Why you should add Alteryx to your bag of tricks…

I wrote this blog just as we launched our Alteryx for Beginners training course; aimed at explaining what Alteryx is and why you should look to add it to your skill set.  In the past I have used a mixture of applications and languages to manipulate data including (but not limited to) MS Excel, MS Access, SQL, SED, AWK, GREP, MapInfo Professional and QGIS.  All these skills have given me a great grounding in the areas of data manipulation and analysis.

What is Alteryx?

When we speak to junior data analysis candidates, 80% of the time they don’t know what Alteryx is – so what is it?  Alteryx is a tool that simplifies and speeds up your prepping, blending, and analysing of data.  From my many years of experience as an analyst I feel that the biggest barrier to doing analysis is that business systems are often not designed with analysis in mind. Analysis tends to be is an after-thought and therefore data cleansing routines are almost always needed. 

Take my experience of working for a major bingo operator. I was often tasked with using the membership database to investigate and analyse bingo club catchment areas.  Data would invariably need cleaning, so I would use SQL scripts to get postcodes into the correct format to join to mapping data in the GIS.  SQL is a great language and there will always be a need for it, but having used Alteryx now, the speed at which you can create processes versus writing lines of SQL code is so much quicker and simpler.  I have examples like this in every analytical job I have done.

Alteryx has numerous “Tools” (We cover 24 in our training course) which basically connect data flows together via “Anchors” between tools.  You save these connections of tools as “Workflows” which are easy to pick up and edit/run (Either if you have designed them or a colleague has).  The biggest learning anyone new to Alteryx requires is to try and identify what tool you require to do a particular piece of data cleaning/joining/analysis.

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

My Favourite Alteryx Tool

I am still discovering new tools in Alteryx, but my favourite tool so far is the Join Tool.  To this day when I am using SQL I would have to google/refer to notes on how to do Left and Right joins of data/tables (I am a bit out of practice to be honest).  The join tool in Alteryx is simple to use as it has 2 input and 3 output anchors, giving all elements of a join output.  Firstly, it gives a “J” output which is all records that join in between the 2 tables (Assume 2 tables, one is “L” [for left] the other is “R” [for right]).  Then it gives an “L” output which is essentially all the records in table “L” that do not match to table “R”.  Lastly it gives an “R” output which gives the remaining records in table “R” that do not match to table “L”.

Why Alteryx?

Alteryx is the fastest growing analytics software company, showing 65% revenue growth from FY2018 to FY2019.  As recruiters in analytical roles it is one of the most requested skillsets from our clients.  If you are a GIS Analyst like me, you will be pleased to know that there are spatial tools within Alteryx so spatial queries and analysis can be achieved.

When I worked for BT I was on a team of pricing analysts who automated a pricing tool to cost and price up international connections to the BT Global Network.  As part of that production team (5 of us) we spent about 8 weeks writing SQL code to automate the importing of data from MS Excel and then formatting and calculating pricing (Based on distance from location to BT network).  If we had used Alteryx (It didn’t exist then) I am pretty sure we could have written the same process in a quarter of the time (which would have freed us all up to do the more value-add and fun analysis).

Also – the way workflows are put together is realty intuitive.  How many times have you done some data analysis/cleaning in something like Excel or SQL and had to spend time working out what each step does?  Well, with Alteryx it is easy to see what a workflow is doing and also to re-run all or some elements of it.

Downsides

The major feedback we have from clients of ours is the price of Alteryx per seat.  This makes it prohibitive in many cases and therefore also difficult for anyone to build up skills in this software.  On the plus side, students can get a 12 months free licence.  If you are a student, I would very much recommend you get a copy and ideally use it in an analysis project or final year dissertation.  Alteryx also offer a free 4-week trial, so in the event that you don’t currently have the software you can activate your free trial and enrol on our introductory course.

Don’t delay, book yourself on our course!

In summary, Alteryx is a great tool that negates the need for coding and provides simple to use functions and tools to do most bits of data manipulation and blending that you would need to do with a variety of data sources for your analysis.  To find out more – why not get in touch and come on our Alteryx for Beginners training course – you will at least come away with a good flavour of what Alteryx is capable of!

Click here to download the Alteryx for Beginners training course brochure and Course Dates and Price list. https://tinyurl.com/yxpt2lde

Email me on paul@redtigerconsulting.co.uk or phone 07918 653877 to book your place.

