In a whirlwind two days in Las Vegas, I reaffirmed my belief in the future of analytics and its potential to change businesses for the better. I attended Alteryx Inspire 2017, a client of SHIFT Communications, to see what one of the leading business intelligence and data analytics companies in the world was up to.
Analytics is Social
During the opening keynote, Alteryx CEO Dean Stoecker said:
I love this concept. Analytics power isn’t what we know, but what we share. When we share our data, our research, and our results, we learn and grow. We also create impact, because sharing what we do means we’ve put our work into action.
We know this to be true from the software world. Look at services like Github and StackOverflow. These companies provide forums for coders to ask each other questions and help repair each others’ code. If we’re not doing the same in data science and analytics, we’re missing opportunities to improve ourselves, our companies, and the collective power of our community. As Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Sharing our analytics knowledge is the modern-day equivalent.
Faster Answers Mean Faster Business
A second major theme of the event was about speed; while fast doesn’t beat right in the world of analytics, fast plus right is an unbeatable combination. Software like Alteryx, R, Tableau, and others help us find the right answer as quickly as possible.
I had breakfast with one of the Alteryx User Group champions, Charity Wilson, who said that the faster we make valid discoveries, the faster we improve our businesses. No one wants to wait weeks or months for an analytics answer to a question they have now. Whatever software we use, our businesses demand the right answer faster and faster.
Shipped Beats Perfect
One of the more interesting announcements at the show was the acquisition of Yhat, a data science platform made for rapid deployment of data science models. A major problem for data scientists is that we build models no one ever uses. By the time we’re done building, the business needs have changed due to poor strategy, the technology has changed, or the data has changed due to business delays. Thus, our models go unused, unloved, and deliver no impact.
In Yhat Bandit, we data scientists can build a dozen different models using different techniques, then have Bandit test them to find which is the most effective.
If we reduce build time and testing time, we can beat business delays or data change problems.
With the acquisition, I’m betting that Alteryx incorporates Yhat’s deployment technology with Alteryx’s low-code/no-code tools like Designer to make non-data scientist models testable and deployable.
No Tool Supplants Wisdom
Finally, one other major takeaway from Inspire is that the role of humans, while changing in analytics, isn’t going away any time soon, even in the era of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Our role will pivot from developers and coders to designers and architects. As software becomes smarter, we’ll need to do less and less of the drudgery, but for quite some time, we are still necessary parts of the process.
Consider the evolution of machine learning in analytics like the advancements in GPS. GPS software now uses all kinds of machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence to help us get to our destinations faster, with less frustration and more enjoyment. However, no GPS app in the world will tell us where to go. We still need to decide what the destination is before the machines help us to get there.
The same is true in analytics. We still need to know where our business is going before any software will help us get there. No tool supplants our wisdom or our experience with our business.
Disclosure: Alteryx sponsored my attendance at Inspire 2017 with a complimentary admission to the event. Additionally, Alteryx is a client of SHIFT Communications, and I receive indirect financial benefit from the relationship through my compensation as a SHIFT employee.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology