the first step and try it out.

Download the product here and give it a go

Best of spatial analytics for alteryx

Intro to spatial




Make grid vs Heatmap


Generalise polygon

Using Shape Files for Boundaries in Tableau


Spatial functions using summarize tool



Geographic analysis collection


Alteryx location analytics best practice


Locality sensitive hashing with Spark


Spark streaming



Tableau Fringe festival APAC

TCC fringe festival.PNG

I had the privilege of presenting at the Tableau fringe festival   #TFFAPAC on going from Struggle street to Easy street   – Using analytics to change the organisation.

Here’s the slide deck for everyone interested.

It was definitely a great experience hearing so many people share their stories, journey to analytics and a great learning experience for everyone. Best wishes and thanks go out to Fi and Emily for organizing the session. Will definitely post a full write-up when I get a moment..

Really enjoyed Craig Dewar’s hacks ,   Peter’s Orgill’s Street detective session,  Elinsa’s story  from dentistry to data and JJ Philips from alteryx.

Many thanks go out to Fiona (aka Vizchic) & Emily for organising!


How can you become an Alteryx ACE

I wanted to share the journey to becoming an Alteryx ACE and what it has meant for me personally. Alteryx is one of those amazing companies who has really changed the analytics landscape.

When I started my journey into Alteryx while working at amaysim, there were few Australian companies using the tool. I did some research online and strumbled on an amazing customer case study by BCG on their use of Alteryx.  I downloaded the product and built out my first workflow to acquire XML in a matter of hours. Such productivity was simply unheard of before.  A great place to start is  alteryx for excel users


When starting to use Alteryx, I highly recommending the use of containers (for business logic) and comment each step as to what you are trying to do. This is really important especially when you have to show your work to senior execs or show the challenges within the data. Also writing as you drag the icons allows you to focus on the business outcome instead of struggling with the syntax of the language

best practice alteryx.PNG


Often people ask me ‘Does this really work?’ My response is download the product and give it a spin then see that Alteryx can really get the data prep job done. Often this is the most time consuming task for an analyst.

The other often underestimated feature of alteryx is that you can also hand your work over to someone in the business to work on and then collaboratively switch between teams. In doing so you are no longer constrained by the headcount within your own analytics area.

In the realm of analytics, Alteryx really represents ‘power to the people’.  Not everyone can afford a data scientist, however everyone can afford Alteryx. I also particularly love that they focus on making predictive and prescriptive analytics more easily available to business analysts. Don’t spend time building the model, go visit the predictive district and download it!


No longer are line of business analysts constrained to ‘putting in a request’ for IT to get a report or some advanced analysis. Managers demand insight and action yesterday!

I think my fellow ACE Jason Mack best summed it up – “This changes everything!”

Since then, customer stories of Alteryx have grown far and wide. Incredible use cases of Alteryx and Tableau occur in the most interesting of places. USDA using it to solve Avian flu was a great example of how Alteryx can actually be used to save lives!

Finally, I really encourage others to not hesitate, download the product and try it out. Feel free to reach out to myself and others within the community. Just as people in the Alteryx community have extended a helping hand when I most needed it, I’m happy to offer practical advice on how to get Alteryx into the organisation, overcoming ‘resistance’ and building  a centre of excellence empowering people of all skill levels to use Alteryx to drive change within their organisations.


Another way to become an ACE is to help answer questions on the Alteryx community or help lead Alteryx user groups in your city.

Being part of the Alteryx and Tableau community has made me realize that I am no longer alone driving change within companies. I am now part of a wider global community who is incredibly helpful, encouraging and really sharing of experiences. This is really the basis of the ACE program. It’s really about sharing and supporting others in their journey and time of need.  I hope there will be more ACEs coming out of the Australia and APAC region and we can set an example for the rest of the world!



Leading the analytic revolution – The difference between a developer and an analyst

The world is becoming more connected than ever before. After returning from the alteryx analytic conference, it got me thinking on my own personal journey into using alteryx and tableau to drive organizational change.


Training is a sharing of life experiences beyond the textbook material

More recently I was in Melbourne training new analysts and business users  into how to use both alteryx and tableau together. What I saw amazed me was that so many people out there were still struggling with reporting, still stuck in using Microsoft excel and Access to get data from source systems and spending all that effort to meet reporting deadlines when they should providing analysis and recommendations to improve business performance.

