Although the Microsoft Power BI and Alteryx integration was announced back in October, due to time constraints and other factors, I was not in a position to dig into it at the time. Times change, and now I at least have Alteryx installed and have used some basic samples. At this point, I am a complete beginner, so my experiences will hopefully resonate more with Power BI users who are starting to learn about and use Alteryx rather than with established Alteryx users. Prior to the Microsoft announcement, I had heard and read great things about Alteryx, but it was typically in relation to using it as a data preparation tool for Tableau.
Over the course of the next few months, I hope to complete a series of posts related to my experience combining Alteryx workflows with visualizations in Power BI. Learning and writing on my part is being done on personal and not company time, so there may be long stretches with no Alteryx-related posts. Also, I will try to consider things from the Microsoft perspective — meaning that if something is similar to Power Query, Integration Services, or other technology in the Microsoft stack, I’ll attempt to draw comparisons.
Here we go!
Kicking things off, here is my story from square one. To start out, I needed to install both Alteryx as well as the Visual Analytics Kit for Microsoft, the add-on that integrates Alteryx with Power BI.
The first thing that appeared after downloading and running the Alteryx installer was the R option.
The R version is currently 3.1.3 and comes with a number of packages. For anyone interested, I have included the full list of the 116 built-in R packages in a table at the bottom of this post. Alteryx also includes two of their own: AlteryxRDataX and AlteryxRviz.
After completing the installation, I opened Alteryx. Someone on their marketing team put together an overview video that included an analyst dragging icons around in midair, leaving me with fairly high expectations of what the software could do.
Alteryx in Marketing
(image courtesy of Alteryx)
(image courtesy of Disney)
(image courtesy of Alteryx)
(image courtesy of Disney)
Alteryx in Reality
I clicked around the UI to get a feel for it, but I did not attempt to build a workflow at that stage. For the most part, I spent time reviewing the various options in the Tool Palette (similar to the Microsoft UI ribbon). There is a “+” button to the far right that allows you to configure what tools appear, and I briefly looked through the available options. The main takeaway for me at this time was that there are many potentially useful options that are not enabled by default. For example, in the second screenshot below, note that Connectors is not enabled initially–this will be important later because Connectors is where the Microsoft tools will appear after the kit is installed.
My next task was to install the Microsoft add-on. Closing Alteryx, I then went to obtain the download for the Visual Analytics Kit for Microsoft.
After extracting the files, I looked at the “Microsoft Kit Instructions.pdf” that was included with the download. Here is a summary from the PDF listing what what the kit enables:
With the samples within the Visual Analytics kit, you can:
Collect, cleanse, and blend all relevant data sources in a single workflow
Give your data analytical context by providing predictive and deep geo-spatial analytics, as well as text analytics from Azure Machine Learning
Publish the results of your analytic workflows directly into Microsoft Power BI
Woah, woah, woah… Azure Machine Learning? Having gone into this intentionally blind to get a proper new user experience, I had no idea that there was more than Power BI integration. First R, now Azure ML! Granted, it is only Azure ML for text analytics, but this was a great thing to see. Here is an image of the kit PDF in full:
Reading through the one page PDF, the main takeaway is to run the DataInstall.exe file included with the kit. Proceeding through the installation, it included an option for some Microsoft samples:
After finishing the Visual Analytics Kit installation, I re-opened Alteryx expecting to see something (anything) related to the fact that I had just added the Kit. I didn’t. No new icons, no alert, etc. If I have one complaint about the Kit installation and configuration from the perspective of a user with no prior Alteryx experience, it would be here.
I finally broke down and watched one of the demo videos, where I learned that both the Microsoft Power BI as well as Azure ML functionality appear as Connectors that you need to manually enable in the Tool Palette. It would have been appreciated to have had this information in the PDF, but at least I had everything that I needed to get started at this point.
Afterward, it was time to watch some more demo videos…
Apart from my new user woes due to not having watched the demo videos first, I am looking forward to evaluating Alteryx and learning more about the product over the coming months. Particularly as it relates to the Power BI, Azure ML, and R integration, I think that there are some great advantages in having a visual workflow for “data blending”. Although I am a heavy user of Power BI’s own native Power Query and “M” language, I recognize that it may not be for everyone. The visual approach to data preparation and ETL that Alteryx offers could arguably be of great benefit to a wider Power BI audience, and I hope to explore that as well as Alteryx’s predictive capabilities in the time ahead.
REFERENCE – R packages included in the Alteryx 10.1 installation: