Alteryx is best known for developing data preparation and blending tools. That’s its historical position of strength in the market. But the vendor aims to change that in the future as it builds its platform and widens its offerings in a bid to steal the thunder from competitors and their best-of-breed tools.
There’s a lot that goes into building a successful data analytics program. Among the most important, however, are having the right people, the right data, and right technology in place to drive good decision-making. There seems to be a never-ending shortage of qualified people to build and run analytic systems, and the data is always growing, always changing. What, then, of the technology?
Analytics technology is evolving extremely quickly at the moment, particularly in hot areas like streaming analytics and deep learning. We’ve seen a number of VC-funded startups emerge to build tools with the latest technologies over the past five years. The artificial intelligence (AI) bandwagon is big right now, and will undoubtedly get bigger in 2018.
But one could argue that there are actually too many tools on the market today, too much overlapping capability, and that we should simplify and rationalize the breadth of tools we’re using. That’s basically what the folks at Alteryx are hearing when they talk to chief data officers in enterprise accounts.
“What we determined was that analysts and CDOs alike really want to consolidate their tool usage,” says Ashley Kramer, the vice president of product management at Alteryx. “It’s no secret to any of us that there’s a million different tools out there in little niche places. So you have your data visualization tools, you have your prep and blend tools, you have your visualization tools.
“You have all these different tools,” she continues, “and we see at an enterprise level they want a consolidation. They really want to be able to use more individual platforms that can provide all of these capabilities to help them make data-driven decisions.”
Over the past several months, Alteryx has worked to broaden its offerings beyond its main two products. That includes Designer, which provides core capabilities like data preparation, data blending, and predictive and spatial analytics, and Server, which helps users scale and share the insights gleaned through Designer.
To improve its visual analytics, earlier this year the company signed an OEM agreement with Plot.ly, a developer of open source visualization tools. The company integrated the Plot.ly technology into Designer to enable customers to interactively profile data, as well as to provide reporting and drill-down capabilities. It calls this its “visualytics” capability and it’s available free of charge to existing customers.
To improve its data discovery and collaboration capabilities, Alteryx acquired a company out of Prague earlier this year. The company, called Semanta, was key to the development of a new Alteryx product called Connect that allows customers to take better stock of the data assets that already exist in their orgnaizatoins. Connect has sold better than expected, Kramer says.
To improve its data science operationalization capabilities, Alteryx made another deal. Its June acquisition of Brooklyn’s YHAT paved the way to the development of a forthcoming new product called Promote that will allow code-free deployment and management of data science models. This is solving the “last mile” problem of data science, and will be shipped next year, Kramer says.
These three new products and capabilities – visualization tools, data discovery, and deployment of models – will address gaps in the Alteryx lineup and encourage Alteryx customers to stay within the platform for more of their data analytics and data science needs, Kramer says.
“Over the next year what we’re doing is tying the pieces of the platform together more closely to provide one true unified end-to-end data and analytics platform for both coders in the organization and non- coders,” she tells Datanami. “So we’ll have an extreme focus on providing this one unified platform. We’re well on our way to getting there already.”
Alteryx isn’t the only data analytics vendor to go “up the stack” and increase their analytic footprint in a bid to keep customers happy and stay ahead of competitors. You see it in play with Cloudera and the Data Science Workbench it unveiled earlier this year. You see it with Teradata with its new “analytics platform” strategy. MapR, Igauzio, and Elastic are also building their end-to-end platforms that satisfy a range of customer demadns.
The pendulum appears to be swinging from an spread out “best of breed” approach toward a more consolidated “soup to nuts,” or platform approach, and Alteryx is determined to get in front of the game. It’s being driven, Kramer says, by a desire for more architectural simplicity, and, to a lesser extent, a desire for lower spending.
“From a CDO standpoint, when you’re trying to track or manage 13 different tools and you have all the databases and where’s the data going and who’s using it and how – I think that starts to make people nervous,” she says. “They want to provide their organization with the autonomy to go make great data-driven decisions. But they also need to know that that’s being done in a managed way and it’s not just the Wild West of data and analytics within an organization.”
Alteryx is betting that enterprises will look more favorably upon platforms that can offer more of the analytic capabilities that they need, even if they’re not best of breed. But that doesn’t mean that Alteryx is closing itself from working with partners, including Cloudera (with whom it’s working on a new Spark connector) and particularly the top data visualization vendors.
“If they want to keep best of breed that’s great. We will stay very close partners with [Microsoft] PowerBI, Qlik, and Tableau,” says Kramer, who was Tableau’s head of cloud and product for four years before joining Alteryx earlier this year.
“We just want to give customers choice. This is not our play to become a visualization company, by any means,” she continues. “But what we’re hearing from a lot of customers is, Alteryx is the best at operationalizing reporting. It would be really great if we could just provide those quick metrics in a dashboard for most of our analysts to look at, and then go into Tableau to do that deep dive analysis. So we want to provide that for them.”