Companies often looking for ways to drive cost and performance improvements

In all my years of working, every single company  is looking to drive improved operational and financial performance. Yet there remains a huge opportunity to see or invest in the right areas. Years ago, we went through an offshoring wave in analytics as companies were looking to lower their cost structures through the use of cheaper labour offshore. ( Cost out strategy) While this may help improve financial performance in the short term, the lack of closeness to the business ( aka where the action since) means that a lot of effort is actually wasted and lost in translation. It often also translates to an offshore model which is not truely in sync with the rapid changes in businesses.


The old way – Order taking – A waste of time and resource

  1. Business analysts takes business requirements from business stakeholders who not quite sure what they need or want
  2. PM organizes resources like developer, testers, database access
  3. Developer attempts to build from business requirements ( this column vs that column)and based on their own interpretation gets it wrong or does not foresee data quality issues or data interpretation or business rules.
  4. Business users wait 2-3 weeks for first sprint to complete and discover it’s not quite correct
  5. Repeat
  6. Finally after [x] months business users get a working report however by that time aesthetic the business has changed or another question needs to be asked

What if companies simply empowered their onshore analysts with the rights tools, training and thinking ?

Firstly this would drive transformational change through the organization. analysts would spend more time thinking of ways to drive operational improvements instead of struggling with data mingling. business leaders would be more empowered to change and act faster in their business environments.


    The new way – Collaborative analysis between business leaders and analysts ( Empowerment and automation)

    1. Download alteryx and tableau [10 minutes]    
    2. Watch YouTube training video [20 min]
    3. Business leaders asking questions on operational performance – What’s going on with my sales? Which customers are unprofitable? Why do you think this is going on.
    4. Business analyst co-locates with business leaders and builds analysis within a few hours, calls meeting with line managers and offers insight into their business and suggestions on how to drive improved performance on sales / profitability. Notice how different this is to build in just a dashboard that looks pretty but doesn’t serve business value.
    5. Business asks the next question, analysts builds on earlier analysis within hours and calls meeting a few hours again.
    6. Business analysts attends alteryx + tableau training to further upskill.

    The key difference is using the new way anyone within the business can get answers to their questions by combining data themselves and then quickly using tableau as a visualizer to see if there’s anything going on in their business. In doing so, they make analysts more productive and streamline their businesses for greater agility and so gives themselves a competitive advantage.

    Investing in training as a means of driving cultural change

    I am fortunate enough to share my analytics experience with different companies with the goal of helping them becoming more data driven.

    The most successful deployments of analytics in organizations often involve buying tools like alteryx and tableau followed up with ongoing investment in  up skilling staff to take advantage of the full capabilities of such tools.


    Training drives cultural change and cross company collaboration

    While tableau and alteryx are easy tools to learn,  investing in staff training often has a multiplier effect on cultural change. In fact it is best if at each training session, the stakeholders come from diverse business units such as sales, marketing, finance. Often in larger organizations analysts are in different pockets and don’t often may not know each other. Other times the various stakeholders know each other well and training becomes an opportunity to further cement those relationships

    Training is more than a recipe, rather a sharing of experiences

    Just as anyone can brew a cup of coffee, learning from a barrister on how to brew the best cup of coffee is something of a different experience. Often learning is not just about technical skills rather it is a knowledge sharing session of what works within their organisation, what pitfalls to avoid and how to actually use that knowledge once people have gotten back to their day jobs.

    I also enjoy learning from new users to alteryx and tableau and are often surprised by the many different ways of thinking that they come up with within the tools.


    Learn how to drive the Ferrari 

    Alteryx as a tool is incredibly deep as it covers the full spectrum of analytics from ETL to spatial, predictive and prescriptive. Investing in training enables a person to quickly learn how to ‘drive’ it like a Ferrari and not a scooter.

    Similarly tableau is simple to learn however there’s a lot to mastery of visualization technique and finding the best way to present the message to influence business change.
    Start user groups whether formally or informally to keep the momentum

    Often within organisations there will be more advanced users as well as those just starting the journey. Encourage sharing of skills within Alteryx and Tableau with users of all skill levels with each other. The advanced user through teaching reinforces his knowledge while the newer user also gets the benefit of a mentor.

