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I attended the Alteryx user conference called Inspire 2012 (Twitter: #Inspire12)  in Denver this week. This fairly new analytics software company has been gaining customers in a range of brand-name organizations such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Supervalu, U.S. Cellular and VF Corp. The company focuses on meeting the needs of analysts across the business analytic spectrum including a geographic and location context for simplifying the analytic tasks and processes for the needs of business at the strategic and operational level.

Alteryx utilizes a unique approach to analytic tasks based on workflow and components that also link location-based references to data and determine the relevant business value through in-memory computations and processing. Our benchmark research in location intelligence shows that integrating location data is critical to business analytics in more than one-quarter of organizations, yet only a handful of software providers actually support it. Alteryx’s point-and-click interface enables analysts to access and integrate data from files and databases and follow the logical tasks required to process data to yield relevant information, which can then be automatically delivered and shared in a host of data formats, including Microsoft PowerPoint. In this way Alteryx aims to help users improve decision-making, which is a goal driving 67 percent of organizations to improve their business analytics according to our research.

Alteryx says it has a loyal customer base, more than 97 percent of which renew their product licenses annually. Historically it has done extremely well in servicing real estate teams of any organization looking to analytically identify new locations or marketing and customer analysts looking to more accurately identifying segments and consumers to market to more efficiently. Now Alteryx appeals to a larger group of data and analyst types across line of business departments. Its customers belong to a new generation of analysts who use analytics data intuitively, much like artists; Alteryx calls them data artisans. This term is new to the industry but accepted by Alteryx customers. Processing data from a multitude of sources into new forms of output based on workflow and processing techniques is an interesting dynamic. While many individuals who are using the software might have a generic title like manager or senior manager without the word “analyst” in it, “data artisan” does describe their actual roles and responsibilities.

Our benchmark research in business analytics, covering more than 2,700 organizations, found that data tasks related to analytics can take up to two-thirds of the time people spend on analytics. Alteryx addresses this waste of time in its Designer’s Desktop. The desktop allows users to visually drag and drop analytics tasks as components in a module, then link them together in flows that can efficiently process and analyze data. The desktop includes a very sophisticated set of functions easily accessible from its ToolBox that are extensible from a processing or mathematical approach. The complications of the underlying SQL and processing are hidden from analysts but available for inspection. It also enables a variety of iterative analyses from regression and root-cause analysis to geospatial identification and analysis of locations. This is supported by using a multistep and multi-branching approach including a set of tasks including spatial analysis that can integrate and publish to sources from vendors such as ESRI, MapInfo and Oracle Spatial, and it can create thematic geographic maps with layers of analytics for review or publication. Alteryx empowers what our firm calls Location Intelligence, which provides analysts who process business analytics with geographic context and visualization. In our benchmark research on this topic, 61 percent of organizations said Location Intelligence is very important, especially for improving customer service and business process efficiency in more than half of organizations.

At its user conference Alteryx representatives announced shipment of its version 7 release, which includes a in-memory server that can operate inside the enterprise or in a private cloud environment and can operate in a 64 bit computing model. Cloud capability is critical for organizations that want to link multiple Alteryx users so they can share information and analytics from their instances, even if they are not able to establish a server inside of the enterprise. This release also supports access to the Hive big-data technology that is part of the open source Hadoop movement. Our benchmark research on Hadoop found that gaining advanced analysis is a top priority in 69 percent of organizations. Eighty-five percent of these organizations expect big data and Hadoop to enhance the speed of analysis, and Alteryx can now address that.

Alteryx can process real-time streams of tweets from Twitter or check-ins on Foursquare as data feeds. The company says it will soon support Yelp as well to help brand and consumer analysts determine the impact of customers who share their experiences and opinions on that site. I have been research on the importance of integrating social media sources of information for better insight on actions that should be taken across the channel of interactions. Alteryx supports a large library of data sources and targets. It also supports embedding of R , an open source language for applying predictive analytics. Analysts can easily embed and execute R code to produce statistics, as they can with other analytics that process along with the data tasks of users of the product. Our benchmark research on predictive analytics validates the need to embed predictive analytics and illustrates its rapid growth in use across organizations line of business departments.

Alteryx software is gaining users in industries that need to add location context to analytics, such as telecommunications, retail, consumer packaged goods, commercial real estate and restaurants. Businesses can use location-enabled analytics for tasks including site identification and review, or marketing and servicing consumers according to geographic context or areas of operation. Alteryx articulates why the existing business intelligence technology stack fails to meet the demands of analysts, who want to focus on business and not IT. The company is promoting its placement on the Gartner Business Intelligence Quadrant, but Gartner’s low ranking misunderstands the power of Alteryx. I encourage anyone evaluating Alteryx to ignore this, since the software is not just a business intelligence tool but is business analytics software designed for line-of-business analysts who want to improve decision-making and strategic focus.

To establish a place in the larger business market, Alteryx needs to highlight its workflow and activity-based approach to analytics, which binds together the actions analysts perform in a series of tasks. This is a challenge for anyone using spreadsheets, which our research has found are used regularly or universally in 88 percent of organizations; spreadsheets are a root cause of wasted time in data and analytics tasks, and create personal silos of potential miscalculations. Alteryx addresses the usability needs of analysts, a criterion that has the highest importance for 57 percent of participants in our research. I was impressed on the simplicity of building and viewing compound analysis and reports into documents of any format that can be emailed or shared across the network. Alteryx also enjoys a network of business partners addressing more industry specific needs and I got demonstrations at the conference including: Korem for trade area analysis using Google Maps, Critigen for solar location analytics and operates on Apple iPad and farsite for site selection.

