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Acquisition of AI lab a benefit for Alteryx BI users

With the acquisition of Feature Labs, a startup founded at MIT, Alteryx is making a heavy investment in augmented intelligence and machine learning capabilities.

In a move that has the potential to greatly enhance the capabilities of the Alteryx BI platform, the vendor acquired Feature Labs.

Feature Labs, based in Boston and founded in 2015 by Max Kanter and Kalyan Veeramachaneni, is a software company founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that automates feature engineering for augmented intelligence and machine learning applications.

"Automated feature engineering would be an important addition to Alteryx's product extension into data science," said Wayne Eckerson, president of Eckerson Group, a consulting firm based in Hingham, Mass.

The Oct. 4 acquisition is the fifth by Alteryx, which was founded in 1997 as SRC and is based in Irvine, Calif., in just over two years. Alteryx's most recent significant purchase was ClearStory Data on April 4, 2019, a move that gave users of the Alteryx BI suite access to products specifically aimed at large amounts of unstructured data.

Financial terms of Alteryx's acquisition of Feature Labs were not released.

"To make data science easy for data analysts -- versus data scientists -- it really helps if there are tools that can automatically create 'features', basically a set of fields or attributes upon which to train data to create analytic models," Eckerson said. "The 'features' need to be optimized for individual algorithms, which would be beyond the capabilities of most data scientists."

Feature Labs' goal of helping both data scientists and business users easily understand the underlying forces behind their business' performance aligns well with Alteryx's corporate philosophy., according to an Alteryx release on Oct. 4. Meanwhile, the vendor said, the combination of the two organizations -- the engineering capabilities of Feature Labs plus the ease of use of the Alteryx BI platform -- will serve to speed up the process of gleaning insight from data for trained data scientists and ordinary business users alike.

Automated feature engineering would be an important addition to Alteryx's product extension into data science.
Wayne EckersonPresident, Eckerson Group

With Feature Labs now part of the Alteryx universe, users of the Alteryx BI platform will presumably benefit from enhancements that center on AI and machine learning --- enhancements that further the mission of making data more accessible to citizen data scientists and making BI platforms easier to use.

As infused as many BI products are becoming with respect to AI and machine learning, even more is expected in the very near future.

According to a recent report from Gartner, the percentage of organizations deploying artificial intelligence capabilities leapt from 4% in 2018 to 14% this year. In another report, "Gartner Predicts the Future of AI Technologies," released in February 2019, Gartner predicted that by 2023 a full 40% of infrastructure and operations teams in large enterprises will use AI and machine learning.

Meanwhile, Alteryx's acquisition of Feature Labs is just one more piece of evidence that AI and machine learning are crucial to the development of the next wave of business intelligence tools.

An organization's business performance is displayed on a sample Alteryx dashboard.
A sample Alteryx dashboard displays an organization's business performance.

Just this past April, SAS revealed that it is investing $1 billion in AI.

And in recent weeks product updates from Qlik, Tableau and Tibco have all been centered around what are being termed third-generation BI technologies.

Qlik Sense Business enhanced the vendor's cloud and AI capabilities; Tableau released 2019.3 in an effort to upgrade its own AI capabilities, while also adding a data catalog; and Tibco added to the AI capabilities of its Spotfire platform.

Thanks now to the Alteryx's acquisition of Feature Labs, the vendor's customers figure to see similar innovation in the Alteryx BI suite of products once Feature Labs' operations are fully integrated into Alteryx's business.

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