    But it costs money…. Not training is a false economy

    From an executive and management point of view, companies often heavily invest in training at both the senior leader and manager level thinking it will drive improved performance.

    This alone is not sufficient to drive the organization, training needs to filter down to gassroots level and not just be a computer based training routine to save on costs.

    It’s about engagement

    Some companies spend $1k per FTE per year. Assuming a decent analyst costs $100k per annum, in essence this equates to only 1% of the cost structure.  Trust me 1k doesn’t get you much these days. Companies  should be targeting a training pool of $3k-5k per analysts per year. This equates to between 3-5% of cost base. In return the analyst will drive either process improvements or highlight revenue and cost opportunities a magnitude of that!

    More good stuff from Alteryx inspire 2016


    The good stuff continues with George Mathew showcasing new features

    1. Data profiling out of the box, improved reporting web scheduling

    2.  Prescriptive analytics – Next release of Alteryx to support optimizationssimulations out of the box with a few clicks. Traditionally you would need a data scientist for this, now all i need is Alteryx. Good news for the layman like me..

    Want to know where is the best time to Surf in San Diego ?

    George Mathew and Cam showcasing the power of using time series and spatial data to see where is the best time to surf in San Diego!



    Alteryx + Microsoft Azure machine learning = Easy analytics 

    I could not believe how easy it was to use machine learning in Azure! Literally it was 3 clicks to drag and drop sentiment analysis in Alteryx. Unbelieveable..

    Applause from the Alteryx ACEs!



    Customer stories – Southwest airlines and Chickfil-A

    Don’t be  chicken! Use Alteryx..


    Customer share their tribulations and triumphs..

    Alteryx Developers getting direct feedback from customers

    Back at the solution centre I had the privilege of meeting Linda Thompon who is the development manager for alteryx engine. A lot of the functionality you see in alteryx today is done by her team. It’s great to be able to give direct feedback to her and the team to help improve the product in the future.



    Introduction to predictive district by Dr Dan

    For those new to predictive, I was lucky enough to attend Dr Dan’s session on predictive district. The key takeaway is that remember to check out the predictive district on public gallery where there’s so many more predictive tools to suit your needs. Please before you start coding any model check this out as it may have already been done for u!!districts/56327e37aa690a17f0760bdc



    Advanced Alteryx training for R users by Ramnath , Alteryx’s data scientist

    Great session as Ramnath showed us the tips and tricks of coding in writing portable R code (between R studio and alteryx). Alteryx to R to Alteryx made easier!

    The great thing about being trained in the US is that they focus a lot on the concepts and explaining why you are doing something rather than following a recipe!



    Next Alteryx inspire is at Las Vegas!! See u all then


    Highlights from Alteryx Inspire conference

    Welcome to Inspire 2016!

    A celebration of the self serve analyst 

    It’s been an incredible journey for me to finally go to San Diego to attend the Alteryx inspire conference. I was a little sick from having a flu during the week however was ecstatic to get to the conference. The conference was themed analytics. The first day started with a great keynote by Dean Stoecker who really celebrated the fact that alteryx is empowering modern thinkers and analysts to make a difference within their business.

    It was great to see how excited Dean was when speaking about how customers were using Alteryx within their companies.


    Alteryx is about people – Empowering business leaders, analysts and IT professionals to make a difference

    We are surrounded by more and more data and need tools of the 21st century to help us analyse and get insight from it. We need to modernise our analytics stack so that line of business users can self serve.

    Unbelievable use cases of alteryx being used by USDA to track and stop bird flu!!


    Great training sessions on spatial and predictive analytics 

    I was excited to attend the predictive analytics training sessions by Anthony Johnson and realised quickly how great a trainer he was! He was able to articulate concepts in a simple easy to understand manner before walking through Alteryx examples with the class. I will most certainly try to incorporate this training style when introducing new users to Alteryx!


    Alteryx founders are passionate about their customers and focused on their success

    I had the pleasure of spending time with the staff and founders of Alteryx and realised they are one of the few companies who really focus on customer success. They really live and breathe customer success and believe that their product can make a real difference in the world. There were so many numerous examples of this.


