2 minutes with… Chris Love of The Information Lab

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Good day Tablites! I trust I find you well this morning? And if I don’t then go and play with 8.1’s DATEPARSE function, for it will bring you great joy.

It’s that time again, where we open the brown envelopes and decide, based on size and quality of bribe, who will be the next subject of the internet’s premier interview show. And this month’s deep pockets belong to..

Chris Love (@ChrisLuv) of The Information Lab

Chris-Love-300x300Chris has appeared on the blogging and social scene relatively recently but has already made a name for himself with some great analysis and comment. He’s also a big help to us here at ninja towers. Plus he bought the beers the last time we met up. He’s recently joined the fine folks at The Information Lab as an Alteryx expert, giving this 2 minutes with a more Alteryx flavour. As a side note we also love Chris’s photography and hope to pick up some tips.

VizNinja (VN): Good morning, how are you?

CL: I’m doing good, my first few days in my new role at The Information Lab have been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest so it’s nice to take a break and chat to you.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

CL: I’m Chris Love, an Alteryx\Tableau Consultant at The Information Lab, Tableau EMEA Partner of the Year. I’m also the current Alteryx Grand Prix Champion.

VN: People may not have heard of Alteryx, can you quickly explain what it is? and what does being the Grand Prix Champion mean?

CL: It’s hard to pigeon-hole Alteryx, it’s essentially a visual BI tool that can be used for everything quick data processes, e.g. data reshaping, through to geospatial processing like “Find Nearest” and “Point in Polygon”; it’s also got a fantastic reputation as an Analytics tool. I’ve been using it for 8 years now and I’m looking forward to showing what it can do to a wider audience through The Information Lab.

59As far as the Grand Prix goes, every year Alteryx hold an event at their conference where ten of the best Alteryx users in the world compete with each other over a series of business problems. Each problem is a timed “lap” and this year the three laps took in an end to end process which involved taking raw data, reshaping it and then doing some K-means clustering before presenting a final report via pdf.

champI can’t remember my exact time but it took under half an hour in total to do the entire process and I was lucky enough to gain enough points from my laps to come top  of the leader board. It’s a unique experience, with a few hundred people cheering you on and watching your progress on big screens, and the added pressure of being in direct competition with others, it’s hard not to go to pieces and forget everything you know. I must say though that the prize of a weekend in Las Vegas and a drive in a Lamborghini at the Las Vegas Speedway made it all worth it.

VN: How have you seen Alteryx make an impact on businesses?

CL: Alteryx empowers people. Ordinary business users are often hamstrung because the data they need either isn’t accessible to them because it needs specialists to extract it, or the data is available in Excel or online but is in the wrong format. Even solutions like Tableau, which are so easy to use, still require data to be formatted in a certain way before it can be used. Alteryx changes that by providing a simple drag and drop interface which allows users to use a plethora of tools to import, transform and analyse data, and the ability to share the results locally in any format or via the cloud.  I once presented to a team who wanted to automate a handful of reports – I was able to build out their solution in just two hours in the course of a demo – which sold it to them; the next time I met them they were batching over 10,000 reports daily.  I was blown away.

VN: How did you first become exposed to Tableau?

CL: I must admit I had heard of Tableau but it wasn’t until Alteryx added the capability to write to .tde format that I became fully aware of it. As soon downloaded a trial then I knew I had something that complimented Alteryx perfectly, so I made it my mission to get myself a copy, which I managed, and I started learning it in my spare time using resources like the Tableau community, Blogs and Tableau Public. With Alteryx to help me format data I found I was able to build Tableau dashboards quickly and easily because I didn’t need to worry about blending and formatting in Tableau itself, and the spatial elements I was able to add through Alteryx received fantastic feedback from even seasoned Tableau professionals – which only encouraged me further.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

CL: As Spiderman was warned “With great power comes great responsibility”. BI is changing, business users are being empowered but with that comes a sense of responsibility otherwise there will be a backlash from IT. As more users get the tools to build data and analytical processes then users, and software vendors themselves, have a responsibility to ensure that the answers that come out of those processes are still meaningful and useful. If I can build a regression model without any code then does it mean I should? It depends, for example, on whether I understand what overfitting is.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

65254_452448238166366_1734509599_nCL: I’m a keen photographer, I don’t get out as often as I should but when I do I have achieved some pleasing results – I even had some luck displaying my photos in exhibitions and have even sold photographs to America. Have a look at my site.

VN: Thanks for your time, see you soon.

CL: No problem, anytime.

That’s it for this episode. Tune in next time for more adventures in BI. Ping me @paulbanoub if you fancy participating in a future episode.

Regards, Paul

2 minutes with… Peter Gilks of Slalom Consulting

2 mins with title2

Good morning all, I hope I find you well.

