Using Alteryx and Tableau to overcome the data quality challenge

bad dataold pic

To most people, analytics appears to be about dashboards, predictive analytics and better decisions. Yet too often data coming out of old source systems that are often:

A. Undocumented / arcane

B.  Inconsistent and changes with time due to business changes

This often results in considerable effort being used to acquire , structure and clean data. Talking to many others in the industry also highlight this struggle and highlight the value of having 21st century tools like Alteryx and Tableau enabling everyone in the business to do analytics.

Building analytics for companies is just like building a house.

To build a house, one must first:

1. Select the right site and location

2. Lay the right foundation with a team including examining cracks and defects in foundation


3. Build’up’ the rest of the house


4. Finishing off with that nice coat of paint, beautiful timber floorboards and putting in fancy furniture.


5. Inviting friends over for a party

house party


In the case of analytics:

1. Select the right business problem to solve or address a burning business need.

  • It’s really not about the analytics in itself rather it’s about defining what the question is eg: which stores are making money or whitch ones aren’t.
  • ‘Big data’ and other buzzwords are constantly appearing in the media and poised to solve the worlds problems.
  • Nothing could be further from the truth, companies should be focusing on the business problem, big data simply provides the companies the opportunity to gain business insight and actions at a more detailed scale and level.

2. Laying the foundation

  • Agile methodologies talk about doing projects in 2 week sprints to get outcomes so that one can present back to the business.
  • However what if one could decrease that time to deliver outcomes in a hours? Wouldn’t that be faster than a 2 week sprint?

Alteryx and Tableau allow users to focus on business outcomes and business rules rather than cutting code just as Google allows everyone to ask more questions and get  answers almost immediately rather than struggle with platforms.

It’s like comparing the days of running DOS green and black screens to running Windows and then running IOS on iPad. Would you rather use a DOS system or an Apple Ipad?


3. Building the house

  • The building of the house, that is really like building out the workflow in alteryx, building the dashboard in tableau.
  • Depending on the complexity of data, one might find that it takes 60-70% of effort to prepare data especially if combining 4-5 data sources.
  • Don’t under-estimate the time taken to acquire and clean the data

A key tip when building out Alteryx workflow which often contains complex business logic, dirty data from source systems is to build the workflow together with business or finance.

alteryx workflow

Don’t hide behind your screen!

This stage is critical to make business leaders aware of business rules used and source data issues.


4. ‘Painting’ the house

  • Polish the  Tableau visualization till so that anyone looking at a dashboard can get the message in 5 seconds or less.
  • The message should jump out at you when looking at a dashboard.
  • I can’t emphasize enough to continuously show the dashboard to users who have never seen it before, get their feedback and then continuously iterate.

5. Inviting friend over for a party

  • Socialize insight broadly and findings across the wider business. Once you get feedback, keep iterating with the Alteryx workflow and tableau dashboard to see if any other relevant info can be incorporated.

So do you think analytics is like building a house?

Alteryx  – Empowering the finance user

There are many analytical tools which ‘claim’ to be user friendly and usable by anyone in the line of business. Yet there are only few tools that have the capability of truely enabling business users to self serve. Alteryx is one of such tools

Who is the biggest users of Alteryx ?

Sales? Marketing? CRM?

Turns out the biggest users of Alteryx in my organsiation is finance. Now most finance users and managers can do a few tricks with excel like the good old vlookup,hlookup, if statements and all. 

So why use Alteryx then if they have excel?

It turns out that in the telecom industry we need to have transparency into how our revenue and costs are derived. To make matters more challenging , we have millions of these calls data records being generated daily which then drive our numbers. Traditionally, the finance team would be requesting yet another report from the analytics team. Problem with that approach is then every time a change needs to be made it would have to be done in SQL code which only the BI team is able to do.

This deeply slows down the speed at which finance users can ask and answer questions of their P&L drivers. It also drives the BI team mad trying to cut one report after another.

Help users ask the right questions not just another report


By giving finance users direct access to the call data and teaching them a few functions in Alteryx, they are able to slice and dice millions of call records to work out what is going on in their business.

So what does the BI team do?

Some traditional BI and analytics people hear this and immediately think redundancy or job security when they hear of tools like Alteryx and Tableau. Nothing could be further from the truth, by enabling the business to succeed through self serve, they become not just more productive in their roles but this frees up analytic personnel to do higher value tasks like spatial or predictive analytics.

Transparency in data issues , business logic and collaboration

Alteryx key cabability lies in the fact that its core belief is to empower any user or analyst to be more productive. There is now complete transparency into the business rules used to derive our revenue and cost drivers. Users are also finding the experience to be more collaborative and gives a real insight to what’s going on behind the numbers.
Finally don’t just take my word for it download the product from and try it for yourself

Alteryx roadshow – Anyone can do it!


Recently i had the honor of presenting at the alteryx roadshow in Sydney to over 200 people, i wanted to share lessons learned with you. There are really 2 key highlights

1. Everyone and Anyone can do analytics( not just the BI guy)  with the right tools like Alteryx and Tableau just like everyone today is using Google

2. Data driven decision making is really a huge cultural shift not a technological one.

At the heart of it,  Analytics is really about helping people and companies make decisions faster. The question is what tools do you use to achieve this and challenges around changing an entire company’s culture to do this. I hope this will inspire others to take that leap of faith and do things differently.

Feel free to download the presentation here

Analytics strategy – Achieving data driven decisions in realtime


Overcoming Business challenges – Numerous data sources and complex XML and JSON

Alteryx is a great tool for anyone to do data acquisition, integration and preparation particularly when handling data from multiple complex systems. The keyword here is everyone, you don’t need to come from a programming background or be a BI specialist.

