What is the Alteryx Analytics Platform?

What is Alteryx?

Alteryx is an enterprise grade data analytics platform. Originally founded in 1997 as a geospatial computer mapping solution, it has evolved into one of the most mature and versatile software solutions for ETL, Data Investigation, Analysis, and Data Science.

It’s used in a wide range of industries from non-profit, small business, and many fortune 500 companies.

How can Businesses Leverage Alteryx?

Alteryx is a data analytics platform that offers numerous tools and features that enable companies to automate their data processes, increase productivity, and help managers make better informed decisions.

By leveraging Alteryx’s powerful data preparation and analysis tools, business users can quickly and efficiently automate time consuming tasks. It can reduce the amount of time that data analysts or ETL developers spend manipulating data.

The tool is very approachable and can even enable less technical groups such as accounting, finance, marketing, and product development teams to reduce the time they spend on data preparation, reporting and analysis.

What are some of the Primary Use Caes for Alteryx?

Alteryx has such a wide feature set that it is difficult to compare to many other software packages. The wide range of use cases is one of the biggest benefits as your employees do not need to learn a different platform to perform widely different tasks.

Here are some highlights of Alteryx’s capabilities:

  • Data Integration between on-premises and cloud data sources
  • Extract Transform Load (ETL) a wide range of data sources.
  • Ingest and Output Reports in Microsoft Excel
  • Geospatial Analysis, Trade-Area Mapping, and Route Optimization
  • Apply Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Models for data analysis.
  • Convert PDF files from Images to Text for Analysis
  • Statistical Analysis and other Data Science functions

What are Some Drawbacks of Alteryx?

While Alteryx has a very wide range of functionality, very few people within an organization will use them at once. It’s more likely that different departments would utilize different features of Alteryx but may also find themselves looking for a more focused solution.

As with any software that promises to do everything, it does not necessarily do everything as well as more focused competitors can do for specific use cases.

What are the components of the Alteryx Platform?

Alteryx is a comprehensive Data Analytics Platform that consists of several components.

While the platform offers many features and tools, the three most commonly used components in the fields of Accounting and Finance are:

  1. Alteryx Designer: A software installed on desktops that allows users to create customized analytics workflows.
  2. Alteryx Server: A server software that can be installed locally or on a cloud platform, enabling users to access and collaborate on workflows from anywhere.
  3. Alteryx Intelligence Suite: An add-on that includes several features such as PDF to Text, OCR, and Text Analysis capabilities.

Additionally, the platform offers other product offerings that are less commonly used, including low code solutions for building machine learning models, Automatic Artificial Intelligence Driven Insights, and provides solutions for centralizing data definitions which make it easier for users to find workflows created by coworkers.

FIPS Compliant Versions (Federal Encryption and Data Security Compliant) – such as Designer FIPS and Server FIPS are also available.

What is Alteryx Designer?

Alteryx Designer is the core piece of software for the Alteryx platform. It’s installed on a user’s desktop or laptop computer and allows users to quickly build out data processing workflows. All of the data is processed locally on a user’s machine, unless the deployment includes Alteryx Server.

How to Use Alteryx Designer

When business users open Alteryx Designer, they are presented with a friendly easy to user interface. A toolbar at the top of the screen contains a collection of tools that are grouped by different uses. A user will drag and drop tools from the top of the window into the white space below, called a canvas. Tools are connected from left to right creating a process made up of a series of steps or a workflow. Once input data is brought into a workflow, it is run through the process built with the drag and drop tools, and output into a file or database of the users choosing.

Screenshot of an Alteryx Analytics Workflow

What is Alteryx Server?

The second major component of the Alteryx platform is Server. It’s installed either on a local machine or can be installed on the cloud. It’s mostly used for automating workflow runs and scheduling workflows. Want a report to automatically go out every day at 8am? You will need server.

Server also helps you track workflow versions, push them from in development status to publish and has some features to let you share workflows between members of a team.

Do I Need Alteryx Server?

The biggest factor in whether or not to deploy Alteyrx Server is the number of business users creating workflows in Designer, and how important workflow scheduling is.

