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“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” For Dickens, in a Tale of Two Cities, this was how he saw the era of the French Revolution. I think that we live in a time that could be described as being both the worst of times, and the most exciting of times. We face unprecedented economic challenges; challenges that will only be met by business people making more, faster and better decisions about every aspect of their trade. In response to that challenge we are seeing technologies that are just staggeringly exciting with the potential they offer, and one such is Alteryx.
I see two major trends in the BI and analytics space. The two are closely linked to the market challenge. Firstly we have the emergence of what is being described as Agile BI; for me what Agile BI is about is providing the most sophisticated of analytics power to the business user on their desktop, with tools that do not require the skills of a statistician or an IT technician to understand and master, capable of delivering results that are rapid, reliable and readily understood at an affordable price. Then we have the rise of Big Data, which has been written about many times by my colleagues in Bloor, and is not so much about Big as in massive, as being big as a consequence of the range and diversity of data that should, and now can, be included in the decision making process for all but the most trivial of business decisions. It is in this sweet spot that Alteryx sit.
It should be noted that in the big study that McKinsey undertook into Big Data and its implications that they identified that one of the biggest barriers to successful roll out was the shortage of skilled knowledge workers to fill the management posts to use the information wisely. Unfortunately we do not have the time to set up the University courses to fill that void in the near term, but what we do have is products like Alteryx.
Alteryx talk a lot about Data Artisans: by this they mean the people in the business who are tasked with improving marketing responses, improving merchandising, deciding where to locate the next store, reducing churn etc. This is their day job and they do not want an IT project to give them a one-off solution, they need a way to create an ongoing and evolving answer to their needs. Those needs are complex, but they do not want a dumbed down solution, they want one that retains integrity, power and reliability, but which allows them to merge transactional data with operational data, with demographic data, with location intelligence, with social media trends, with market data etc etc. to make an informed decision.
By desktop to cloud they are saying that the whole process of identifying, gathering and loading data – then analysing that data to turn data into information – must be made available on the desktop, with the results then being broadcast via the cloud, be that public or private.
From such descriptions it would be easy to dismiss this as just marketing. But this is not an immature product, it has been going for several years in North America, and is has a very prestigious looking client list with household names like Wal-Mart, and Ford and even Apple. It has a number of vertical apps for groups like Telcos and Retailers that have prebuilt a lot of the functions that people need to do their everyday jobs. These are clearly very successful as 7 out of the 10 North American mobile operators have it deployed because it tackles things like churn, integrating operational data off the network with customer data coming in from the call centre.
As it is sold as a subscription service, these are not just one-off evaluation purchases but renewed deployments that are significant investments by the users. And although they do not a have a direct sales force in EMEA at present (it is planned) they have a channel partner, which is Experian, and Experian themselves use the product as a delivery channel for their data. If you go onto the web site you can see many endorsements by their customers, which indicates how happy they have been with the product.
Because this product essentially has the whole BI stack deployed in the desktop there is a danger that IT people will see it as a threat to the traditional tools, and try to discourage its use. This would be wrong. I do not see this as replacing the existing BI technologies, but it is highly complementary, and it does point to the way that all tools must go in the future. Alteryx clearly do not see their platform as an all-encompassing solution, because they are planning to build connectors to provide Hadoop support via ODBC drivers to Hive, giving them read/write into Hadoop clusters. This illustrates the extremely complex nature of full enterprise BI solutions, as they are now emerging from the era when we saw a single vendor suite on top of a data warehouse as the solution.
I am extremely impressed by what I have seen and will be following the progress of Alteryx with keen interest, and expect to see it putting established analytics players, like IBM and SAS, under pressure to improve their usability and responsiveness in the hands of people outside of the Analytics teams. This is another product to watch in 2012. it should make giant strides.