Alteryx and Analytic Process Automation – Beyond the Hype
Chris Love looks behind Alteryx’s recent announcement (May 2020) around Analytic Process Automation and digs into what is behind the hype, how it affects you and why it matters.
What did Alteryx announce?
Let us look at Alteryx’s press release, in case you missed the announcement, the full text is here:
Alteryx, Inc. (NYSE: AYX) today unveiled its enhanced analytic process automation (APA) platform, which unifies analytics, data science and business process automation in one, end-to-end platform. By bringing data, processes and people together in a converged approach, the Alteryx APA Platform enables high-impact business outcomes and rapid upskilling of people across the organization. Designed to put automation in the hands of all data workers—from line-of-business users to skilled analysts and data scientists—the human-centered platform transforms how businesses leverage their data assets, optimize their processes and upskill human talent to generate workforce efficiencies, top-line growth and optimize costs.
“Businesses are looking for transformational outcomes and have a heightened urgency to digitally transform. This requires a new kind of platform with an organizational capacity to make every worker across a company a data worker,” said Dean Stoecker, co-founder and CEO of Alteryx. “The analytics category is fast maturing, and capitalizing on the potential of APA demands a unified platform that makes analytics, data science and process automation accessible to all. Human ingenuity is essential in creating any form of successful automation and when humans and machines work together as a means of amplifying intelligence, we can solve remarkable problems.”
So Alteryx released a new Product? What are the details?
Hold your horses, not quite. What Alteryx are unveiling isn’t anything new, they still have the same products you’ve been using: Designer and Server (and Connect and Promote if you use them). What is changing is how Alteryx wants us to think of them.
So this whole announcement is just marketing and market positioning?
Well, yes, but it’s a lot more than that and some of it matters a lot if you are in the analytics space. This is Alteryx doing two things; firstly, positioning themselves as an end-to-end Analytics platform, and secondly, creating a new product category, APA, to define exactly what Alteryx does.
You may have heard Alteryx position themselves as an end-to-end platform before, this isn’t anything new. You’ll have heard them talk about this before if you’ve been in any of their conferences recently. However, what is interesting is where they are positioning themselves now and the new product category they have defined. It gives a much clearer definition of the space they occupy and where their software fits.
Okay…still sounds like marketing. Why does this matter?
To see why Analytic Process Automation matters it’s worth looking at the categories Alteryx traditionally gets pigeon-holed into:
ETL (Extract-Transform-Load) – this is a very traditional set of software technologies that, typically, extracts data from operational databases and loads it into analytical data lakes or data warehouses. These IT-heavy tools typically are slower to build and less flexible than Alteryx but lend themselves to traditional IT processes which require heavily productionised instances with STLC (Software Testing Life Cycle) phases.
Data Preparation – the lighter, business-focused side of ETL is at the core of Alteryx but minimises what Alteryx provides, with over 260 tools, across geospatial and predictive as well as data preparation and analytics Alteryx is much more than “just” data prep.
BPA (Business Process Automation) – is the other side of the coin. Digital transformation is the end result of what analytics software, like Alteryx can achieve but BPA presents a very broad, human-centred, and non-technology focussed category that fails to capture the analytical side of Alteryx’s approach.
RPA (Robotics Process Automation) – is the technical “Machine Learning” side of BPA but processes focus on data capture and automation and again fails to capture the specialist analytical side, and human-centred, approach Alteryx takes.
We could continue listing out areas where Alteryx finds itself positioned but what is obvious to everyone who has used Alteryx is that it does stand apart, and mostly alone, from all these technology categories – hence the need for a new category that better fits Alteryx processes.
So what is Analytic Process Automation?
Here we have a dilemma, clearly defining a category around one piece of software makes it hard to know where our category definition is being driven by the software’s capabilities. So let’s attempt to forget about Alteryx for a moment and think about RPA, BPA and how APA should be different.
Thinking about The Information Lab customers who currently deploying automated analytics we see a diverse set of use cases. Banks building regulatory checks and assessing risk, rail companies assessing pricing and performance impacts and healthcare providers assessing risk and demand for services in a post-covid world. All these processes encompass data preparation and analytics, but, crucially, require analysts (not data scientists) to apply their business knowledge and build flexible, adaptive solutions that can meet changing demands as needed.
This combination of business, analytics and people is at the centre of any Analytic Process Automation. Building processes that drive value or change in businesses through the use and analysis of data using specialist business knowledge.
Are Alteryx alone in this APA category of software?
This is an interesting question, APA certainly hasn’t just been invented despite the coin being only recently coined.
Tableau and other Data Visualisation vendors might argue they compete in this space, but perhaps without the breadth of tools, especially in the predictive and prescriptive space, that Alteryx can offer.
As the conversation develops will we see an APA Gartner MQ, similar to the RPA MQ which has been released recently? It will be interesting to see how the industry adopts the new term.
How does this help me though?
Firstly, consider how you position Alteryx’s role, or your own role, internally in your organisation. APA can give you a new semantic structure to help you describe projects and help build support for them internally, and avoid confusion with what Data Scientist or ETL teams are doing.
Whether you’re an existing Alteryx user or someone who is keen to learn more about the space, APA is an exciting and significant development in the Analytics space. In the same way we’ve seen RPA specialists and teams develop inside organisations, you might well expect APA teams to develop in the same way – Alteryx will certainly be hoping they do.
Interested in Alteryx and keen to chat to our trainers about APA? Contact us directly using the contact us details, or come along to one of our free virtual training sessions. You can alternatively contact Chris Love on LinkedIn to discuss this article directly.