There is something quite magical about Alteryx. Something that I just haven’t been able to let go of for nearly 11 years now and If you would have told me 11 years ago that I was going to end up getting so obsessed with Alteryx that I’d even write a book about it to get more people interested in Alteryx I would probably have laughed at you or for sure thought YOU were making it up!
I love Alteryx. I spend hours of my day everyday either building workflows, helping others build workflows, scaling them, and helping my company to support tens of thousands of Alteryx users. I have yet to get tired, bored, or disinterested in helping others get started. It’s so fun to see the look on peoples faces as they start to ‘get it’. I then start to get why myself and millions of others are so wildly passionate about Alteryx.
In this chapter I am going to bring you up to speed with Alteryx Designer and the APA platform. I am going to get you started downloading, Installing, and activating Alteryx Designer on your computer. Then we are going to cover the amazing power of the Alteryx Community to give you a solid foundation to learn the rest of these concepts in this book. Please allow yourself to get excited. Alteryx is extremely fun and yet can allow you to not only take your career to the next level but also give you a way to change people’s lives by solving problems and automating those solutions.
Alteryx Designer is a windows software application that gives you an intuitive, fun and easy to use drag-and-drop user interface in order to create repeatable workflow processes for analyzing, blending data, and performing advanced analytics (such as predictive, spatial, and prescriptive). You can drag “tools” from a “tool palette” onto a “canvas”, connect those tools to each other in a process flow that results in one of 3 results: A workflow, an analytic app, or a macro. You can also use these processes you create to quickly and automatically produce results that can be easily shared with others.
Alteryx Designer is an extremely powerful, scalable, and dynamic software application that has been and continues to be in a state of growth, transition, and transformation as a stand-alone product. To classify Alteryx Designer as a stand-alone product however would not be entirely correct. Alteryx Designer as well as other products like Alteryx Server, Alteryx Connect, and Alteryx Promote all form what is referred to as the Alteryx Analytic Process Automation Platform or Alteryx APA Platform for short.
For the last 5+ years it can be relatively safe to say that anyone working with data and specifically in the analytics field could see that their industry and the software products that they have been using exist in a poorly defined category. Are you a business intelligence developer or a reporting analyst? Are you an analytics professional or a data scientist? Are you an AI developer or Machine Learning engineer? The list goes on. With these areas of focus fairly new and Alteryx’ users knowing that many of them stand in many areas simultaneously and wanting to better understand what category they fall in, the need for Analytic Process Automation (APA) was born.
What has been interesting to see during this same time is the explosion of a closely tangential field called Robotic Process Automation or RPA. RPA has been involved with the goal of using software (specifically called robots or bots) that can automate tasks that users normally manually complete like opening a website, logging in, and downloading a report. Software players like UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism have the benefit of this now fairly well defined structure called RPA.
Alteryx released their collection of software products under this new identity around may of 2020 as the Alteryx APA Platform. APA is best understood as a grouping of three main pillars of focus: Data, Analytic Processes, & People, with the idea that Alteryx users sit squarely in the middle of this new realm of APA
APA is also a broad enough distinction that allows a large variety of users that work with data, analytics, business intelligence, data science and even RPA the freedom to grow and learn their software or skill set within a framework that expands and grows with them. For example a highly skilled database developer can use Alteryx as well as also pick up skills in predictive modeling, or an analytics professional cannot just learn how to scrape websites with APIs but also clean and visualize that data as well. The magic in APA is when these areas of focus under data, process, and people are combined. In the image below (see Figure 1-1) you see that you can automate your data inputs and run this data through tools that handle the variety of activities you need such as Data Preparation, Reporting, Predictive Analytics and even Machine Learning Algorithms and then lastly output to whatever form you need.
Let’s now jump deeper into Alteryx Designer and what it has to offer as part of the APA.
Alteryx Designer’s user interface (see Figure 1-2) shows the easy drag and drop interface that users have come to love. Workflows are built with ease but also can support highly complex and complicated processes as well.
The power of Alteryx Designer lies in a few key areas:
Designers’ extensive library of tools make once difficult tasks easier as well as providing an unlimited possibility for connecting each of the tools together to achieve the desired results. Flexibility around the vast number of sources that can be connected to and updated. If you want to just clean up some data that is formatted poorly then you can easily do that but if you also want to connect to a website, download a table of data and process it further you can do that too!
