Analytic process automation: Aids digital transformation, product delivery, and on-time planes


By bringing together three key business analytics methods into one platform, Alteryx is helping companies gain better operational insights more quickly and easily.

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Image: Dejan Markovic, Getty Images/iStockphoto

From airlines to beverage companies, knowing what resources and inventories are available for use at any given time is the lifeblood of operating a business efficiently. But doing those different analyses in the past often meant running multiple applications to monitor it all and figure out what was going on behind the scenes.
 
That’s way too complicated, said Sharmila Mulligan, the chief strategy officer of Alteryx, which calls itself an analytic process automation (APA) vendor. Instead of performing time-intensive multiple analyses separately using a combination of applications, Alteryx software combines unified analytics, data science, and business process automation in one platform to give a single overview to business users, Mulligan said.

SEE: Inside UPS: The logistics company’s never-ending digital transformation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“We’ve made something that was very hard in the past very easy to do,” she said. “We brought together three things that belong together. By converging them, you can get better answers from your data, not the same old stuff. This allows you to digitize a process within the same platform.”

The power of APA for businesses is that it lets them see far more than traditional analytics, which typically show what’s already happened, she said. With APA, companies can quickly gain more sophisticated answers from their data, including what will happen in the future, Mulligan said. “That’s really what people want from their data.”

Some 6,400 companies around the world are using Alteryx in a wide range of industries, including consumer products, retail, financial institutions, automakers, pharmaceutical and health care businesses, oil and gas operations, and more.
 
“In our digital world, consumers have all the power, and companies need to know how to react quickly to changes in consumer behaviors and wants,” Mulligan said. “Every company out there has to be able to predict and understand what consumers are going to do. Companies want to zero in on what consumers are going to want next week and next year.” 

To do that, businesses need data, and lots of it, in ways that deeply and quickly can explain what is happening in highly-competitive markets. “Companies want to use their data to know how to price products to maximize sell-through,” Mulligan said. “It’s hard to know what a consumer will do online.”

And that’s where Alteryx comes in to make it easier to decipher, Mulligan said.

The Alteryx platform includes a drag-and-drop user interface that lets almost anyone create quick and detailed analyses of their data without a steep learning curve, according to Mulligan. The user interface features about 260 drag-and-drop capabilities that can be mixed and matched according to what is needed to provide the appropriate views of the data.

SEE: Robotic process automation: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“They are like Lego blocks,” Mulligan said. “We give you all these Lego blocks for analysis. You can mix them any way you want. There are billions of combinations that you can create, which means we can address any use case out there. That’s what makes this really distinct.”

Essentially, the Alteryx platform is similar to using a no-code or low-code application-building platform, which allows non-experts to build simple but useful applications by clicking and assembling modules without requiring the involvement of IT teams.
Instead of taking weeks or months to build needed applications, Alteryx can help users build them in minutes or hours to get their analyses going, according to the company.

On top of the platform itself, Alteryx also features a large online user community where the experiences of others are shared to mutually solve business problems and find better ways of doing data analyses. Hundreds of thousands of business cases, featuring actual business outcomes, are featured within the user community, which is continuing to grow.

“Companies can go there and find what others have done” before tackling their own analyses, Mulligan said. “It’s the Google Search for how to achieve your own business case. The community lets users see what others did, how they did it, and what they built. That is incredibly powerful, and that’s what is driving so much of what we do.”

Real world use cases

For airlines, success means constantly monitoring and maintaining adequate flight crew staffing levels, passenger ticket sales, on-time schedules, and fuel consumption. 

“In the airline business, every day, in real-time, is absolutely critical,” Mulligan said. One airline customer, which she declined to name, uses the Alteryx platform to constantly watch these critical business factors in a unified and consistent way.
“It allows them to not just answer them in independent silos on recent bookings and how many crew members do they need and schedules and fuel,” she said. “Using this platform, they are all interrelated.”

For airlines, flights can be late due to weather problems, which then affects fuel consumption. Then the flight lands and there are new issues to deal with, such as passengers who missed their connections.

“These are issues happening every day, every minute, every hour where the APA platform is used to make split-second decisions about the interdependencies that drive customer satisfaction, fuel costs, staffing, and more,” Mulligan said.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
 
Coca-Cola is also an Alteryx customer, using it to process a wide range of incoming data that is helping to keep Coke products properly stocked on store shelves.

In the past, Coke product managers had to walk the aisles in stores with scanners to check inventory levels of their products so they could place restocking orders. But that was a labor-intensive and inefficient system, with the scanners reporting the data to a database which had to be manually reviewed.

Coke’s new system, which uses Alteryx and has been rolled out to about 12,000 of the company’s sales-leading customer store locations around the US, integrates automatic scanners which see when a consumer takes a product off the shelf. The scanners are integrated with the store checkout system and report the inventory changes back automatically every five minutes so Coke can restock the shelves on the next delivery truck. The real-time inventory levels in the stores are then sent via an image on a mobile phone to Coke sales managers so they can monitor the sales and restocking remotely.

“Now a store manager doesn’t have to walk around a store checking inventories manually,” Mulligan said. “It’s all part of Coke’s digital transformation journey. They put all these sensors into stores to enable this. That’s important because managers don’t have time to get reports in emails. They have to know what is happening, so phones are the visual way to do it.”

That collected real-time data is then picked up by a bot, which sends the information to repositories in Coke product distribution centers. That information generates alerts to delivery trucks, which orders them to remain in the distribution center until the right mixes of products have been loaded for delivery.

The delivery trucks use Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that literally measure the weights and fill capacities of the vehicles in real time, Mulligan said. “It compares what is on the truck, versus what should be on the truck,” she said. “The truck can’t leave until the right mix is on it, and they fix it right there. And geospatial data is also tied in to be sure the trucks will arrive when needed. That’s how granular the data is.”

The systems are still being built out by Coca-Cola to more store locations.

“All of this is being done so the Coke products are there when consumers are in the stores,” Mulligan said. 

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