TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Part 4

This is Part 4 in the series TableauPro’s Day 1 with Alteryx – Intro. If you want to go to Part 3, please click here. In this post, I am talking my impression of the tutorial on Filtering Data. You can watch the corresponding YouTube video here.

  • For the first time, we are bringing an Excel file into Alteryx :). Given that most people are familiar with Excel format than any others, this should have been used as an input data source from the first tutorial itself.
  • Bringing an Excel should have been the easiest thing to do, but somehow the process seemed more complicated than it should be. When I select the excel file, I get this prompt which asks me to select the sheet I want – output or output$. When I see this, I could easily guess that there is a named range called ‘output’ in that excel in addition to a sheet named ‘output’. But I do not know whether the $ is attached to the sheet name or to the variable name. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 8.29.50 AM.png
  • So, I dragged another Excel from my system that contains only one sheet named ‘Sheet1’ with no named ranges to see what Alteryx displays. Alteryx displayed this window. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 8.35.30 AM.png
  • So, I deduced that $ is appended to the sheet name. Hence, to get the data from a sheet, I have to select the sheetname with $ at the end – what a complicated scenario to start-off for a getting started tutorial! Also, there is a single quote surrounding the names – I can understand that this can be useful in a few rare cases where is a trailing space at the end of the names. But the single quotes make it hard to read – if this application is aimed not at typical ETL developers, but at casual business users, then these little things matter and they should be simplified.
  • Also, I did not understand why I got a slightly different window when I dragged and dropped another Excel file. Also the title of this new window is ‘Choose a table’ instead of ‘Choose Sheet’.
  • There is an option at the bottom of the ‘Choose Sheet or Specify Query’ window to ‘Open Tables view by default’. I could not guess based on the context what it means. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 8.38.40 AM.png
  • Hence, I clicked on help and I landed here. There was nothing on this page that corresponded to the dialog box that I am currently in and there was no explanation for the meaning of ‘Open Tables view by default’. This is the first time I am landing on the help page to get more detail and the impression was not good. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 8.42.00 AM.png
  • Since I am finding a lot of fault here, let me also add one thing that I really liked here. “Choose Sheet” dialog says that “Table List is cached at ” and gives an option to refresh it. This could be useful if I am working on the file while I am loading it in Alteryx.
  • I ran the Input Data tool and I got this error. I could not figure out the root-cause of the error. I remember reading/hearing somewhere that the Excel file should not be open at the time of running the workflow – so, I closed the Excel. But the error did not go away. I deleted the Input tool and then brought it again, but the error persisted. Then, I exited workflow and relaunched and now the error has gone away. If there are error messages related to loading an Excel, I guess that they have to be understandable to the user. Here the error message reminded me of my C/C++ programming days where the error messages were utterly unhelpful.Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 9.11.57 AM.png
  • The next tool in this workflow is called ‘Tile’. The word ’tile’ did not really convey the purpose of the tool. Hence, I tried to understand what it does by clicking on the toolbar to open Example – this is something I really liked. There is an Example file for each tool, right in the place where you use the tool. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 9.20.34 AM.png
  • Tile is about grouping the data into sets based on value ranges in a field – the word that popped up in my mind immediately is ‘bin’. Incidentally, if you look at the image above, when I searched for tile, I also another tool that talks about ‘binning’. The description, as you can see in the screenshot below, uses the word ’tiles or bins’. It would have been much more intuitive to call the ‘Tile’ tool ‘Binning’ tool as that would have rung a bell for Tableau users. And binning is a familiar term to people in the data analysis world. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 9.25.21 AM.png
  • Example file was extremely well-done. The instructions were very clear. However, the instructions were more technical in nature – so, even after reading them and looking at the results, I could not develop a good sense of where I can use the tile. It would have been better if Alteryx team has taken a typical use-case for each of these options and shown the benefit of these options.
  • After the Tile tool, I am forced to add a ‘Select’ tool just to rename the field that is generated by the Tile tool called ‘Tile_Num’. Why is this not a default option in the Tile tool?
  • I found the ‘Favourites’ toolbar to be very handy. When I have to add ‘Tile’ for the second time, i have to go search again – instead, if there is another toolbar called ‘Recently used’, it would be awesome. Being lazy, I copied the previous tile and changed the options.
  • I copied the Select tool also and connected it to the 2nd tile. Now, Alteryx has brought the VGroup as an input tool – this meets expectations and I am really happy that I can use Copy & Paste to avoid repetitive work (or more correctly, CTRL + C and CTRL +V)
  • The last tool is the Formula tool. I had to create an output field ‘Value Targets’ and I have to explicitly select its data-type as ‘String’. Can’t Alteryx figure out the datatype based on the expression I write? And then I had to click on the conditional to paste an expression template ‘IF c THEN t ELSE f ENDIF’. I liked this as I am new to the tool – I wish Tableau could do this too as it would save me a few unnecessary keystrokes.
  • There is a ton of improvements needed in the formula editor – there is no auto-completion, no color-coding. Essentially, the expression editor reminded me of Informatica/Business Objects formula editors which expecs the user to build even the most mundane formulas by using mouse to click on the variable and even operators. Hmm…I am disappointed. Screen Shot 2016-11-11 at 9.41.06 AM.png
  • I ran the workflow and examined the results – I saw that VGroup and SGroup had numbers ranging from -1 to 3, just by scrolling up and down. Ideally, I wanted to see the range of the values – in Tableau, it would have been supereasy to see the range. Here, I just don’t know how to do it and I am surprised that the tutorial does not talk about it.
  • This tutorial is named ‘Analyzing data’. Despite being in the data analysis space for long time, I still can’t understand what analysis we are doing. When I see the word ‘analysis’, I expect to see some summary information which I can then break down into component parts to understand it better. Attaching each customer a number based on a tool whose purpose is not clear is definitely NOT the right use-case for a getting started tutorial on analysis data in Alteryx. Are there ways to chart the data to get a sense of where these customers are falling based on the 2 variable we have created? – That would have been better to demonstrate than ending the tutorial here.

A few other things I have observed regarding how the window resizing options work for the results window (and other windows, by extension).

  • Window resizing options are great. only grudge – double click should maximize.
  • No way to maximize the main window, except by making other windows into auto-hide mode
  • Tabbed document is a great option to see result.
  • Pin for auto-hide is counter-intuitive. When I click on Pin, it hides the results window – this is the first time I have seen a pin icon being used to hide a window.

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