Designer’s flexibility leads to the fact that it has a vast variety of workflows that can be built in order to address the widest number of use cases. With Alteryx Designer you can handle problems in many different business areas and analytics disciplines such as Customer Success, HR, Finance, Operations, Sales & Support, Marketing, and IT.
Alteryx is known to have a somewhat cult-like following amongst its users of which I include myself in that group. Many of the tens of thousands of Alteryx community users love supporting each other on “the community” as we affectionately call it and the Alteryx community has won awards as well. On top of the users that make it such an inviting place, Alteryx itself has done an excellent job on providing resources and training material for users getting started or learning about a new category of tools and capabilities in Alteryx Designer. You can quickly and easily get help from peers and expert ACE’s anytime as well as read about the latest and greatest features of the recent releases.
Alteryx has been well known for its quarterly releases and so it’s important to pay attention to the latest versions and upgrades to see which new features are available.
Alteryx Designer and the other Alteryx products release on a quarterly basis. The first release being the ‘Major’ release and then subsequent releases are marked as ‘Minor’ releases with the first minor release being also referred to as the ‘stable’ release. With Alteryx Designer being such a large piece of software and many moving parts, many users can’t simply keep up with every latest release. It is not advisable to always be on the latest version unless you are specifically testing it. One rule many use is to try and stay V-1 (v minus one) meaning one version behind the latest release which allows any bugs or issues to be addressed by those testing. If you are interested in playing with the bleeding edge updates for Alteryx Designer I highly recommend you join the Alteryx beta program. With each release Alteryx will provide you with two main sets of information: Release Notes and Help Documentation.
Release notes can be found here: https://help.alteryx.com/release-notes. Release notes provide key information about that release to include: Version numbers, release dates, release type, and end of support dates. They also go into detail around what new features as well as fixed and known issues as of that release. It is important to pay attention to these release notes closely as you can learn a lot about what that version provides you. From a new feature that might make your development much easier or provide more capability you were looking for to also knowing if a bug you are experiencing is now fixed or at the minimum marked as a known issue and hopefully resolved in a future release.
[Begin Tip] I have seen many users go through the trouble of downloading and upgrading to the latest version only to find out the issue they are experiencing is not fixed in that release. The release notes can save you that headache.
Because Alteryx provides the ID number and exact version for it’s fixed and known issues I have many times been able to talk to Alteryx support and get more detailed information on that specific issue that helped me address it.
Alteryx’ help documentation is very well done. As someone who admittedly spends more time reading the help documentation than probably many others I can tell you that although it’s very good it’s not perfect. I want to make sure that you set the right expectations. Help documentation for example can give you the general direction of how to approach but it’s not going to cover everything in painstaking detail and with screenshots of every little thing. I usually go to the help documentation to get the high level understanding I need but if one step of the process being described isn’t clear still then I usually go to the community and ask for help from the community. There are many people that are willing to help and can provide that detail you need. Now let’s get you started by downloading Alteryx Designer.
Downloading and Installing Alteryx Designer is a relatively simple process that will enable you to do things that you never thought possible. Please make sure that you have the minimum requirements fulfilled by going here: Designer - Self Service Data Analytics | Alteryx
If you have a license key available and you want to get started by downloading then follow these steps. However if you don’t yet have a full license and want to start a trial then you will have that option once you have successfully installed the software.
Step 1: Before getting started you need to double check and make sure you have a computer with the minimum requirements stated in the prerequisites section of this book. Not having enough memory especially will provide a poor experience that will cause you many headaches. To download Alteryx Designer you can go to http://downloads.alteryx.com/. You will need to create an account if you don’t already have one with Alteryx, which you can do by clicking on the “Register Here” link (see Figure 1-3):
It’s important to use the email address that you have a license associated with!
Step 2: Once you login, you will see a screen like this (see Figure 1-4):
Step 3: You will click on the button that says “Alteryx Designer”.
If you or your organization don’t have licenses for the other Alteryx products you won’t see those listed for download.
