Making the best of a train journey


As I was wondering what to write about this week I thought I’d share my experience on a train yesterday. I had ended up accidentally meeting a colleague and we spent some time on the train bashing out ideas – the kind of thing we should do more of but “real work” gets in the way.

This kind of talk is always great and some genuine ideas come out of those conversations that you can take forward, yesterday was better though because, as I had my laptop with me, I turned to my colleague and said “no time like the present” (this being much more pleasant than the email “tending” I’d had planned).

In the next half hour we’d taken his initial “I wonder if we could” idea and:

1. Built out some test data – not being connected to the internet I had to build a custom geography across the whole UK and attach some data to it. All this took just a few minutes in Alteryx.

2. Tested several sizes of geography and data and built out 60 variables, again in Alteryx.

3. Loaded the data into Tableau.

4. Visualised my custom geography on a map in Tableau, and built a custom, dynamic theme

5. Combined the data into a working hierarchy and, via Quick Filters, given the ability to enable and disable various variables and visualise them on a interactive map at the press of a button.

6. Delivered this via a dashboard suitable for an end-user.

I’m deliberately being vague above, sorry I can’t go into details, but there’s nothing revolutionary there, you don’t need to be an Alteryx Grand Prix champion or Tableau Zen Master to build out the above. However to my colleague, who is new to the company, what he was seeing was pretty special – I hadn’t seen it through his eyes – I almost take what I can do for granted.

To him:

  • I’d started from nothing, and built out a massive dataset on my laptop!
  • I’d done this without any programming
  • I’d responded to his nudges in the right direction, and was able to go back and tweak the solution without needing to rewrite everything. Nothing was too difficult.
  • I’d quickly built an end user application from scratch – again with no coding!
  • I’d told him I could send the finished result to him to share with other colleagues for free with a Reader application
  • All within half an hour
  • And he could see how I’d done it and could imagine doing it himself – even though he’s not super technical.

When you take a step back and look through those eyes, what I can do shouldn’t be taken for granted. I’m in a privileged position with access to some tools that are at the very top of their game and only getting better. Combined they turn conversations into reality in real time – that’s why I love them.

If you can’t build out something during the course of a similar conversation I suggest you look again at how complex the BI tools you use are. You can use both Alteryx and Tableau for free – give them a try.

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