PS. We also have discounts available for booking multiple places, students, graduates and job seekers.

Getting out of your comfort zone

I started this blog pre-lockdown and since then both Steve’s Kilimanjaro and my Mallorca triathlon have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I thought it was still worth publishing anyway (As both Steve and I hope to do these events in 2021).

Recruiters are bound to say that moving roles and “getting out of your comfort zone” is a good thing to do as we would love people to move roles. More frequent job changes obviously means more money for recruiters, but I am honestly writing this without my recruiter hat on and backing this theory up with evidence as you will read below.

The idea of the ‘comfort zone’ goes back to a classic experiment in psychology. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of ‘relative comfort’ created a steady level of performance.  In order to maximise performance we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety”, and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.

I have also referred to this in other blogs but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also helps to show how we as humans benefit from getting out of our comfort zone and the top two elements of the hierarchy are covered by this.

Esteem – proving (to yourself) that you can do something that you may not have done before can give you a real feeling of achievement. If you surround yourself with good friends and family, the status and recognition that comes with it is also very rewarding.

Self-actualisation – if you have an element of desire to be the most that one can be then you will also find a challenge helps towards this and find it very rewarding.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of basic needs!

For this blog I will take my recruiter hat off and cover some personal experiences of getting out of your comfort zone (Some career and some non-career examples).

Leaving BT 

I could write a separate blog on this but here is my summary. Having worked at GMAP and then GeoBusiness Solutions I then spent 14 years at BT. I did change roles “fairly often” at BT but in hindsight I should have moved more often (and possibly earlier out of BT). Don’t get me wrong, my time at BT was great (until a few of the later years where I took the wrong career move) but now having been four years out of BT I do not look back.

When I left BT in July 2016, it was a big leap of faith. I was moving from a role that I could almost have had for life (nothing is certain, but BT was pretty much as safe as they come in terms of jobs) to starting a new business in a new area for me. Looking back at my experience, initially I leapt beyond “Optimal Anxiety” due to other pressures. Starting a new career and business and also trying to help care for my mother who had a rapid form of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and sadly passed away in February 2019.

Coronavirus aside, and with Steve helping me full time on the recruitment for the last year, I feel I am now in the “Optimal Anxiety” space, and this feels great. It’s hard to get that balance and it doesn’t always mean moving roles, but I can really feel a shift in my happiness and work satisfaction within this phase!

Kilimanjaro 

In September 2020 Steve will be embarking on a 8-day trip up Mount Kilimanjaro. Cartilage and ACL injuries from football have taken their toll on Steve’s knees (they hurt more when he walks down-hill) but Steve is now pushing ahead with building up to this challenge.

From my point of view on this trip, the challenge is 2-fold. Firstly, it is about getting the fitness to be able to walk for several hours up-hill (This will involve some challenging climbs in the UK with Snowdon, Scafell, Helvellyn etc lined up). Secondly, and perhaps most challenging and one you cannot fully prepare for, is that of coping with the altitude. Kilimanjaro is 6,000 metres high and at that level your blood saturation (Oxygen content in your blood) decreases to nearly 80%. The plan on this trip is to gradually increase the altitude to allow for the climbers to acclimatise to that level.

The reasons Steve is doing this are 5-fold

  1. Heading towards the big 5-0 and needing to set a big goal for himself.
  2. Wanting a physical challenge (that can accommodate his dodgy knees).
  3. Wanting to test his mental strength – as it’s certainly a case of mind over matter.
  4. Raising some money for causes that are close to him
  5. Mindfulness – Spending 8 days away from the usual stresses of life and not being in a digitally connected world (bit back to nature really)

Even though the Kilimanjaro trip is postponed, Steve is still focused on training and has set a September 2020 date of walking some of the Lake Districts highest hills in mountains to keep focus so he is ready for 2021.

Triathlon

Finally, on to my challenge this year – in October 2021 I will be competing in the Peguera (Mallorca) Triathlon. This will be a 1.9km open-water Swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run (In that order). To date I have done the last of these three disciplines/distances in isolation, but have never done the first two (The most I have swam in one go is 600m and the most I have cycled is 65km), let alone two or three of these one after the other.

