Alteryx is a hugely powerful tool for data preparation, spatial and predictive analytics. It can be a bit confusing with how to get started with Alteryx, creating workflows and making your life that much easier.
I have wanted to get this series going for a while and I’m finally getting around to doing this series.
So all Alteryx workflows are 3 step processes. Step 1: get data in, Step 2: do stuff, Step 3: get data out.
Now granted Step 2 is a lot of different activities and covers huge amounts of content, my plan is to cover that content over time. For now, I just want to look at the basic ways of getting data in, and getting data out.
Get Data In
The 3 simplest ways to get data into your wrk flow are: the input data tool, the map input tool and the text input tool. Let’s look at these tools in reverse order.
Text Input Tool
The test input tool is a simple way to manually enter information that you want. The tool initially provides a single cell where data can be populated, but more columns and rows can be add as required. If you double click on a column header you can change the name of the field. Now while it is called the ‘text input tool’ it is smart enough to recognise different input types. For example, if you add a number it will become a numeric field, if you use true and false the field will be Boolean.
There are also a couple of additional ways to get data into the text input tool for use. You can import an existing file or you can copy and paste data in. All these options are used to allow you to create a set of data to work from. It would usually be as a template for other operations (like macros) or for a small set of fixed parameters used in a workflow somewhere.
Map Input Tool
The next way of getting data into Alteryx is using the map input tool. This tool does the same function for spatial data as the text input tool does for text data. The Map input tool allows you to manually add spatial data points, as a point, line or a polygon. Each spatial type gets labelled with a name and its latitude and longitude information (and the pathing information for lines and polygons) so it can be used for other spatial analytics.
The last way of getting data into Alteryx is the Input tool. This is probably the most used tool in all of Alteryx. This is how you connect to local files, like excel files, comma separated files or Google Earth KML files (a full list of files is here). It is also the way to connect to any database files through OleDB, ODBC or the spatial versions of OleDB and ODBC. Each database type will have its own quirks with how to set them up and getting the connection information right is a process you would have to work through with your IT team.
In my experience the main way to connect to databases is using the ODBC connectors. Again a full list of supported databases is here and you will need to get the appropriate drivers from the database page.
Get Data Out
After “Step 2: do stuff”, you will usually want to get your work into a usable manner. You could look to create an Alteryx report the reporting tools (and I will cover that off in a later post) but that really just transforms you workflow into something usable, it doesn’t take the data out of the Alteryx environment for other use.
The two main ways to output data is either the browse tool or the output data tool.
The browse tool is simply for transforming your data into a contextual view. There is no configuration involved with the browse tool you just get to see whatever data flow is passed into the tool. If this is connected to a formula tool you would see a data table of the data processed. If it was attached to a report tool you would see the rendered report output. The browse tool is great way to consume the workflow you have created if you don’t want to pass it on to someone else or it is only going to be viewed in the Alteryx workflow. If you want to pass a finished data set on or create interactive visualisations in other software like Tableau you will need another tool.
The output tool is how you write a file to disc. This is usually the final destination for data from an Alteryx workflow. There are plenty of different file types you can write to, including all the file types you are able to read from with the Input tool, but also to visualisation data files, like Tableau’s tde files, and Alteryx’s own yxdb file type. If you are ever passing around data from one Alteryx workflow to another then a yxdb is the way to go, it is compressed and optimised for Alteryx. You can also write back and update your databases or save to a simple text file.
Probably the biggest challenge with trying to teach Alteryx is the huge number of different configuration options. Each file type has its own set of configurations (like does the first row contain data or what code page is your csv using). If you want a full explanation of all the options, the Alteryx online help pages are invaluable.
So we now have data in and can get data out. Now this isn’t the only way you can get data in or out (there is also download tools and social connectors) or you can output to temporary files and use pre or post SQL statement. But this gets us started. Next time we can start looking at some of the options for performing data preparation and cleansing.