In every company I’ve worked you need to combine data from more than 1 data source. How does one do that without an army of programmers? Well it’s simple just use Alteryx, spend a couple of hours doing the tutorials and away you go.

Executive buyin and funding – Do things that impact topline or bottomline

Tools cost money , the quickest way to get management attention is to do something that drives a revenue opportunity or a cost saving eg : supply chain improvement. In doing so the tools pay for themselves.

Best of breed products – Combine Alteryx , Tableau and Redshift

Don’t try reinvent the wheel, use a combination of tools proven out by people who have gone before you.

Select the winning combination by learning from others

Some of you reading the blog are about to begin the analytics journey, others are some part way through it. I’d like to share an interesting story of my own experience in reaching out , talking and learning to others who operate in more mature analytic markets.

Selecting the winning combination

In my current role I had to create the vision and execute the analytic strategy for my organization. Having used Tableau for many years, it was the visualizer of choice. Tableau represents one component in a long stack of technology components. I needed a piece of software that could combine data sets from different systems, implement some really complex business rules, showcase them to management in an ‘audit able’ format to give transparency over what had been done to the data.

So how did I discover the tool like Alteryx?
As they say rubbish in rubbish out

My journey took me to look at the traditional tools like SAS and newer age tools like Lavastorm, Alteryx and Knime. So the question is how did I make a decision on which one to use.

From a customer perspective , I began researching the tools not from a tool capability perspective but from a end user customer perspective.

Read and talk to other customers in more mature markets like the U.S. who have done it all before

Check out the Alteryx inspire business leader 2014 to see what analyic leaders in the U.S.  are using. The ‘true’ test of any analytic tool is when the software companies make it easy for a new user to contact reference customers around the world, have a honest chat on what works well and what doesn’t .

When buying a piece analytics software , you are actually buying into a community of like minded people not just a software product

This culture can be seen quite unusual and even unique and perhaps can be viewed as a ‘software unicorn’. The turning point for me was when I actually downloaded and tried the product myself, I found that I could easily combine various datasets even difficult XML together before visualizing in tableau. The ease of use was remarkable!

Do it yourself. Doing is believing 

Totally blows things away. I could easily combine large complex datasets , some in XML , SQL or redshift database into a single coherent dataset before visualizing in tableau! Simply amazing.

Tableau enabling organisations to change

Change begins with me

When people think of a piece of software such as Tableau, they immediately think of it as a reporting or analysis tool. I believe the true value of introducing tableau into an organization is actually drive improved collaboration and decision making at all levels irregardless of role or function.

Often this requires a big cultural shift in the way the organization works. This article will be focused on how Tableau enables empowers everyone within the organization to look at data , have a play with the data with a view to enable the broader organization to make more informed decisions.

Different types of organizations

1. The “family business”  – Ultra conservative organizations

Old school business

– All decision making is based on gut feel and instinct. A data collection and analysis strategy is not in place, with no analytics team. Analytics is not valued and seen as a cost not as a business driver.

2. Old school BI enabled organizations – Companies that invested millions into their Cognos/ Microstrategy  cubes etc that have stock standard reports coming out of them. Report generation would take weeks and months with requests going to a central BI area.

3. Hybrid organizations – organizations who see the need for a faster way for business users to get access to information. Tableau used as a line of business tool to enable functional analysts ( sales, product marketing, finance) to drill into and see what is happening in the business.

4. Fully self serve organisations – all staff are given a tableau license, some training and encouraged to find the answers in the data themselves.

The case for analytics..

The first thing is to make management aware of why analytics is needed in the first place. After all,  Harvard Business review: Big data the management revolution can often be used to kick start discussion.The bottom line is that data-driven decision making were, on average, 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors. That approach certainly resonates well with senior management.

Check out another report by Mckinsey Big Data : Next Frontier for innovation, competition and productivity

Get inspired..

Reading a report is one thing, listening to Tableau’s CEO Christian Chabot speak is quite something else. Check out his presentation at the previous Tableau customer conference keynote on unleashing the human potential (not just automating the routine).

Tableau is really about 4 simple principles!

  1. Experimentation with data – Ideas becoming putty in ones’ hands allowing one to continuously flow with them.
  2. Speed – Analytics software needs to give immediate feedback just like a ink on paper. Advancements in technology like changes from film photography to digital photography make things a pleasure to use instead of missing opportunities.
  3. Expressiveness – Artist start with a blank canvas and carve out their thoughts in the medium like paper or wood. Tableau does this through a blank canvas.
  4. Control –  Artists need to be able to do it themselves and not just delegate eg: Leonardo da vinci didn’t fill in a painting request form!

I recall the first time i listened to the keynote,  i wondered to myself who is this guy. He is not just a good ‘public speaker’ but someone who speaks from the heart and Tableau at the end of the day is a story of organisational change and empowering everyone not just the BI or IT guy.

Reach out and speak to Tableau customers in the community 

Check out  the Tableau customer conference materials or Tableau customer stories within each industry. Reach out and connect to the tableau community especially  to people who have actually done it before, you will be surprised that the community is one that is incredibly supportive of each other and will often share tips and experience on how they managed to get a product like Tableau into the business.

Get an internal sponsor
Find an internal sponsor,  this is fundamental to building alliances within any company. This sponsor could be sales, product, marketing, finance, executives or anyone that has a business problem to solve. Download the tableau product, plug into the data and see what you can find that can drive improved business performance!

Showcase insight to management

Showcase what you have found to management and let everyone have a play with the dashboard. You will be surprised that different people will approach the tableau dashboard really differently to get insights out!

Most importantly, don’t be afraid. Start your journey now by downloading the product and having a look. It will most certainly change the way you think about analytics!

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!