It seems that “2 minutes with…” is proving to be quite the premier interview show on the web. We’ve been literally inundated with requests to take part. I might have to employ some additional ninjas to deal with the admin.

We’re switching continents for this episode… He’s an alien. He’s a legal alien. He’s everyone’s favourite Englishman in New York…

It’s Peter Gilks (@pgilks) of Slalom Consulting in NYC.

250px-Slalom_ConsultingFounded in 2001, Slalom Consulting are an American business and technology consulting firm and were named as one of the best 50 companies to work for by Forbes in 2013.

Here at VN we are big fans of Peter’s work, in particular his cool Tableau Public vizzes. This recent one will roll back the years for you hardened video gamers. Peter is also a vocal tweeter and has been very helpful with his feedback about this blog and other topics.

IMG_0042VizNinja (VN): Hi Peter, how are you?

Peter Gilks (PG): I’m very well thanks, despite just getting back from seeing the Chicago Bulls lose at Madison Square Garden.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

PG: Peter Gilks, Data Visualization Consultant at Slalom Consulting, New York. Slalom are Tableau North American Alliance Partner of the Year 2013.

VN: How did you start using Tableau? And how are you using it now?

PG: I started using Tableau about 4 years ago when I was working as a customer insight analyst at Barclays. At first it was just a great a replacement for coding SQL and draw charts in Excel, but I soon realised the scope of the product and I was hooked!  Eventually the product grew within the company and we were lucky enough to get a Server which opened up the possibilities of pushing Tableau dashboards out to colleagues and customers. These days I’m spreading the love to other organisations, big and small, as a Tableau consultant at Slalom.

Tableau Public has also become something that I’m passionate about. I have my own blog which I run as a hobby and I try to do creative things with data. But I also love reading other folks blogs and get a kick out of seeing Tableau Public dashboards embedded in news sites. Where as I mostly make vizzes on fun topics, things like the recent dashboard showing fatal shootings of children in the US that was featured on NBC News really show how powerful data visualisations can be.

VN: How have you seen Tableau make an impact on businesses?

PG: There are a few big impacts I see Tableau making. One is the huge increase in efficiency for business and data analysts – which in turns leads to another that is the discovery of insights which is enabled by the ability to ask and answer questions quickly. Another major impact is the engagement with data from people who would otherwise be disengaged and making more ‘gut’ decisions. I think the aesthetics of Tableau really help draw people in, and enable them to make new discoveries and better decisions.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

PG: The Tableau Community is really one of the best-selling points of the product. It’s such a friendly, welcoming bunch and I enjoy reading various blogs, which are quite diverse in content. I also love the way that Tableau appreciates and encourages the culture of knowledge sharing through things like the Zen Master program. And the Tableau Customer Conference of course is the highlight of the year. Your blog has also been hugely helpful (and fun).

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

PG: Specifically in relation to Tableau we should as a user community be willing to help keep the company moving in the right direction through open discussion and constructive criticism. For the BI industry in general, I think expanding the field beyond IT and involving people with other skills and views is the key to success. Lets make BI an enabler for creativity, not a barrier.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

IMG_0438PG: I’m currently getting into home brewing – there is a dry hoppy IPA in the fermenter right now.

VN: Thanks for your time Peter, see you soon.

PG: No problem, enjoyed it.

Hope you enjoyed our latest episode of the interview show that’s taking the internet by storm. I’d recommend that NBC, BBC or Al-Jazeera get in touch quickly as our rates are going to rise.

Regards, Paul

Mmmm doughnuts…

Hi there,

Recently I saw this cool viz from the awesome @jeweloree.

dashSo I thought I’d have a go at my own food related dashboard. They say that in London you’re never more than 10 feet from a rat. Well in the investment banking arena that also applies to doughnuts. They’re everywhere. A trip to the coffee point can end up adding an inch to your waistline. Luckily I’m quite fussy when it comes to doughnuts so unless there’s an apple cinnamon one there I can easily walk on by.

So exactly what goes into one of those bad boys? Well Krispy Kreme have a pretty cool website where they declare a lot of this information. That’s good of them I think. No-one pretends doughnuts are good for you but at least they’re not hiding what goes into their products. I like that approach. Allows the consumer to make, and take responsibility for their own actions, rather than the people who trough loads of fatty food and then complain that they “didn’t know it was bad for them”.

So I grabbed the nutritional info for their Xmas menu from the link at the foot of this page. I had to chuck it into a spreadsheet and reformat it a little, but the resulting data was easy to read with Tableau. They also had nice thumbnail pics of each doughnut that instantly gave me the idea of a lollypop chart using a custom shapes palette. I also added a reference line to indicate the value of the secondary element of a nutrient component. Shame that only applies to carbs and fats though.

