The visualization tools weren’t working for us and we knew that we were missing something. Then we started looking at the advanced analytics capabilities of the Alteryx platform, and we realized this was the solution we needed.
Hours vs. Days:
As the 3D printing industry boomed, business challenges for Stratasys grew from multiple angles. The market had become more saturated and the demand for impactful analytics increased, but data was scattered across different departments and routine processes were stacked up.
Increased Number of Data Sources and Limited Resources
Previously, senior management had to rely on several disparate platforms — including Excel, Salesforce, and Oracle — to get a complete view of the business. Cheung and Soh were the go-to guys to help bring everything together. And with a growing number of data sources, data management became an even greater challenge.
To address the needs of the business, Cheung and Soh had to combine pre-sales data in Salesforce with various Excel files not accommodated in the CRM system, along with post-sales transactions data in Oracle. Presentations had all been in Excel, or sometimes put onto PowerPoint.
Huge File Sizes and Varying Data Formats
For a single year of transaction data generation, the raw data combined with formulas and charts would make an Excel file unmanageable for a typical laptop to process. This required the team to create a separate file for each calendar year, which made analyzing historical data and reporting on booking trends to management extremely difficult. The time and effort required for Cheung and Soh simply to collate the data was limiting their ability to perform impactful analytics on the combined data set.
Another challenge was managing different data formats, such as data sets from customer support where one region uses a different system. Cheung and Soh also collect external transaction data from Stratasys’ go-to-market channel partners. Cheung explains, “We have control of our data structure when we sell directly, but it is a challenge to collect and merge data from our regional channel partners, most of which keep data in different formats from how we manage information internally.”
Soh adds, “At the end of the day, our senior management team needs to see all of our pre-sales and post-sales together — from both internal and external resources. With the hours required to coordinate — consolidating and verifying data, and ensuring we account for any possible human errors, we needed a solution to improve the total processing and visualization of data.”
Cheung and Soh learned about Alteryx at the Big Data and Analytics Summit hosted by the Innovation Enterprise, where they were exploring ways to visualize and consolidate data more efficiently. While evaluating visualization tools from Tableau and Microsoft Power BI, they quickly ran into limitations with streamlining data and processing multiple data sources together. “The visualization tools weren't working for us and we knew that we were missing something,” says Cheung. “Then we started looking at the self-service analytics capabilities of the Alteryx platform, and we realized this was the solution we needed.”
Cheung and Soh immediately found that with Alteryx they were finally able to compress, process, and perform end-to-end analytics on their large amounts of fiscal-year data. The file size for a single fiscal-year report made analysis extremely challenging when using a standard laptop, let alone analyzing multiple years simultaneously. After implementing Alteryx, they could not only trend a full three to four years of data, but Cheung was then also able to load and cleanse data from their various channel partners regardless of formats. He says, “Instead of needing to manually format every time, now Alteryx does all the work for me with just one click." He could also connect to other data sources and another region's database to effectively map everything together and present visually in Tableau.
Soh shares, “Alteryx works really well with Tableau, especially with Publish to Tableau Server tool. We have internal processes that we are working to map and streamline, so Alteryx is our ‘virtual intern’ that we need going forward.”
Using Alteryx, Cheung and Soh are now able to pull the data they need from channel partners and align it to fit into their internal dashboard for more comprehensive customer insight from both direct and indirect sales.
Efficiency Gains and Big Time Savings
Alteryx enables Cheung and Soh to accomplish tasks they had always wanted to undertake but that had previously been too repetitive and time-consuming to deliver. Using the simple drag-and-drop capabilities of Alteryx to create automated workflows, Cheung and Soh can provide new insights and actionable analytics to management. Soh says, “Instantly, I was able to set plans for value-added workflows that I was previously hesitant to propose due to increased overhead. With Alteryx we are automating workflows, which resurrects the proactivity in idea execution.”
Cheung shared another example of how Alteryx streamlines reporting for the company’s customer service contracts. Cheung explained that management often requests reports showing expiring service contracts, organized by each reseller. Before Alteryx, a team member had to run a report and save 40 different Excel files, each file containing four sheets corresponding to different time periods. The team member had to perform this task for all 40 individual resellers. Cheung was concerned about the risk and amount of potential errors that they were exposed to by doing this highly repetitive process manually. He says, “Using Alteryx, with one click all the reports can be split up by each of the resellers, including the four different tabs. That is easily one day of work saved.”
Alteryx generates huge time savings and increased efficiencies by automating all the repetitive work that Cheung and Soh perform weekly and quarterly. Soh estimates that they have cut five hours of reporting to 30 minutes or even less — 30 minutes which also includes verification. For example, before implementing Alteryx, Cheung had to come in at 7 a.m. every Monday to run a weekly booking report, a process that took hours. With Alteryx that task has been automated to run in just 30 minutes.
Cheung and Soh have also discovered additional areas of the business where Alteryx can be utilized. The finance department, for example, has to publish financial reports every quarter, which they subsequently turn into several different versions. Before Alteryx, every version would require at least three to four hours of work to simply adjust a few numbers. With Alteryx, it’s become a much simpler process to generate the different report versions and publish more efficiently. Cheung says, “Running the financial report every quarter used to take a staff member one full day — starting at 9 a.m., downloading the report and then finishing the report, verifying everything, and then sending it out by 6 p.m. With Alteryx, that team member can do everything before lunch.”
The main reason we chose Alteryx, and the reason we are using the platform more and more, is because we see so much potential for what it can do for our team and for the company. Alteryx is now our secret weapon.
Alteryx also empowers Stratasys to communicate more easily and regularly with partners. Cheung and Soh created a “one click” to send individual files to their internal product marketing team and to different resellers to create monthly campaigns and run with different activities. Though they maintain numerous useful dashboards on Salesforce, not all dashboards are equally useful for different stakeholders. For instance, the team found Tableau to be a versatile dashboarding tool for improving the way colleagues consume and gain insights from data, especially when the data has been effectively consolidated from multiple sources. Alteryx engineers the process automation behind this enhancement. Soh says, “With the recent addition of Alteryx Desktop Scheduler, we were able to build and send out dashboards that we simply were not able to in the last few years.”
Process Mapping and Better Documentation
Alteryx has also enabled Cheung and Soh to map processes that they didn’t have before. Cheung explains, “When I first joined Stratasys, my predecessor had showed me where to download data and run the reports. But there was no documentation or official process mapped out, so if anything ever happened to one of us, then the next person would have to figure out the process and reporting on their own. Alteryx enables us to map our processes so anyone can just open Alteryx and see clearly defined steps, which gives us the documentation we need.”
360-Degree Customer Reporting
Cheung says that the most important thing Alteryx brings to Stratasys is enabling the company to have a 360-degree view of the customer to better track purchases and nurture lead generation. Cheung says, “Now with Alteryx, we can see all transaction data for our customers, which wasn’t possible before.”
Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Empowering Individual Creativity
Cheung and Soh also highlight positive changes in how team members across different departments can work together. Soh says, “Our work is really changing the mindset of people in the organization. Stratasys has incredibly smart and talented people, and with Alteryx, cross-departmental team members can move beyond old processes and think more creatively about how to bring additional value. It changes from a reactive mindset to a proactive mindset.”
Soh concludes, “These are only initial examples of the benefits we are experiencing with Alteryx. The main reason we chose Alteryx, and the reason we are using the platform more and more, is because we see so much potential for what it can do for our team and for the company. Alteryx is now our secret weapon.”