Alteryx is addressing many of the business technology trends that I outlined for 2012, including big data, business analytics, cloud computing and social media. Now, in connecting users through its cloud computing offering, it should also address the business collaboration and mobile technology needs of its users. This software is already miles ahead of what the majority of analysts use today, whether it’s spreadsheets, business intelligence or aging GIS products that do not satisfy the data and analytics demands of businesses. Organizations that want to dramatically improve the efficiency of their analysts and reduce the cycle time to iterate analysis should evaluate Alteryx.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

The recent buzz around business analytics has generated resurgent conversation about what businesses need from their data to optimize business processes and make better decisions. Our benchmark research on business analytics in more than 2,500 organizations produced unprecedented information about business and IT usage and competency with analytics. It confirmed that effective use of business analytics requires a balance of people and skills, processes, information and technology not just to provide capabilities but also to engage business analysts and users across the organization. The research also identified significant challenges facing organizations in terms of inefficient analytics processes and ineffective technology. 

Making the most of business analytics means enabling the business analysts who support the departments and processes of the line of business. These individuals and teams may be found in finance, operations, the supply chain, sales, customer service, marketing and other areas; in each they are the ones accountable for using analytics to determine the metrics and key indicators that they need to present to management and collaborate closer together. These individuals usually work with their IT organizations for data access, but in some larger organizations they work with line-of-business technology groups. In recent years businesses have hired data-focused analysts to support their thirst for analytics across a range of data and sources.  

Unfortunately, many IT departments are unable to provide automated data feeds fast enough to support the analysts, and that creates gaps in the analytic process. Our research found this to be a serious issue, as people spend 69 percent of their analytics time in data-related tasks, not only preparing data and reviewing it for quality and consistency but also just waiting for the data. This leaves too little time for analytic tasks such as determining root causes of issues, assembling scenarios for analysis and determining the impact to business from planned changes. The best path forward is to ensure that these data-related activities are automated or streamlined to meet the business analytic needs. In addition, IT should spend less time trying to dumb down and standardize delivery of data through business intelligence and spend more cycles helping business analysts get the data at the frequency they need. In other words, IT needs more focus on data governance, which our benchmark found to be critical to bring data integration, data quality and master data management into a single, standard process. 

Beyond the data gap in business analytics, the analysts have to deal with the issue of what technology they use to conduct analytics. As technology spending has gotten more controlled, centralized and standardized in IT organizations, fewer organizations have purchased specifically tailored analytics tools. Instead, our research shows more use of spreadsheets; they’re the most often used technology in 60 percent of organizations, followed by business intelligence in 49 percent. Line of business or analyst-specific software is used in less than 20 percent of organizations. It is clear that this has to change, as more than half (55%) of organizations are dissatisfied with their analytics process, saying it is hard to build and maintain and too slow. Well, that is what you get with spreadsheets, along with disorganized business processes.  

What do business analysts need from their analytics technologies? Our benchmark research found the top request was access to source data for analytics (52%), followed closely by the ability to take action on the outcome of analytics (47%), the ability to design and maintain the business model (42%) and to quickly generate presentations and other analytics reports (41%). These might sound straightforward, but it’s not if you are using Microsoft Excel, and it’s even worse in a shared work environment. A growing base is looking for analytics to be delivered in an on-demand, software-as-a-service mode (27%), though more than half (52%) of organizations still prefer the status quo of buying and installing software on-premises.  

All of this leads me to urge analysts to stand up and demand the tools they need to be more efficient in their analytic modeling and planning. Ask yourself how easily can you make changes to your analytics model and recalculate a forecast that links to the integrated business plan? Can you adjust and decrease a metric such as days sales outstanding (DSO) by one day to see the impact on cash flow in the business? Can you adjust the sales and operational plan by adjusting the forecast by one day? You should be able to make these and other model and variable updates in minutes, not days, and be able to share the results with others to determine actions and outcomes. Knowing that you can do the what-if and planning based analytics should be easy and straight forward. 

At the same time, the speed at which analytics get computed and information generated needs to improve, and the assembly and deployment to business users must be made more efficient. Our research found that businesses want the basics; searching for specific answers was the top priority of 83 percent, who deemed it important or very important. Also important is exploring the data underlying analytics through drilling and navigation, cited by 78 percent of organizations. These are not standard functionality in spreadsheets, presentations and documents, and not what you get in reports or most dashboards.  

Our research indicates that the more innovative the organization, the more sophisticated the results. We performed our own root-cause diagnostic on these mature organizations and found that they have automated the data aspects of business analytics from data access to data quality. They also are able to generate more sophisticated analytics and metrics, and perform more frequent reviews. These organizations also foster great relationships between their analysts and their IT teams, which work collaboratively on business analytics. These organizations are also the ones expanding their deployments to smartphones and tablets, integrating forecasting and planning and using predictive analytics. 

The time has come for business analysts to lead the fight to improve business analytics to ensure their organizations have the information they need. Instead of having silos of reports, dashboards, spreadsheets and other data points, organizations need unified analytics and planning capabilities built into a common set of technology using a sophisticated modeling for representing the business and integrating data efficiently. Our recent business intelligence and performance management benchmark research found that this need to bring analytics and planning together is a top priority in more mature, sophisticated organizations.  

So put the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets into the box it came out of and focus on working together to ensure that business analytics is like any business process – documented and automated to meet the majority of an organization’s needs. Look for simple and sophisticated means for analysts to work together on the business analytics journey and ensure you vocalize your needs for better investments. If you are not sure if you have the business analytics you need, let me know. The self-assessment is easy, but planning to adapt and change, well, that might take some work. 

Regards, 

Mark Smith 

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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