So in a little more detail…

I grabbed the data from the Krispy Kreme website here. I had to transfer the pdf to a local spreadsheet but given the limited data set it didn’t take long.

parameterOnce the xls was connected I decided what measures to plot. I wanted the user to be able to change the chart focus to whatever nutrient they wanted so to do that I used a parameter. It looked like this (left).

calcfieldThat parameter had a corresponding calculated field to allow the selection to be plotted on the Columns shelf. I typically use a case statement to allow the selection. Not sure if this is the best way to do it but it seems to work well. And of course I had to “Show Parameter Control@ to allow it to be effective.

That all allowed me to easily plot a simple bar chart for the nutrient in question, selectable using a parameter.


In order to represent the secondary nutrient for Carbs and Fat I created another calc field and plotted that using a reference line.

Shame that the other main measures didn’t have a corresponding secondary nutrient. I would have liked this to be consistent for all the selectable measures but hey ho.

shapesNext step was to give the lolly its pop. First off I grabbed all the thumbnail images of the doughnuts and chucked them in a shapes folder. Then it was a case of assigning the correct image to each value for the “Donut” measure. Once that was done I duplicated the measure on Columns and made the chart dual axis, and the shape to be the doughnut image. To add extra effect I made the width of the original bar thinner.

The doughnut selector was achieved by a simple chart showing only the images.


And the rankings by using the nifty Rank table calculation feature in 8.1. This is ace and saves so much time over earlier versions.

Then I pulled the whole lot into a dashboard and used the main doughnut selector as a filter. I’m pleased with the result, especially the use of the images which give the whole dash an element of visual appeal.

I was gonna do a timeline of when each product was released but I couldn’t find that data anywhere. Boo.

And here’s the result. Hope you like it. That White Chocolate & Almond one is a total bad-ass. Cookie Crunch also packs a carbohydrate punch but at least you get a bit of fibre in there.


Cheers, Paul

2 Minutes with… Paul Chapman of easyJet

Ah good day to my Tableau disciples. Peace be with you. May your day be free of exploding 3D pie charts

I’d like to introduce you to the first of a regular series of short interviews, entitled “2 Minutes with…”. The more alert of you will have worked out that this is where I spend 2 minutes with an interesting person in the BI area and ask them a few questions relevant to Tableau and viz and all that. I then document what they’ve said and we all look on in awe as to how clever they are. They then slip me a backhander and we all emerge as winners. Lovely.

First up is Paul Chapman (@cheekie_chappie) of easyJet

easyjetFounded in 1995, easyJet are a British airline carrier and one of the pioneers of the “low-cost” airline boom of the 1990’s. They’ve seen very rapid expansion since formation and have always been characterized by their use of innovative marketing techniques, not least in their battle with rival low-cost operators. Check this interesting BBC documentary for some insight.

Paul1VizNinja (VN): Good morning Paul, how are you?

Paul Chapman (PC): Fine thanks, nice to talk to you again.

VN: So who are you then and what do you do?

PC: Paul Chapman, Finance Manager for Business Intelligence @ easyJet

VN: How do you use Tableau at your organization?

PC: I am leading our Tableau programme, which we have had in the business for about six months now.  We started with a proof of concept scheme of 10 desktop users with a server in a box under a desk, which has now increased to 25 desktop users, which represent each key pillar of the business and a 16 core server across two physical and two virtual machines.

VN: What has the impact been on your business?

PC: We are still looking at the art of the possible with Tableau and getting our desktop users up to speed with the fundamental and advanced training sessions, but the proof of concepts have highlighted some innovative ways in which we can visualize our data and make current reporting significantly more interactive for the end-user.  We have also set up an internal Tableau user group, which shares suggestions, ideas and best practice across Yammer and at our monthly catch up meetings.  The training has also been recognized by HR and added to the individuals training records which is also important in ensuring they are being recognized for the time and commitment they are giving to the tool.

VN: Who do you learn from in the Tableau community?

PC: I follow multiple blogs and twitter users, there are too many to mention individually but suffice to say that 85% of the people I follow on twitter and 100% of the blogs are Tableau related!  The Tableau Public viz of the day is also a fantastic resource (as are the Tableau books by Dan Murray and George Peck.

VN: In your opinion what should we be mindful of in the BI space going forward?

PC: Making sure that you don’t run before you can walk.  Tableau is only one part of the whole BI journey for us.  We are also defining the ‘Analyst of the future’ and trying to fix our underlying data warehouses and source data as well.  Another key task is defining visualization best practice and guidelines and even the colour palettes we should use.

VN: Could you give me an interesting non-work fact about yourself?

Paul2PC: When not flying planes I also enjoy taking long runs through mud, fire, water, ice and electricity – normally in fancy dress as well!

VN: Thanks for your time Paul, see you soon.

PC: You’re welcome, always a pleasure.

Hope you enjoyed the first episode of “2 Minutes with…”. As always, feedback is invited. If you’d like to be the subject of a future edition then give me a tweet and I’ll send a Ninja over.

Regards, Paul