Step 4: You will need to select which version you want to download. The latest version will be on the “New Versions” tab and then any other version will be located on the “Previous Versions” tab. On the previous versions tab you will only see those versions that are still supported by Alteryx. (see Figure 1-5)
Step 5: Once you have selected the version you want to download. Then you will see a screen like this (see Figure 1-6):
Before you proceed you need to understand that there are two options here and you want to make sure you get the right version. Alteryx provides two different installation options for Alteryx Designer. Admin version and Non-Admin version. There is no difference between the two versions when it comes to what is installed. The difference lies in where on your machine it gets installed. The admin installation applies to all users on a machine and installs in the system Program Files directory at C:Program FilesAlteryx. The non-admin installation only applies to the user who installed Alteryx and installs in the AppData folder at C:Usersuser nameAppDataLocalAlteryx. What this means is that you can actually install two different versions on any machine. However it’s important to note that if you have a version installed, say for example the admin version, and you try to install another admin version it will remove that previously installed admin version. Same goes for Non-admin if you try to install another version of non-admin.
If you have admin access on your machine or your organization deploys the software to your machine using the admin account then you want to ensure you get the admin version. However if you want to use a different version or don’t have admin rights you can use the non-admin version. For the following steps I will demonstrate how to download a non-admin version. Now that we have decided which version we want to download, we will need to download both the Non-Admin Alteryx Designer executable (exe) as well as the Non-Admin Alteryx Predictive Tools exe. If you are not going to use the predictive tools then you won’t need to download. If you want to follow along with some of the later chapters in this book where we deep dive into the Predictive Tools, I recommend you download it.
We will start with installing the Non-Admin Alteryx Designer first.
Installing Alteryx Designer is actually quite easy but for new users it can be a little unclear what you should be paying close attention to for each of the steps. The process to conduct a new installation versus upgrading to a newer version is exactly the same. The only difference that happens is when you are upgrading to a new version the installer will remove the previous version prior to installing. I will walk you through those steps now. Once you download both of the executable files you will go to the directory where they were downloaded to, usually this is the download folder. From there you will double click on the Non-Admin Alteryx Designer exe. The first screen you will see is this (see Figure 1-7):
This process can take a few minutes. If you are upgrading or reinstalling and have a previous installation you will see a screen like this (see Figure 1-8):
Click ‘Next’ and the software will start installing. The installation process can take anywhere from 10-45 minutes to install depending on the machine being used (see Figure 1-9):
The installation of python dependencies can take awhile (>15 min) so be patient.
Once the installation completes you will see a screen like this (see Figure 1-10). Ensure “Close and run Alteryx Designer later” is selected and click Finish. This means the installation was successful and it’s now time to install the 2nd package.
Now you will you go to the directory where you downloaded the install files and double click on the “RNonAdminInstall_[version#].exe file. This will kick off the installation of the predictive tools that are built on R. In chapter 21 we will discuss these tools in depth. Once you have clicked on the exe to start installing the R tools you will see the same startup screen as the first install (see Figure 1-11):
When the installation has completed verifying the contents you will see a screen that shows you the R Packages that will be installed (see Figure 1-12):
Click Next and you will see the GNU General Public License screen (see Figure 1-13)
Click Next and the installation will begin (see Figure 1-14):
Once the installation is complete you will see a screen like this (see Figure 1-15):
With the box checked to “Run Alteryx Now” click Finish and Alteryx Designer will open. Now it’s time to activate it!
Alteryx Designer provides you with 3 different activation options. Standard, Offline, and using a License Server. Most users will use the standard activation process but if you have a scenario where the machine you are using is not connected to the internet or has traffic blocked for security reasons then you have the option to activate using an offline license. On a new installation when you open Alteryx Designer for the first time you will see a popup screen that looks like this (see Figure 1-16):
If this is not a new installation and your machine has a license already installed nothing will change. Your license will stay. Just in case if you do need to add a license you can access the license manager by going to Options Menu and selecting “Manage Licenses” (see Figure 1-17)
From the Manage Licenses window click on “Activate New License” (see Figure 1-18)
In the next screen paste in your license key(s) and click “Activate” (see Figure 1-19)
If you do not have a license key to activate at this time you can select the “Start Free Trial” where you will enter a bit of information and a trial key will be activated.
