Making analytics accessible across the enterprise

Data is a lot like oil – it’s highly prized, but if it remains unrefined, it can’t be used. Oil needs to be converted into materials like petrol, diesel, and plastic for it to be valuable. Similarly, raw data must be processed and analysed to make sense of the information.

One such organisation that engages in sorting out data is Alteryx, a software firm whose products are used for data science and analytics. Its specialty is to make advanced analytics accessible to people who use data in their work.

In 2021, Alteryx appointed Paula Hansen as its Chief Revenue Officer to spearhead the company’s worldwide sales, systems engineering, channels, and industry-specific go-to-market initiatives. Earlier this year, Hansen also took on the role of President.

We sat down virtually with Hansen to talk about a host of data-related topics, including Alteryx’s mission to democratise analytics, its Digital Transformation 2.0 vision, business challenges and goals, and the immediate future of the field, among others.

You once took on several sales leadership roles in Cisco and worked in the organisation for 18 years. What specific lessons learned there are you able to apply at Alteryx? What was the most interesting part of working at Cisco?

It was an exciting 18, almost 19 years, they’re hard to believe, but was really a very formative part of my career in leading sales organisations and understanding the ways that you can best serve enterprises – because the majority of my time at Cisco was leading the go-to-market teams that supported our largest enterprise businesses.

I think one of the foremost things that I learned there was that if you understand your customers’ business and the goals that they’re trying to drive within their industry, and you are able to relate the value that your solution delivers to those outcomes, that you can be of the best value to your customer. At the end of the day, they’re going to make decisions based on what business partners can most directly deliver value to their company, and to what they’re trying to drive within their market.

The second was the importance of partnerships. We certainly leveraged partners extensively in our go-to-market (strategy) at Cisco. And as I spend time here at Alteryx, I realise that partnerships are also very, very important to us and our customers in this market as well.

Could you talk to us about Alterix’s vision of Digital Transformation 2.0? How is it better than 1.0? How is it different from other calls to action for a Digital Transformation 2.0?

To me, Digital Transformation 1.0 was kind of this concept of bringing new technologies out that would help drive some level of efficiencies in businesses, such as big data and Internet of Things and just the ubiquity of the internet in general. So much of that was about driving efficiencies across different organisations.

As we look at Digital Transformation 2.0, I think it really elevates beyond 1.0  into not only efficiencies but helping to drive real data-driven business impact. Our view is that companies that build a culture of analytics across their business are the ones that are going to move from just being rich in data and surrounded with data, but actually turned into data-driven organisations that can help them with new business models, with transformational initiatives that have not only (an) efficiency benefit, but top-line benefits, and that it’s being done not through pockets of centralisation or pockets of technology. It’s done through a platform, through empowerment, through bringing the capability to everyone across the enterprise, so that everyone can participate in the business and making data-driven decisions for the business.

I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the business that we’re in, and we see a real tipping point as we talk to our customers that – at the boardroom level, people are realising that the differentiation that they want to realise or give to their customers is going to be directly related to the way they leverage their data. And the way that they’re going to do that most successfully is through democratisation of the data, democratisation of the analytics, and, and empowering the full extent of the enterprise organisation to do so.

This democratisation is for everyone. It’s not just for the leaders; it includes people in the trenches as well.

Absolutely. If you look at our heritage, I think we’ve been fortunate to have always been very focused on the business and the business user, the business analyst, in any variety of functions across the enterprise, whether it’s finance, supply chain, sales, marketing, HR, operations, you name it.

The reality is, for a business to be agile, for business to be able to move with intent, you have to empower the people that are in the business closest to the data, the ones that are understanding the decisions that need to be made. Many of them are not technical types of people; they are business-oriented, and they need something that is easy to use, and something that helps them derive the insights that they need without having to have a degree or ability to code in Python.

What are Alteryx’s top business challenges in this age of COVID-19 and DX 2.0? What are your technology goals for 2022?

We think that the pandemic and COVID-19 has really changed the landscape for everybody. It’s put a real focus on digitisation, on being able to make quick pivots in whatever business that you’re in, which requires you to leverage the data that you have, and put it to work for you in terms of unlocking the data, the decisions that you need to make to keep up with your industry.

There really isn’t an industry out there that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, bringing to the forefront the need to be able to transform with speed and be able to respond to whatever’s happening within your industry. That’s one piece of it.

The other piece of it is that we’re all still facing a pretty big shortage of talent out there. There’s not enough data scientists in the world, there is not enough analyst capability that you can purely just hire your way out of it. It’s got to be about empowering the people that you have throughout the organisation to be a part of this analytics opportunity. 

We recently commissioned a study with IDC called Toward Analytics Automation in Asia Pacific. That’s when we confirmed this challenge that’s throughout the market, where 90% of business executives believe that data analytics is important for them to be able to be agile and perform in the market, but only 19% of them actually think that they’ve achieved the level of maturity that they need when it comes to their analytics maturity. So closing that gap between the belief of the power of analytics and the reality of where companies are today is our mission – it’s to help them close that gap.

What are some of the most exciting developments in Alteryx’s labs, specifically in the emerging technologies you plan to use?

One of them is Auto Insights. Think of this as an AI capability that is really meant to drive insights in a real-time way for business users. There are a lot of dashboards and static reports that exist out within companies and enterprises.

But more so now than ever, business owners and executives want to interact with that data in real time and derive insights from it. So they don’t want to just see a static dashboard that shows sales are trending up, or sales are trending down, they want to understand why that’s happening, and be able to get insights that tells them the story behind the data, so that they can react and make better business decisions.

So AI-driven type of Auto Insights is definitely a big focus for us in our labs. Similarly, with machine learning, trying to help non-technical users be able to deploy more predictable models and give them guided and visual access to machine learning. That isn’t something they have to have a degree in to be able to deploy within their business.

The third area is around analytic apps and bringing more analytics into the applications that our customers are running on a daily basis, many of which they’ve built themselves and want to have analytic capability deployed easily within their own applications.

This falls in line with Alteryx’s vision of Digital Transformation 2.0, with the democratisation of data through AI and ML. It helps that, right?

Absolutely. Because we’re not living in a static world. We have to be able to continue to learn from what the data is telling you, and AI and ML – give people that ability to do that with speed and with better insight.

Aside from automation, how do you envision data analytics will evolve within the next three to five years? How has the recent explosion of data affected analytics as a whole?

There’s a lot of focus right now on data literacy within companies. People recognise that with the talent shortage that I referenced earlier, they really have to breed more literacy among the employee base. This focus on upskilling is a peak conversation that we have with companies right now. We want to be the business partner to our customers around that – and that addresses so many different needs across their business, with changing customer needs and disruption in the supply chain, really helping them to pivot as whatever the next crisis might be after this pandemic.

We believe that the companies that focus on leveraging advanced analytics to run their business are going to outperform their peers. I referenced earlier, the IDC study Toward Analytics Automation in Asia Pacific, and there we highlighted many benefits from cost reduction to business model innovation, new product development, (and) market expansion, these are all areas where the maturity of your analytics capability can help you to differentiate from your peer group.