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AutoML, cloud-native tools highlight Alteryx platform update

An automated machine learning tool and a cloud-native version of Alteryx Designer are among the new capabilities Alteryx unveiled during its virtual user conference.

An automated machine learning tool and a cloud-native version of Alteryx Designer highlight the latest Alteryx platform update.

In total, Alteryx unveiled six new capabilities on Wednesday during Inspire, the vendor's virtual user conference. Each of the six -- four of which are now generally available, while two are still in preview -- were designed to fit with Alteryx's approach of trying to make analytics and data management as easy as possible.

"Our mission is to enable everyone to get access to analytics and data science and leverage all the data they have," said Sharmila Mulligan, chief strategy officer at Alteryx, an analytics and data management vendor founded in 1997 and based in Irvine, Calif. "We've been heads down through 2020 getting it done and arriving at this point where [these capabilities] are now available to our customers."

The pandemic led to increased productivity, she added, and the result is the introduction of more innovations now than at any time in Alteryx's 24-year history.

"Engineers and R&D teams do their best work when they have time to focus," Mulligan said. "Engineers always want to just be left alone, and they do amazing work when you can just let them have a plan and then give them time.

"There's nothing good about COVID-19, but [the pandemic] did allow us time and gave time to people who do their best work when you give them time," she continued.

AutoML and a cloud-first approach

Alteryx Machine Learning, which Mulligan called the "most notable" of the new and updated capabilities and is available to existing customers in early access, provides automated machine learning (AutoML) capabilities.

It comes with 18 ready-to-use machine learning models, and depending on users' experience levels provides direction and education that enable both data scientists and business analysts to build their own models.

The tool is designed to enable customers to quickly solve business problems with ML models, develop models using a patent-pending technology from Alteryx called Deep Feature Synthesis, and automate model training through a native integration with Alteryx Designer.

It won't turn business analysts into data scientists but along with the Alteryx Intelligence Suite -- another capability that enables the development of machine learning models -- it will enable business users to dabble in data science, according to David Menninger, director of data and analytics research at Ventana Research.

While I don't believe you can make everyone a data scientist, I do believe these tools will make it easier for data scientists to be more productive and for others to experiment with data science capabilities.
David MenningerDirector of data and analytics research, Ventana Research

"The Machine Learning/Intelligence Suite capabilities will allow a broader set of individuals to more easily create machine learning models," he said. "While I don't believe you can make everyone a data scientist, I do believe these tools will make it easier for data scientists to be more productive and for others to experiment with data science capabilities."

Mulligan, meanwhile, said that the addition of Alteryx Machine Learning is an example of Alteryx's emphasis on ease of use.

"Like our other flagship product -- Alteryx Designer -- we have brought ease of use to our machine learning product as well," Mulligan said. "Machine learning can be daunting for a lot of people, and it tends to be relegated to data science teams, but our mission is to remove the intimidation of machine learning and data science so that everyone feels comfortable trying it."

While Alteryx Machine Learning is designed to simplify the development and implementation of ML models, Alteryx Designer Cloud, marks the vendor's first capability built specifically for the cloud. It is available to current customers in preview.

Alteryx Designer is a self-service cache of tools that enable users to automate analytics processes using building blocks. Among the processes it enables are data preparation, data blending, reporting and predictive analytics.

Correlations between data sets are displayed in Alteryx Machine Learning
A sample Alteryx Machine Learning screenshot shows correlations between data sets.

Designer, however, is a desktop tool that operates within the Alteryx environment.

Designer Cloud, meanwhile, is browser-based and can be accessed from anywhere.

"It's instant access to what everyone has loved about Designer," Mulligan said.

She added that while Designer Cloud marks the first Alteryx tool built specifically for the cloud, the vendor is focused on enabling more access through the cloud and delivering more cloud-native capabilities.

"It is an absolute key part of our strategy," Mulligan said. "This is the first introduction of the product as it relates to what we've been saying."

Menninger pointed out that Alteryx's first foray into a cloud offering comes well after other longtime vendors began offering cloud versions of their tools -- and others have been cloud-native from their inception. The addition of a cloud version of Alteryx Designer is a step in the right direction, however.

"Alteryx has been a little late to the game with its cloud offering," he said. "Designer Cloud will allow organizations to have a true SaaS offering rather than installing and managing their Alteryx applications on [virtual machines] in the cloud. Many of the benefits of the cloud are only realized via SaaS offerings where you can offload responsibility for ongoing maintenance and administration of the system."

Additional capabilities

In addition to Alteryx Machine Learning and Alteryx Designer Cloud, the vendor unveiled the Alteryx APA Platform 2021.2, which is now generally available. The platform includes updates to:

  • the Alteryx Intelligence Suite, a tool similar to Alteryx Machine Learning that enables text mining and the development of machine learning models;
  • the Unified Platform API + SDK to enable the development of new connectors to both cloud and on-premises data sources, provide a path to building automation applications and building blocks in Alteryx Designer, and foster easier development of applications can be packed and published to foster collaboration;
  • Alteryx Community to make it accessible directly in the Alteryx Analytic Process Automation Platform and both a personalized recommendation engine and new data science portal focused on AutoML and advanced analytics; and
  • Alteryx Designer with the release of version 2021.2, which has more than 300 building blocks for analytics and data science, includes Data Cleansing to speed the data preparation process, eases the creation of macros by making them reusable automation building blocks and improves integration with UiPath, Blue Prism, Tableau, Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.

As Alteryx continues to focus on ease of use, automation will play a significant role in the vendor's future plans, according to Mulligan. Just as Alteryx targeted AutoML with the introduction of Alteryx Machine Learning, the vendor plans to automate more analytics and data science processes that are currently done manually.

"We believe that we will upskill people by giving them easy-to-use products and allowing them to automate more so they can spend their time on higher value contributions to their business," Mulligan said.

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