I was fortunate to attend Inspire Europe in 2017, back when I was an Alteryx noob, so I have an idea of how Alteryx “do” events. 2021 was the first Inspire conference that was both global and virtual and while I did of course miss being in-person for it, it did not disappoint! I’ll add that even though I was attending sessions in between other priorities, I still managed to get a lot out of it.
I’d love to be able to follow up and watch everything I missed on-demand, but let’s be real – there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Instead, for this post, I’d like to reinforce the key tips and new learning I took away from the sessions I did attend in a series of brief points.
So here goes!
Improving dashboard performance
► Push your data into multiple data sources instead of trying to utilize a ‘unicorn’ data set that answers every question.
This is a big take away for me. Now that I’ve seen this specific session, it seems so obvious to do this. But it absolutely makes sense to have Alteryx do the ‘heavy lifting’ or complex aggregations or calculations rather than your data visualization tool if and where it makes sense to. Users don’t like when they see the dreaded spinning ball and this is one way to ensure that happens as little as possible.
Optimizing workflows to improve performance
► Use the Auto Field right after your Input Tool. This will ensure that the most efficient data types will be selected for your data.
► Only keep the fields or columns you need to work with. Stick to the smallest and most complete data set.
► Remove things (columns) you don’t need. You can use the Select Tool to de-select items, or (a new tip for me!) in the Join Tool you can click Options > Deselect Duplicate Fields and it will un-tick, for example, any items where you’re doubled up on, such as anything prefixed with Right_ or Left_, depending on the join you made. This will make things much cleaner and understandable further downstream.
► The Data Cleansing tool is known to be a potential drain on performance, but if you’re only using the Remove null rows or Remove null columns this is not the case – and again, it’s good to remove the things you don’t need. This is a newer feature of the tool.
► Using 2 (or 3, etc.) separate filter tools is better from a performance perspective than having a single custom filter that is complicated.
► When you’re working with very large data sets, using the In-Database or ‘In-DB’ tools can greatly enhance workflow performance – this uses the database’s engine to do some of the processing (heavy lifting) before you bring the data to your local machine. This is a topic that I need delve into myself, but in the meantime here’s a community post that provides some key points on the topic. It’s worth noting that not all of the usual Alteryx tools are available from the In-Database palette and you’ll need to use SQL when using In-Database tools.
► The Alteryx Multi-threaded Processing, or AMP Engine, can be a game-changer for workflow speed. Rather than running your workflow in-sequence, it runs in batches on different threads of your computer. If you’re going to use AMP, you may need to consider how you build the workflow as one of the key differences when using it is that the ending output will not be sorted in the same way (as without AMP) since the packets come in at different times. See this article for more on using AMP. It may or may not suit your situation, but if it does, it can really speed things up.
► Alteryx database or .yxdb files are faster to work with compared to Excel or CSV. Excel tends to be the most-connected-to data source type, so it’s worth considering saving or converting into .yxdb first
► Did you ever wonder which tools in your workflow might be causing bottlenecks? Enable the ‘performance profiling’ feature from the Runtime tab to see how long each tool in your workflow is taking and go from there.
Improve your OWN efficiency when working with Alteryx
► Shortcut key: Ctrl + R runs your workflow
► How many times have you copied a workflow and pasted into a new sheet to test something? Rather than selecting all of the tools and doing copy and pasting into a new sheet, just right-click the sheet name and choose Duplicate. Note that it won’t keep or bring the cache with it if you had this available.
► Use containers to switch parts of your workflow on or off, or to help stay organized by adding titles and color to groups of tools.
► I never paid much attention to the ‘Unknown’ box when using the Select Tool, but I will now. This is for a situation where a new column shows up in your data unexpectedly. It seems that a lot of the time whether it’s ticked or not, there will be zero impact to your workflow results (which is why I personally haven’t noticed it much). But if you are connecting to a database and changes have been made to it that you weren’t aware of and this is ticked, you could potentially be bringing in columns that may affect your workflow results and analysis – so it’s definitely something to consider for your own situation. Here is a community post on this topic.
► Take the time to change your data types in the Select Tool and make them the correct sizes. If anything changes in the data source that you’re not aware of, this may affect how Alteryx operates. Here’s a brief post on this topic. As mentioned earlier, the Auto Field can help with this.
► Using data type V_String (variable string) is often better than using String.
► Dynamic Input is worth taking a few minutes to understand how to use. Say for example you have 10 files (or 100!) all starting with the same prefix (but maybe something different at the end for the date, like this: SAMPLE_FILE_29MAY2021, SAMPLE_FILE_30MAY2021, etc.), and they have the same format within each file. You can use this tool in conjunction with a directory input to bring them all in at once, rather than using a regular Input tool 10 times and then union’ing them. I have done this myself, to hack through a problem so that I could get something done, but taking the time to understand the Dynamic Input tool is worth it because this situation of having loads of files that you need to load is not uncommon.
► What is an Analytical App in Alteryx? Analytical Apps are Alteryx workflows that have a user interface. It is a workflow that requires a user’s input – they have to make a selection(s) about what time period or category (for example) you are interested in before you can run it. It’s a workflow that can be tailored to your users’ needs. They can be run from either Alteryx Designer (where we build workflows) or from the Alteryx Gallery (either public or private, as in an instance of Alteryx Server). There are a lot of scenarios where building apps make a ton of sense for reducing report requests or enabling self-service to non- Alteryx Designer users, for example. Here’s an overview of apps.
► Macros in Alteryx are small pieces of logic that can be used within a larger process or workflow to make it more robust. I have only dabbled with macros in Alteryx so far, but the sessions I joined at Inspire this time around have me thinking that I have way more opportunities to use these (and improve performance) than I realized. Here’s a quick overview on Macros.
► Did you know about the Find and Replace window? It allows you to search for, find, and replace text in your workflow. This is entirely different to the Find and Replace tool, so be sure not to confuse them. Here’s an overview on using it – this was a new tip for me and I can see it being extremely useful, for example, in a big workflow where you’ve had to update field names in various places. Love this one.
General career advice
► Get the mundane tasks or parts of your job automated, scheduled, and out of the way so that you can work on the bigger value questions.
► YOU have to own your own path to success, no one else is responsible.
► And my favorite line from the conference which came from the Women in Data Science talk:
The primary skill of the future is staying curious.
Note that content from the conference can still be found here.
Thanks for reading.