Business Intelligence

Alteryx warms up data blending for the new business intelligence

“Ultimately the value proposition is that we drive deeper insights in faster time, says Alteryx CEO Dean Stoecker. “Because nobody does data blending for the sake of it.”

That’s for sure. Sifting through data and making it readable and useful across platforms, systems, applications and versions is some of the dirtiest work in enterprise IT. Silicon Valley-based Alteryx is a company drawing attention because it promises to do this for the modern era of Big Data, faster and cheaper processing and a diverse range of information data types and formats.

Of course there have always been middlemen products like Tibco Spotfire that act as clearing houses for data that needs to be mined for ore. But Stoecker argues that these tools were made for another age when business managers asked for insights from specialist techie business analysts “and by the time IT has got back they’ve forgotten the question”.

Stoecker says the real game today is to blend any data and “create metaphors for mere mortals”. In other words for the tools to help more people make smarter decisions without resorting to extensive coding or parsing of abstract and abstruse data.

In this sense, Alteryx is on the side of the gods and part of the movement towards what it calls “the modernisation of the analytics stack” where Hadoop is often the framework for grabbing large datasets and visualisation tools like Qlik and Tableau help us make sense of, and see patterns in, the data torrents.

Stoecker likens Alteryx to “rocket fuel” or the “elixir of life” and says a new approach is needed for the generation that grew up with handheld devices and highly usable internet services. And of course he contrasts this approach with the old business intelligence where products – later subsumed into the giant software stack vendors – could be tough to implement and extract value from.

“The stack vendors did what they had to do in that area but they’re all scrambling now to re-write,” he says. “Today, buyers are demanding more from IT vendors. The stacks delivered more products and generated fewer invoices but buyers didn’t get what they bargained for.”

Instead, Alteryx provides “a Licklider effect”, he says, referring to the work of JCR Licklider, an American computer scientist and psychologist who foresaw the emergence of “man-computer symbiosis” where our intelligence and digital computation would dovetail to enable us to make better decisions.

All this is making Alteryx a hot property. The company raised $60m in late 2014 to add to the previous $18m but it hasn’t been an overnight success story. Alteryx has only been so named since 2010 after a product that was created in 2006 under the SRC company name. Stoecker says the slow burn is down to having big plans and the need to build an architecture for scale. “We did it the old-fashioned way and built an insanely great product,” he says, taking a phrase Steve Jobs used to describe the Macintosh computer.

Now, he contends, the company is set for growth and plans to almost double headcount this year to about 320. The target audience is broad, he says, all the way from media to healthcare, via retail and tax/audit – anybody that needs to de-clutter and assemble data for inspection.

Alteryx works with the likes of Tableau and Qlik but says that companies won’t be able to see the wood for the trees unless they have invested in data blending.

“You need an engine to cull the disparate data sets today so you have something worthy of visualising,” Stoecker argues.

It’s certainly the case that if the data is misleading, incomplete or otherwise lacking, it will be very hard - the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ rule - for companies to make better decisions. But if its blend becomes more widely adopted and more companies wake up and smell the coffee then Alteryx will have a good chance to build on a customer set that already includes Ford, Experian, BSkyB, Unilever, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Verizon Wireless and Dunkin’ Donuts.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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