I have run three marathons to date and I remember thinking after doing my first 10km race, that I could never ever run a marathon. I then entered a half marathon and started the training by increasing my distance each week by no more than 10%. I got up to 11 miles in training and then did my first half marathon in 1hr 42 minutes. That step up gave me the confidence to try a marathon and so I embarked on training and again increments of 10% each week up to 20 mile training runs. I find with running once you get to a certain level and go through the training it then becomes a habit. I ran my first marathon in 4hrs 20 mins. Gutted that I didn’t get under four hours, I tried again and came in at 3hrs 58 minutes – what a relief! My third marathon I finished in 3hrs 50 minutes and have felt a great sense of achievement at pushing myself, and have also given myself confidence and belief in my ability and potential fitness levels.

Back to the triathlon and my biggest challenge to begin with is the swim – currently two lengths of front crawl and I am done! So I have been taking swimming lessons and 16 weeks in, I can now swim about 15 lengths without stopping. It’s been a real slog as some weeks I feel like I have made progress, and then other weeks I feel like I have taken a step backwards. What I have felt in this process is a real sense of achievement. I do feel as we get older we do like our comfort zones, but rising to a challenge like this has helped give me a real sense of accomplishment with even more to come. I know I have the ability to further improve all three disciplines and viewing and reviewing my Strava from time to time helps to back this up.

Conclusion

Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t just about changing jobs! It is all about trying to find the right balance in your life and a level of stress in your work and non-work elements that keep you motivated and give you higher self-esteem.

Rather than change jobs, it can also be taking on more responsibility or learning new skills. Rather than work related it can be learning a new skill or increasing your exercise for example. We all need an element of self-esteem so anything that can help towards that will help keep your life well balanced and help you maintain that happiness!

I’d love to hear your views on this concept of pushing your boundaries. Do you do this in your work and personal life? What are you doing this year to get our of your comfort zone?

Feature image: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
Maslows Hierarchy of needs: The Chronic Traveller saved to Self-care and self-love on Pinterest

Graduate focus – stand out from the crowd

This blog is aimed at providing students and recent graduates advice on their career.

Looking back from what has been a rapid 22 years since I graduated, I was very fortunate to do a degree course that provided modules that really interested me, but also gave me experience in the sector I gained my first role in; I joined GMAP as a Market Analyst in September 1997.

My degree in Geography and Management studies solidified my interest in GIS and spatial analysis and helped me to focus on a more narrow interest in its use within retail and marketing. This led to my first role at GMAP as a Market Analyst, working with Ford motor company, producing spatial interaction models to help them decide where to locate their dealerships.

Don’t panic! There is plenty of time to find the right job for you

Many students today do not know what career they want to go into and there are a mix of those who are balancing the final year of study and looking for roles versus those who are fully focused on their final year of study. It’s easy for me to say, and it depends on your circumstances, but my overriding advice is don’t panic! And if you are feeling a bit lost, Red Tiger Talent offer consultations with students to help them in their careers.

Timing is not that important 

A lot of students get fixated on getting a role that starts in the summer they graduate and depending on plans, this can feel like the ideal scenario. At Red Tiger Talent we get graduate roles coming up throughout the year, and sometimes you are even better placed beyond September, as there is still supply but the demand is lower.

Invest time in your CV 

The next two sections are linked to this section in that you firstly need some good content for your CV. A CV update is usually bottom of your list of priorities, it’s hard to move up your list but it really is time well invested. Also be careful where you get advice – the more people you ask the more advice you will get. The main advice I would give is to try to make sure, for any role you go for, that within 30 seconds of reading your CV the person would like to interview you. Tailor your CV to each role so that you tick 80% of the capabilities and experience boxes they are looking for.

Try and get work experience 

Depending on timing and the course you are on, it is well worth exploring whether you can do a year in industry. Failing that, see if there are modules to allow industrial experience or take your own initiative to get some relevant work experience. There is definitely a very high percentage of students that end up with a 1st class honours after a year in industry as they often learn so much that helps kick-start their final year.

Pick a good dissertation 

This is hard if you still don’t know what you want to do, but if you do know, try and pick a dissertation that will give you some good experience in the careers area you want to go into. I did my dissertation on the use of GIS in an estate agents, which gave me plenty to speak about during my 1st interview at GMAP.