When working with very large data sets, like you would in a data science or big data analysis field, the amount of processing power needed exceeds the amount of computer power available on a standard laptop computer. Alteryx offers server as a solution to offload heavy processing from your computer to one that is much more powerful and scalable.

The second big use case is the ability to automate data preparation and schedule workflows to run. Scheduling is a key feature of enabling your employees to automate tasks and eliminate manual processes. Without it, a user would have to open Designer and run a workflow manually. While still a time saver over working with Excel Spreadsheets, it may not be the ideal state.

How do I use Alteryx Designer with Server?

After a user creates a workflow in Designer, they publish it to Server. The process is as simple as clicking Save As from Designer and selecting the Server Gallery that you want to publish to. The Alteryx Gallery is the name of the front-end website that users publish and pull workflows to and from.

How difficult is it to learn Alteryx?

Alteryx is one of those tools that’s easy to learn, but difficult to master. From the screenshot above, you can see how many tool sections there are. Most of the time when using Alteryx for accounting and finance you would only use the tools from the first four or five sections. Inputting data, cleaning, re-formatting etc.

Each tool has some configuration options that are really well documented within the software, with pre-made examples and a very active community supporting you where almost any question you have can be answered with a Google search.

Where Alteryx gets more complicated is knowing which tools to use or which combination of them to use or when to use them. Truthfully though, you’re going to run into this issue with any other piece of software.

A lot of us in accounting can get around Excel without even thinking about it. Need to delete a column? Ctrl + Space followed by a Ctrl + – on the keyboard will delete a column in under a second. Nobody starts out opening Excel for the first time knowing this, it takes a lot of time and practice. Alteryx and any other automation or analytics tool is no different.

Example of Simple Alteryx Data Analytics Workflow

The Alteryx Community is its Best Feature

Alteryx has an incredibly robust community built around it. From web forms to third party add-ons there are not many situations where a user cannot quickly find an answer with a quick Google or Bing search. This reduces the amount of time it takes for employees to get up to speed with the platform.

Alteryx Offers Free Courses and Training

Alteryx publishes many free courses and training paths that lead to certifications through their online community. The videos are self-paced and interactive. They serve as a great starting point for learning the platform. Videos are setup for people to work through different learning paths such as Alteryx for Excel Users or you can choose more focused paths such as Alteryx Machine Learning.

Alteryx is Becoming Standard at Fortune 500 Firms

If you work within the Accounting and Fnance world, you know how difficult it can be to find great people with the skills that you need to propel your business forward. The Alteryx platform has been adopted across many Fortune 500 companies, along with many of the biggest accounting firms. This means that you will be able to find people familiar with the platform when it comes time to hire, reducing the amount of future training costs.

Picture of Large Business Skyscrapers

What data types can Alteryx connect to?

The number of different types of data input that Alteryx can handle is almost limitless. It can used for many common file formats such as .xlsx, .csv, .pdf, .xml. Files can be saved on a network drive, your computer or one of the many cloud services such as One Drive, SharePoint, Google Drive, Drop Box, etc.

Alteryx can be setup to connect to SQL databases on-premises or in the cloud, pull information from an API, blob storage, and can even be setup to connect directly to many common ERP’s such as Oracle and SAP.

It’s worth noting that even though the capabilities exist to connect to many data sources, there can be a significant amount of setup required to connect to things like APIs. Luckily there is an ecosystem of 3rd parties that publish pre-made connectors to many common data sources that don’t easily connect natively but do come at an additional cost.

Alteryx publishes many additional connectors that don’t come installed out of the box with Alteryx but can be downloaded from the Alteryx Community website.

List of some of the Alteryx Data Analytics input source file types
Alteryx Datasources, SQL, Oracle, SAP, Amazon, Cloud Services

What data types can Alteryx output to?

Alteryx offers users the ability to output data to many of the same formats that it can ingest. This makes it a super versatile solution for process automation. For example, a single workflow could be setup to output to a Tableau Hyper File, an Excel Spreadsheet, and a SQL database simultaneously allowing users to build once and repute a process many times.

Is Alteryx a Replacement for Microsoft Excel?

