Alteryx vs Tableau Prep

An in-depth look at two of the most popular data preparation tools

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    Introduction

    For many organisations, data is at the core of every conversation. More and more businesses are utilising Business Intelligence (BI) solutions to drive key business decisions. However, data has to go through a process workflow before being ready for analysis and visualisation.

    In the past, data engineers were responsible for this process of preparing the data. Today, data is more relevant everywhere and organisations are moving towards self-service analytics—where end users are able to prepare their own data—in order to meet the demand for insights and analytics.

    While most analysts and other data users have the ability to generate reports on their own, many would like the flexibility to decide on the type of data they can analyse. They would like to have more visibility upstream in the data workflow, but this comes with its own set of challenges. Working with raw data requires technical know-how and that skill set may not be accessible to every individual.

    In this post, we will be looking at 2 tools—Alteryx and Tableau Prep—that can alleviate the problems faced in data preparation.

    It is important to note that the differences between the 2 tools do not place one solution over another, however, there are distinct advantages depending on use cases and BI implementation priorities for your organisation.

    Alteryx Logo

    Alteryx was named a “Challenger” in Gartner’s 2021 Magic Quadrant for Data Science and Machine Learning platforms. It provides solutions that aim to deliver end-to-end automation of analytics, machine learning and data science processes.

    Tableau is a visual analytics platform. For 9 consecutive years, it has been named a “Leader” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence platforms. Tableau Prep comes free of charge with every Tableau Creator license and aims to make it easier for users to combine, shape and clean their data for analysis.

    Why do you need a data preparation tool?

    Without tools such as Alteryx or Tableau Prep, most data preparation approaches are time-consuming and code-heavy. These types of code-heavy processes require significant testing before being implemented and shared with others, and may be more tedious to take over in the event of the creator leaving the organisation.

    Both Alteryx and Tableau Prep aim to help end users achieve the desired results without struggling with these technical prerequisites.

    Why use Alteryx?

    Alteryx has a focus on self-service analytics which can facilitate digital transformation across an organisation. The Alteryx platform comes with four separate tools; Designer for workflow creation, Server for automation and collaboration, Connect for data governance and Promote for model deployment.

    Alteryx Modern Analytics Platform

    Looking specifically at Alteryx Designer, the interface below is what users will use to build their data workflow—from preparation and wrangling to analytics and process automation.

    In terms of data preparation and ETL capabilities, Alteryx applies to a wide range of use cases. Examples include data wrangling for reporting, cleansing for data harmonisation across systems, process automation and code-free predictive modelling. Each step of the data transformation process performed in the workflow is achieved through a combination of tools; an icon that can be easily dragged and dropped onto the canvas. Alteryx comes with more than 250+ out of the box tools, including advanced analytics, machine learning and natural language processes; all of which can be achieved without a single line of code.

    Why use Tableau Prep?

    Tableau Prep is an extension from Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server; known within the Business Intelligence industry for its outstanding visualisation capabilities.

    Tableau Prep is very user friendly and the Summary Panel provided at each step of the workflow gives an overview of how the data is like. Grouping or renaming data only requires a few clicks, and calculations can be used for more complex operations.

    There are basic operations to clean and shape the data, allowing it to be aggregated, pivoted, joined or unioned. It also allows integration with R or Python scripts to perform more complex operations or enhance the data with predictive capabilities.

    Which should you choose: Alteryx or Tableau Prep?

    Both platforms are great solutions for data preparation and they share important similarities such as the ease of connectivity to data, a user-friendly workflow canvas, and the ability to have multiple data streams and outputs. This section will compare the features for specific functionalities in detail.

    Tableau Prep Alteryx
    Connectivity to Data Yes Yes
    Viewing Data Yes (Summary Panel, click on any step of workflow) Yes (Results window after running workflow)
    Workflow Canvas Yes Yes
    Multiple Data Streams Yes Yes
    Advanced Analytics No Yes
    Geospatial No Yes
    Robustness of Features No Yes

    Connectivity to Data

    Both Alteryx and Tableau Prep have a huge range of connectors, including the ability to work with ODBC drivers if native connectors are not already available.