    A strong sense of community driven by a culture of sharing and empowering others to succeed

    The inspire conference was really focused on empowering people of all skill levels to acquire blend and share data and insights across the business. It is really exciting to see Alteryx being embraced by forward thinking IT people such as John Schneider who is an Alteryx ACE as well and using it to make an impact in their organisations.


    Alteryx ACEs sharing their journey and experiences on driving cultural change within their companies

    Listening to and talking with fellow Alteryx users, customers and ACEs revealed a common thread – They all encountered obstacles & roadblocks within their own company however persisted and implemented the tool ultimately making their organisations more successful in the process.


    Take the time to share and help others

    It was great to be able to spend time with the legends of at a Tableau and Alteryx community people like Joe Mako and Andy Moncla. It made me realize an interesting fact. New users to Alteryx and Tableau often follow a certain way of thinking just like following a recipe to bake a cake.

    Mastery however requires one to think about a tool differently and to really understand the how’s and whys of the way the tools work. In doing so they are able to apply the tools much more efficiently than others.



    Customer stories –  Mcdonalds &Alteryx  – Persistence and resilience pays off

    I also listened in on numerous customer stories, the one that stuck me the most was a customer who was the Manager for worldwide development at McDonald’s. This person had overcome personal tragedy and loss of his wife and discovered Alteryx . He persisted despite all the challenges thrown at him and finally succeeded implementing Alteryx across not just his division but across the company. These stories humanise everyone and made me realise we are all part of a broader global community sharing ideas and experiences and pushing us on.


    Party on the USS Midway

    And yes who can resist a big party on the USS midway. What an incredible experience.

    All in all it was a great conference.. I certainly learnt a lot and was excited to be part of a wider global community of users who are using analytics to make a difference in their companies..

    Reflections on Tableau conference Sydney 

    tableau on tour pic

    adrian n david
    I had the honor of co-presenting with David Mcamis from AWS at the recent Tableau conference in Sydney to showcase how AWS Redshift, Alteryx and Tableau are a great combination for analytics.

    amaysim tableau alteryx.PNG

    Feel free to download it Amaysim tableau conference_feb2016

    It was certainly great to meet and share my experiences with all tableau customers both new and old and it made me realize something really important.

    It’s more than just software! It’s a community of people learning from one another

    Tableau conference is really about people.

    People in companies, some of us ahead of the curve while others beginning on that journey. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, what matters is that each of us wants others to succeed within their business. That is a fundamental concept which is so important. Buying Tableau , Alteryx and AWS is really more than just a piece of software. You are essentially getting into a community of like minded supportive people.

    On reflection, I am deeply humbled to share my experience with others, it’s also great to connect with others and you can see that a fundamental shift is occurring in the industry.

    It’s more than self serve – it’s about transforming the way in which companies operate

    My favorite part of the keynote is when Michael McQueen presented in winning the battle for relevance. So often I see people in companies both large and small struggle with transforming their businesses into modern winning enterprises where employees want to work for.

    Michael then gives a great rundown of what it means to be relevant and evolve with the times. Take a giant company like Lego for example. Their biggest turning point came when the rolled out Lego set toys for girls. 

      Prior to this they simply ignored the market. 

    Another key point of differentiation is a company’s core  values and beliefs in the face of growth. See Facebook who encouraged employees to develop the very thing that will cannibalise their own business . They would rather desrupt from within as if one waits too long and you are forced to respond it is too late.

    In a separate session , one of the presenters points out that analytics and creative thinking is not a straight linear process.   It is really about the exploration and twists and turns before things become clear. Yet so many people and vendors market analytics as a nice procedural step by step process.

    Rise of data prep with Alteryx – a much easier and sustainable way


    Having presented together at the Tableau conference and attending other customer sessions, one clear trend is emerging. It is the rise of tools like alteryx and cloud computing on AWS

    Alteryx is currently used by many companies as a data blending tool and having used the tool myself I can say I’m a big fan !

    Much of an analysts time is spent combining data from multiple data sources before analysing in a visualiser liked Tableau. This is often painful process of cutting code like SAS in the past however now there is a better way. Alteryx with its drag and drop capability is to data prep what tableau is to visualisation. It just works!