While many finance and accounting professionals use Alteryx as a replacement for a lot of Excel based processes, the answer isn’t that straightforward. A very comm use case is to setup Alteryx to input, prep and blend spreadsheets from different systems and output a report in Excel there is still a place for Microsoft Excel in the workplace.

Even though Alteryx can generate Excel workbooks with multiple reporting tabs or output a report that looks similar to a Pivo Table, the outputs are not interactive. Many organizations will use Alteryx to output into a Business Intelligence tool such as Power BI or Tableau, but many will also output into a data tab of an existing spreadsheet that can be e-mailed around, shared and give people the ability to interact with data in a format that they are already familiar with.

Why don’t I use Python or SQL instead of Alteryx?

This question usually comes from the same guy who was the go-to for creating Excel Macros. They can be super useful, but always fall apart when Macro Guy leaves the company. There’s usually no documentation, and no understanding of how-to code VBA after they leave, and it puts the department in a bad spot.

Alteryx workflows can get complicated too. They can be difficult to unravel, but at least it’s visual. You can walk through step by step what it’s doing and piece it back together. Workflows can also be notated to explain what each step or block of steps are doing leave clues as to how to change a process if needed.

Similarly, to the Excel Macro example, the biggest drawback of SQL and Python is the level of knowledge required to use it. With enough time and effort, people can figure out anything but it’s not very approachable. There’s a level of understanding declaring variables, manually changing data types, installing libraries, understanding the different syntax for different types of SQL etc.

There is certainly a place in an organization for these skillsets, but they often come at a premium when trying to hire them. This makes it a scarce resource, and some organizations have centralized a Shared Services group of highly skilled people. It’s a great way to organize a group until you find out that the project you need the most is at the bottom of Shared Service’s priority list. Tools like Alteryx can make data analytics and process automation more approachable for non-technical staff and can empower non-technical users to achieve great things.

Does Alteryx Publish a Version of Designer for Mac?

No, Alteryx does not publish a version for Mac. Here are some possible workarounds:

  • Install Alteryx Designer using Parallels which comes with a subscription cost.

Click here to go to the Parallels website

  • Install Alteryx on a Windows Virtual Machine. You can usually source a VM through services like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Amazon AWS. Check with your IT department if they already have a supported solution available.
  • Use Apple Bootcamp to dual boot your Mac laptop into a Windows environment. This feature will likely go away now that Apple is moving more products to their M series of processors that run on an ARM architecture instead of x86.

Important Note: These workarounds can make it more difficult to import and output data to Alteryx. For instance, a Virtual Machine will not have the same access to files that you would on your desktop. It worth consulting your IT group before going this route.

Does Alteryx have a Cloud Version?

A version of Alteryx for Cloud has been in the works for several years. The initiative was turbo charged when Alteryx purchased Trifacta. The feature set between Alteryx Designer for desktop and cloud can be pretty significant but the gap should go down over time. To learn more, here is a current link to the Alteryx Designer Cloud page:

Designer Cloud | Alteryx

How much does Alteryx cost to implement?

Here’s the breakdown of what Alteryx costs for the primary components. Pricing is subject to change, and they do offer some promotional pricing from time to time. The most up to date information can be found on the Official Alteryx Price List

Alteryx Designer

  • $5,195 per Alteryx Designer license per year.
  • Each person running Alteryx Designer on their computer requires a license to build and run workflows.

Alteryx Server

  • Around $75,000 per year as an entry point.
  • You would need to contact Alteryx to find out exact pricing. It’s a variable pricing model based on how large the expected workload is going to be. Pricing goes up with the more processing cores your server uses.

Alteryx Server is required to schedule and automate workflows. You cannot schedule workflows directly in Alteryx Designer

Alteryx Intelligence Suite

  • $2,300 per license per year

Intelligence Suite is a set of Alteryx Tools that requires an additional license to use. It’s installed on an Alteryx Designer’s computer. Each person that wants to use Intelligence Suite will need their own license.

Tips and Tricks for New Alteryx Users

If you have already made the jump and brought Alteryx into your organization, check out our Alteryx Tips and Tricks article for some great lessons on things you can do to get the most out of your recent investment!

Pop! Automation – Alteryx Tips & Tricks

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