Learn new skills 

You may have limited time but try and pick up some new skills. At Red Tiger Consulting we provide Microsoft Excel Training to students. but also look into free software such as QGIS. You can get a free 2 week copy of Alteryx, which is a very fast-growing piece of software that lots of our clients are using. Also try and give the level of skills you have in each and do not lie about it as you could get found out in an interview or tested on your skills!

It’s a daunting prospect, mixing degree completion with career aspirations, but at Red Tiger Talent we are more than happy to help. If you would like to talk about a career in Location Planning, GIS, Consumer Insight, Property Research or Business Intelligence then please do get in touch.

Author: Paul Halsall

Images:
Photo by Buro Millennial from Pexels
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Managing your manager

When I was at BT one of the best things I did was to look for a business mentor. I had to find someone who was not in the same line of business as me, who was ideally local, who was a couple of grades above me, and who was keen to mentor someone in the business. I had two mentors at BT, both of whom were excellent, but it was the first one that really taught me how to manage my manager.

The person who decides your appraisal score and potential pay rise is generally your line manager. Obviously, you should be as professional and efficient with all your colleagues, but to progress your career, the main focus should really be your line manager.

My overriding advice on this is to try and think from your managers point of view. Quite often it is hard for managers to delegate and also they will generally find most of their time is spent fire-fighting. So think to yourself “How can I make my managers working life easier”?

Tell them a problem early 

No-one wants to be the bearer of bad news, so naturally we do not want to say anything that brings to light something negative.  However, often your gut instinct is correct and if you are concerned about something that may affect the business no matter how big or small, the best thing you can do is bring it to your manager’s attention as soon as possible (Unless of course you have dealt with and resolved it yourself). 

Write your own appraisal 

One of the most time-consuming and lower priority tasks as a line manager is writing employees appraisals (It shouldn’t be but naturally it can be).  What could be better than having a direct report who offers to draft up an appraisal report?  Obviously, your manager needs to pick out areas for development and add their own words (There should be no surprises on this and therefore you should have already heard areas that you need to develop), but this is great two-fold in that it saves your manager time and also it gives you chance to document all the great work you have done and evidence that sometimes gets lost in the noise. 

Manage the appraisal process and document it yourself 

At BT, we were meant to have 1:1’s at least every quarter.  I never had a manager who would structure these correctly so from my Mentor’s advice, I was told to set calendar entries for the 1:1’s and I would also set an agenda and also document what was discussed.  This could then be taken in to each subsequent 1:1, showing that I was highly organised and also that I was taking note of what I needed to do and that I was acting upon advice.  All of this helps to take the burden off the manager, but also puts some control into your own hands in terms of how well you are thought of within the team. 

Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

Run with an idea 

How often do we have an idea and don’t run with it?  Time is often scarce, but it is the ideas that may save you time in the long-run that can really pay dividends.  In my early years at BT I inherited a process that used MS Access to update pricing tools.  MS Access, at its best, is very clunky, but this particular process was written by someone who clearly favoured MS Access to run queries (I was already skilled in using SQL).  I therefore battled to get SQL Server installed on the team’s machines and a number of us worked overtime to get stored-procedures written to speed up the process. Some country updates used to be run overnight without guarantee they would work; with SQL server we managed to get some of those processes to run in under 30 minutes! 

Often the result of such work means you may lose staff or you are given more work to do.  What this actually did was free up analysts time to do more of the value-add work like conducting analysis on new pricing deals etc.  This was a win-win as I was able to develop the team’s analytical capabilities, but also did very well in my appraisal for having this idea and managing to implement it.

Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

Conclusion 

We all have time and work pressures but try and use your day as effectively as you can.  Investing time in helping your manager can only help your career progression.  We often don’t think about such subtle ways to enhance our careers until they are pointed out, so I do hope that at least one person reads this and starts to implement some of the advice above! 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you found great benefits from a life coach and what, if anything, resonates from the points raised above?

Author: Paul Halsall

Photo 1 by Canva Studio from Pexels
Photo 2 by Canva Studio from Pexels

The true costs of Pay & Display parking

During a recent Red Tiger team day in sunny Southport the team started discussing (slightly ranting) the costs and inconvenience of town centre parking charges.

There are many well publicised factors driving the decline in our town centre retail and increased occupancy rates don’t help, but paying for parking is the bugbear of many. At the start of the summer of 2019, an article published by the BBC stated that Councils in England are set to record a surplus of £1bn from parking charges and penalties this year. Read more here: Parking charges could make £1bn for councils, study says.