    At Amaysim, we are also big fans of Alteryx , everyone in the analytics team uses it for data prep before pushing results into tableau dashboard . It was great to be able to give back to the community how the tools work together.

    I also attended a customer presentation story on how the NSW Department of Family and Community Services implemented a Tableau and Alteryx solution to deliver dashboards to the public using RXP services as a consulting partner.

    Its really great to see how a government department embraces the use of technology to deliver superior services to the public. Check out FACS stats here
    I also checked attended another customer session presented by Vizchic who mentioned how Alteryx and Tableau work well together.

    All in all it was a great couple of days!



    Ease of use driving the analytic revolution


    Having used alteryx and tableau for quite some time, it’s made me reflect on why it’s made me enjoy using those products and the answer is really quite simple.
    It’s all to do with the ease of use and simplicity whereby anyone not just the technical guy can easily combine data sources together and try and answer a question.
    Ease of use trumps features

    Most business people are actually very time poor,juggling numerous priorities. As such they require tools that are simply ‘easy’ to use and understand.

    Take a tool like Google for example, if you type in a google maps how do I get to the Sydney opera house, Google essentially delivers you an answer within 1-2 seconds.

    The cost of making an incorrect question is simply reduced to a few seconds. If I decide to go to manly beach instead of the Sydney opera house, I simply type it in and an answer pops out almost immediately . The tool ( in this case google) simply disappears as I can follow my thoughts and ask questions of Google.

    The ability to continually iterate within seconds fundamentally changes the way we work.

    I can continue to follow that thought process and then see what shows are on at the opera house and the proceed to try and book tickets as it opens up in another browser.

    From the customerperspective, this is showcases a fantastic user experience.

    Customers and users should not need to care or worry about the underlying architectures, they simply get the answer to their questions immediately.

    Simplicity is the best form of elegance

    Looking at the field of analytics, it is certainly far from easy.

    Many companies struggle with numerous separate systems built from years of acquisition. The whole notion of single source of the truth then becomes difficult due to systems not talking to each other, different definitions etc etc.

    Smaller companies struggle with resource levels, funding and also system complexity as well. So how can we solve this problem in the place of continual technological changes?

    Make sure you use the right tools then!

    Alteryx and Tableau enable me to flow with my thoughts enabling me to deliver answers as quickly as I can think of questions. This enables me to focus on asking the right question.

    Just like a carpenter requires the right kind of chisel and saw, you should be using tools like alteryx to easily combine the data , making business rules fully visible and audit able, run spatial or predictive and then visual information in tableau. The benefits are enormous !
    Data preparation the key to unlocking predictive analytics

    Many companies are still embarking on that journey of predictive analytics hiring data scientists that can code in R or Python and trying to build their models from the ground up. This turns out to be an extremely expensive and time consuming exercise. Worse still , the majority of the effort is spent trying to acquire and structure the data.
    Turns out that to do predictive analytics one must spend nearly 60-70% of the effort acquiring and cleaning the data while model building only takes 10-20% of the time. Alteryx excels in this area of data prep as its a completely visual workflow that enables anyone to do data prep not just the SQL guy or data scientist.
    Alteryx enables anyone to do predictive analytics ( PHD not required)

    predictive model

    Also from a predictive modeling perspective , Alteryx also has 20-30 R predictive models (from regression to decision trees and neural networks) builtin which anyone can just drag and drop into the workflow saving analysts hundreds of hours and enabling them to focus on what the model that best fits ie: See lift charts below

    Lift models

    Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, these results are often good enough for most companies ( unless you are Google , Yahoo or LinkedIn. :-).

    Don’t just take my word for it, go download the products yourself and try them out.


    Some good materials i have also found regarding the forecasting & predictive models

    Getting started with Additive models in R – Difference between simple regression (aka fit a straight line), Polynomial and additive models

    Estimation, Out-of-sample Validation, and Forecasting – Helps me understand the rationale behind the create sample tool in Alteryx

    create sample tool

    Mean percentage error

    Mean absolute scaled error

    Forecasting – ARIMA


    Box Cox transformations – Basically shifting a skewed dataset to become normally distributed