Congratulations! You have downloaded, Installed, & activated Alteryx Designer! You are now ready to get started. Mark this day down as I promise you it will be a day to remember. I remember the moment I was first introduced to Alteryx Designer more than 10+ years ago!
Now you’ll want to get signed up and on the Alteryx Community to find many others just like you!
As I hinted at earlier in this chapter one of the greatest resources you have available to you as you start your exciting journey using Alteryx Designer is the industry award-winning Alteryx community site. I cannot begin to tell you how much you will come to love and appreciate everything about this special group of people and extensive resources at your fingertips. I honestly had to think deeply about writing this book since there is indeed so much amazing content and material for you. This book is written with the hope that it will support, extend, and improve the community to be even better than it is already.
In this section I want to share with you some of the most important areas of the Alteryx community to ensure you know what to get into. The community is a huge, almost intimidating place but I assure you once you reach out in the discussion boards, or comment on a blog post you will start to feel welcome right away. We are a close tight-knit group of thousands of passionate Alteryx users and nothing makes us happier than having more friends to talk Alteryx with. Let’s dive in!
When you are first getting started there is nothing better than this book (sorry shameless plug!) but in very close 2nd is the Alteryx Academy. The Alteryx Academy is a focused collection of resources that is meant to help you on your journey from Alteryx novice to a working professional. There are Learning Paths, Interactive Lessons, Live Training, Videos, Certifications, and my favorite Weekly Challenges!
Alteryx has three main certifications for all Alteryx Designer users and currently six more reserved for Alteryx Partners. The three main certifications are: Core, Advanced, and Expert. In the Alteryx academy you can find certification guides for all three of them.
The discussion boards on the community are one of the greatest places to not only ask questions and get help from other knowledgeable users but also find where someone may have already faced the same issue and had it resolved.
The Knowledge section on the community is a great resource for learning and getting a more indepth view on a topic. There are many articles and deep dives written out that you can search through by product.
The Ideas section is where you can see and/or post any ideas that can improve the product. If you’re building a workflow and think you have an idea that Alteryx should implement into the product you can write it up and have other Alteryx users vote it up! It’s also a great place to see other issues where Alteryx has accepted them and will be putting into a future release.
The Blogs and Podcasts section is a great place to learn new topics. I find it as a great resource for hearing from the others in the Alteryx community. There are also some really great deep dives into topics like Predictive Analytics and advanced areas of Alteryx. The podcasts are available from major podcast apps like Google and Spotify so you can listen to them on your next road trip!
The User Groups section is where you can sign up or even start a user group meetup in your area. There are more and more user groups being started every month and its likely if you are in a major US city there is one already set up in your area. If that’s not the case you can work with the user groups team at Alteryx to get one setup and help other users to learn more about Alteryx as well as find new friends that share the same interests!
The Use Cases section is where If you are new to Alteryx and you want to see the impact that Alteryx has on organizations. You can get in depth information on specific approaches that others have used to be successful. From automating powerpoint presentations to how a North American airline saved over $1 million dollars annually.
Alteryx provides user support for anything related to their products. The help documentation they have put together is both. I would highly recommend you also get familiar with the support section of the community because it’s a great hub for any support you may need. You can create a case if you like or send an email to Alteryx support to get your issue resolved. You can contact them at [email protected].
Alteryx does a reasonably good job of providing detailed information around every feature and function of Alteryx Designer. It’s important to keep on the lookout for any place you see a circle with a question mark in it as that will provide a direct link to help documentation specifically for that area you are focused on. These icons appear on any configuration window for the workflow or tools (see Figure 1-20)
It’s also available by right clicking on the tool in the canvas (see Figure 1-21)
In this chapter we covered everything you need to get started and begin to know your way around the Alteryx community. I introduced you to Alteryx Designer and APA. I talked about all the resources and help you have at your disposal. We also went into a detailed step by step guide to getting Alteryx installed. Lastly we covered the plethora of options available on the community to engage and start to learn from your peers. As with all software there will be a lot of new things to learn and do but remember analytics can be very fun and exciting and you’ve taken the first step towards getting there. Make sure you stick with the book and you will soon learn things that you never thought possible! In this next chapter we work on getting into Alteryx Designer and getting you the skills and knowledge you will need to build your first workflow. Let’s go!