With out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks often more accessible and convenient, compounded by the risk of a parking penalty in town, why would you pay for the hassle of parking in a town centre?

Problems in our home towns

We talked about the various nuances of parking situations in our home towns. This has resulted in a significant shift in prime pitch and footfall and in some cases, just not using these centres as frequently. 

Aylesbury and Southport, for example, have lost their BHS stores (& both remain vacant). Southport is just about to lose Debenhams (first tranche of the 22 closures in early 2020). I wouldn’t be surprised if Aylesbury M&S was on a closure list soon. Both towns also have edge-of-town centre Shopping Parks. Central 12 in Southport is a slightly longer walk into the town centre than Aylesbury Shopping Park. The shopping parks are pay and display; Aylesbury is free for two hours (must display a ticket) whilst Central 12 is £1.60 for two hours. Central 12 is council operated and therefore prices are aligned with the town centre charges.

Problems with edge of centre Shopping Parks

The free 2 hours at Aylesbury Shopping Park means that everyone piles into the parking first thing and then some cut through to town (~3 minute walk). The car park is totally full (& chaotic) by 10am most days. Some would view this as a positive, however anecdotally I know that friends and family often don’t come into town because
a) they know the Shopping Park will be full and
b) subsequently won’t pay for town centre parking.

Therefore, although the Shopping Park’s free parking is helping to drive footfall into the town centre, it has a ceiling height (& not everyone is cutting through to the town centre). In Southport Central 12 highways signage is throughout the town centre, effectively promoting traffic away from the High Street – it is a decent ten minute walk to the main High Street.  The rest of the town centre, along with Aylesbury, is then peppered with town centre pay & display car parks.

Revenue generated? A tale of two towns

We put out a freedom of information (FOI) request to both Sefton Council (Southport) and Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) to see how much revenue they have generated the last three years from charges and fines.

For AVDC the figures are £7.7m in revenue and £461k in fines with fines typically running at ~6% of revenue (Table 1). Revenue has been increasing slightly, but more concerning is the annual percentage increase in fines +14% 16/17 > 17/18 & +15% 17/18 > 18/19. This is even more frustrating given the town centre redevelopment and constant reconfiguration of one of the main car parks.

It isn’t just the revenue being generated from the fines, it is more the intangible damage and stigma associated with going into a town which is so heavily patrolled with visible yellow stickers on people’s cars on a daily basis. You may not have received a penalty yourself but this kind of imagery gets ingrained in people’s minds.

In Southport the income is much lower at £2.4m (3 years at Southport is 1 year of revenue in Aylesbury). Southport has a population of 90,381 versus Aylesbury Town 58,740 (2011 census). Fines have come down significantly in Southport (halved last year) so there has clearly been a conscious decision by Sefton Council to reduce patrols and/or fines (based on their supplied numbers) despite revenue from parking income falling only slightly YOY.

Table 1:

A Different approach

The other week I visited a town which actively promotes and welcomes cars, bikes and public transport with open arms to its Town Centre. Witney, West Oxfordshire is a market town which is a real success story. It has very low vacancy rates, a healthy mix of uses, national brands and local independents. All of the car parks in the town are council operated and every space is free for up to 3 hours.  No doubt the success of this town is partly driven by the affluent nature of its catchment but also by the ease of access it provides to the population it is serving. There are basically no barriers to entry.

This doesn’t mean that Witney is less vulnerable to the wider structural shifts at a national level (the Debenhams store in the town is on the first phase closure list) but the things the local authority can control, such as free parking, it is doing, making sure the town centre remains a vital hub for the community.

Other councils are starting to acknowledge the “benefits” of not monetising parking. Just a few months ago Cheshire Council announced that one of the main car parks in Ellesmere Port will become free of charges for a trial period until December to see if relieves pressure on the short stay parking closer to town and improves footfall into the town centre. Market Harborough plans to increase free on street parking from 40 mins to 1 hour.

It is a fine balance between charging for parking to help support ever stretched local authority budgets and supporting the vitality of the town centre. I find travelling up and down the country that many councils take a very short term view of charging as much as possible for parking. Councils see it as a quick (& relatively cheap) revenue generator and fail to understand their roles in contributing to the damage of their own high streets.