This morning I needed to revisit one of my very first Alteryx workflows. As I worked through the updates it was hard not to notice how my use of Alteryx has changed a lot in the first year. While my early workflows accomplished the task at hand, in many cases, I found they could be greatly simplified, made more performant, and made more interesting. How I build workflows and approach analytics today, after almost a year with Alteryx, is quite different. Below are 6.5 ways I was, and you may be, underutilizing Alteryx.
1. Use The Public Gallery
While Alteryx releases upgrades at a healthy cadence, the product team is also continually releasing new tools and connectors through the public gallery. Additionally, the Alteryx community is also able to contribute their work here. The result is an analytics tool that is continually changing even outside of the release schedule. If you are running into a problem, there is a good chance someone has run into the same issue, and they may have shared a solution. Outside of the gallery there are also a variety of publicly available macro packages that can simplify your work. Two of my favorites are the tools created by James Dunkerley and the folks over at chaosreignswithin.com. Before you start your next workflow make sure you investigate all the tools available to you, it could save you considerable time and effort!
2. Learn How to Build Macros
While Alteryx comes with a couple hundred standard tools, it also allows users to build their own. Custom tools are referred to as macros: macros allow users automate common/repetitive tasks, simplify workflows by packing content into logical units, and they make it easy to share your work with your peers or the community. Macros come in different flavors, like the batch macro that allows record by record execution of your entire workflow, and the iterative macro that allows you to loop through records until a condition is met. While macros are a bit more complicated to build than a standard workflow, they can take your results to the next level.
3. Take Full Advantage of Alteryx Server
Alteryx server is more than just a private and shared gallery- it comes with built in version control, content specific districts, a fully integrated scheduling tool, a mongo database full of server usage data, and a fully integrated API. If you are looking to automate your analytic processes, or scale it to reach an enterprise audience, Alteryx server has everything you need. When I started using Alteryx I saved all my work to my desktop or a shared folder, now I use my private gallery and simply share the file when its complete. The best part is that Alteryx designer is fully integrated! You never need to leave your desktop to save and schedule a workflow to Alteryx server. The Alteryx team has also created standard reporting available through PDF or Tableau that allow you to monitor server usage and job status. I continue to find new and interesting ways to build better processes with Alteryx server, if you are new to Alteryx be sure not to overlook this tool.
4. Take Advantage of The Enrichment Datasets
If you own an enrichment or geospatial dataset - use it immediately! The Experian, D&B, and TomTom data sets are available outside of Alteryx; however, Alteryx makes them effortless to use. Boring data can be made interesting or more insightful, customer addresses can be plotted on maps and blended with census data, and all of it can be viewed in comparison to desired trade areas or demographics. Keep an eye out for how you might be able to create a more compelling story using these data sets. The results will surprise you!
5. Analytics Applications
Built just like a macro but with a user interface available in the web browser, analytics applications allow the creation of truly immersive analytics. They allow users to interact and set parameters in your workflows, and any output from the application is also displayed in the browser allowing for some level of interactivity. At Arkatechture, we maintain company wide API authentication data for several external systems. The act of obtaining user authorization and storing it to our company database is now being handled by an analytics application. If you need to get your end users involved, an analytics app is a great way to do it.
6. In Database Tools
In database tools work much like standard ones, but allow you to pass large workloads to your database for processing. They are ideal for consuming and transforming large datasets. Recently, tools supporting predictive analytics have been made available in this category as well. In database connections also have a side benefit – file based connections. Essentially, all your database and credential information can be stored to a file and referenced across workflows. This can be very useful when multiple users are deploying workflows from their desktops to the Alteryx server. Simply place your connection file in a secure location on the server, and any deployed workflow will execute without issue or adjustment. While Alteryx has an alias manager, I have found this method to be much more efficient.
6.5. The Community
Okay this isn’t technically a feature of Alteryx and while briefly mentioned in item 1 the Alteryx community is an excellent, and often unused, part of Alteryx. I continue to be impressed by how active, knowledgeable, and helpful Alteryx users are. It is also not uncommon to see Alteryx staffers pitching in and answering questions on the discussion boards! Everyone at Alteryx and in the community wants you to be successful. If you need help, ask. If you can lend a helping hand, please do. I promise it will make you better Alteryx user, and perhaps a better analyst. And if you're in the Portland, ME area- come join the Portland User Group forum!