I started using Alteryx in May, 2014, or less than six months ago. I have written a few blog posts for beginners and a recent post about a very impressive result I achieved using Alteryx. Now all of a sudden, the light has shined for me. I get it and I see the brilliance of Alteryx in ways that I never dreamed possible. Believe what the picture shown above is trying to tell you. This software does empower you in ways that are important on a big time scale (did you notice that little play on words?).
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Seven years ago, my life changed when I discovered Tableau. You can read about what I mean with this statement by reading this blog post. Now my life is changing again, thanks to Alteryx.
I am involved in a project that is both very data driven and statistically intensive. The results of this work may transform an industry that is in dire need of change. I cannot speak about the details of this project at this time, but suffice it to say that we may all benefit from this one day.
When I started this project about nine months ago, I was eager with enthusiasm and full of naivete. I was not even deterred when the client said, “I’ll see you in two years because no one has made any headway with our data in less time than that!”.
I spent the first two or three months grinding away at the unfriendly data. I chipped away, I created techniques, and I overcame obstacles. I tried to optimize the process along the way. I tried to document the steps and I realized that the work was hard. In fact, it was much harder than I expected.
Despite the data struggles I encountered, the analytical framework was being built piece by piece, like laying a brick wall, brick by brick. As Tableau visualizations were created, insights were happening, myths were being demystified and demonstration after demonstration were completed with only more questions to be answered. With each step of the process, I found myself being slowly, surely ground down to a halt. About a month ago I proclaimed: “I don’t want to work on this anymore”. I was tired, mentally exhausted, and physically drained. I gave everything I had to give and the job wanted more.
The reason I wanted to quit was that I knew the day was coming when I had to start over with an updated data set. I knew what that meant. I had to fight through the data complexity one more time. I had to do the dance one more time. I was not looking forward to it at all. The dance I had to do felt like I was a street break-dancer, spinning on my head. It hurt a lot.
Well, today the day I dreaded has arrived. I have to start over. I received an updated data set just a few hours ago.
Solving the Impossible With Alteryx
My company bought Alteryx as a tool for other jobs based on my recommendations. It was a big capital expenditure for us since we are a small firm. However, I never really even considered how it could be used for this project. I used it to do some seriously awesome work this past summer and when I was finished, I kept pushing. I wrote those blog posts. I kept reading, learning and dreaming.
One day about a week ago, I met a guy simply named Ned. He wrote a comment on my blog, using some email address that looked like a family name, and I responded to his comment. Little did I know that Ned would turn out to be a Chief Technology Officer for Alteryx. This chance encounter has been completely re-energized me for a few reasons as I will explain.
Once I knew who Ned was, I asked him a simple question. I asked for a little help on something. He gave me a response in about a millisecond. Problem solved. Well that little problem just saved me about a week of work and would end up taking a few seconds in computational time. I asked him for a bit more advice. He game me help on that, too.
So today, I sheepishly sent him another question, but with only a slight hint of begging in my email. Once again, the man promised to deliver a solution. That is called business excellence and it is the way that all companies should respond to their clients.
Suddenly I now realize that the three weeks of work that I was dreading has just been completed in four minutes of computational time. I just did it a few minutes ago. No problem. There is no possibility of errors and no usage of Excel. That last statement is monumental for a multitude of reasons that I will not go into at this time but will expound upon later in another blog post. Now with Ned’s help, I will begin the task of solving the impossible task. I now know that it can be done. Prior to meeting Ned, I didn’t know that it could be done because I didn’t know enough about Alteryx.
Last month our client came to see us for another demonstration project. During those two days of working together, they explained to me a concept that they wanted to explore. They said that this concept is where the real improvement is hidden, but nobody has attempted this approach because it is too hard to do. When I understood what they were asking, I could only say: “Oh. I get it. Yeah, that is hard. That is much, much harder than anything we have already accomplished. That will take a long time to do. That is a really big challenge.”
Well, I think I was wrong, thanks to Alteryx. Now I’m ready to tackle that task (with Ned’s help, of course) and I have full confidence that we will be successful. The workflow needed to accomplish this task has magically appeared in my head. It reminded me of how I solved problems in my sleep during college or how I wrote complex computer algorithms for solving partial differential equations. I suspect that this type of creativity and innovation is similar to what a painter sees in their mind when they are facing a blank canvas. Little by little, one paint brush stroke after another occurs until the picture emerges. What I have learned in this process is that with Alteryx, you have to be patient. You don’t necessarily hit the home run the first time up to bat like you feel like you did with Tableau the first time you used it. You have to learn the fundamentals and lay the foundation. Once you do that, you are free to fly.
If I can collapse about three months of data ETL down into four minutes of computational time by doing a little research and asking for a little help along the way, imagine the possibilities. I know that Alteryx will allow me to solve the impossible task. So stay tuned for another update when the time is right for me to tell you the story. The clock is ticking and I’ve got about three weeks to deliver. Thanks for reading.