    Tableau Prep has a list of connectors to different data sources and databases to simplify the process of connecting to data. At the moment, Tableau Prep does not have the capability to directly input data from APIs, but there are workarounds such as using integration with R and Python or using Tableau Desktop’s Web Data Connector feature before streaming the data into Tableau Prep.

    Alteryx is able to provide additional functionalities including in database connections which can help to save data processing time, especially for large volumes of data within an organisation. Alteryx also has tools that enable data wrangling and analysis without moving data out of the database. This can have significant performance improvements and save processing time in running the workflow.

    Workflow Canvas

    Both solutions have an intuitive user interface, where each operation or step performed is represented as an icon on the workflow canvas. Each subsequent process is visualised through connections to symbolise the flow of data within the workflow. Users can click on any step to check the data or troubleshoot at any point of the workflow, allowing for rapid prototyping.

    See below for the Tableau Prep workflow canvas.

    See below for the Alteryx workflow canvas.

    Alteryx Interface

    Multiple Data Streams

    Both solutions allow the data to go through multiple streams and have multiple outputs as well. This is useful because a single data source might be used by multiple end users, and each end user may need it in a different structure or format.

    Summary Panel (Tableau Prep) vs Results Window (Alteryx)

    For Tableau Prep, as mentioned above, the Summary panel will appear when clicking on any step of the workflow. The Summary Panel is useful to see null values or get a sense of the distribution of the data at each step.

    Users are also able to interact with the Summary Panel, including filtering or renaming the data. They can even add descriptions of the data. For a typical business user, this can be a useful functionality because it allows them to use their business knowledge to understand the data.

    In Alteryx, you can view the Results window below your workflow canvas. After running your workflow, the Results window will display a data quality indicator, any error messages and links to output files created from running the workflow. You can cleanse, filter or sort the data from the Results window.

    A difference between both tools is that in Tableau Prep, the data is not sorted while in Alteryx, the data is sorted and the order matters. This difference may surface when there is a requirement to keep a single row out of each group of records. Alteryx provides a Sort Tool for the data to be sorted with respect to selected fields. Tableau Prep will require creation of a new calculation to determine the order of each record.

    Advanced Analytics

    Alteryx provides many tools on top of the ETL capabilities. There are built in tools to perform predictive analytics such as regression, time series, and even prescriptive analytics like optimization and simulation. These are powerful tools that can enhance the data and allow better business decisions to be made. Since these tools are built into the software, no coding knowledge is required to utilize these functionalities.

    Although Tableau Prep does not have these capabilities at the moment, it allows for integration with R or Python where users can still create such functionalities to be included in their workflows.

    Semi-Structured Data

    In terms of working with Semi-Structured Data, Alteryx has tools that allow it to work with data in formats such as JSON and XML. It can natively parse the data to allow for further manipulation. Since these tools are built into the software, no coding knowledge is required to work with the semi-structured data.

    With Tableau Prep, it will require the use of R or Python scripts to handle and parse the data into a format that Tableau Prep can work with, for the semi-structured data to be integrated with the workflow.

    Although Tableau Prep does not have these capabilities at the moment, it allows for integration with R or Python where users can still create such functionalities to be included in their workflows.

    Geospatial Analysis

    Alteryx has a suite of tools for Geospatial Analysis as well. It allows spatial data to be manipulated and processed for further analysis or visualization. After the processing of the data, it can be output in spatial file formats which can be used on other platforms.

    Tableau Prep focuses on data preparation and does not allow for geospatial processing. However, Tableau Desktop supports connectivity to spatial files and functions such as MakePoint, MakeLine and Distance.

    Conclusion

    Within the data analytics software industry, vendors are constantly innovating and bringing new features into the market. At the time of writing, Alteryx had just announced updates to its platform including fully guided feature engineering, image processing and Designer in Browser capabilities. Tableau Prep has similarly introduced in-browser capabilities in late 2020 in addition to new read/write connectivity to various data sources. Both tools have also been ramping up their advanced analytics capabilities with the Alteryx Intelligence Suite and Salesforce’s Einstein Analytics within Tableau.

    As Billigence, we provide Business Intelligence Consulting services and Data & Analytics upskilling. Please submit an enquiry form below if you would like to get in touch and find out more about how we can assist with your data preparation processes with our partnership with Tableau and Alteryx.

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