What I learnt on the Excel for Analytics training course…

Other than for extremely basic calculations at school, I’d never really been taught how to use Excel, so when Steve and Paul suggested I attend the course as part of my induction I was interested in learning more and gaining a valuable skill. I believe it’s very beneficial to be trained in Excel as it is such an important skill to possess, and is used in a lot of daily, vital tasks at work. I felt the course at Red Tiger gave me the perfect opportunity to grasp basic and more advanced skills to practice and develop as I continue my career.

What things did I learn?

The course covers everything from the basic ‘SUM’ function to more complicated formulas like ‘VLOOKUP’ and ‘CONCAT’. With the steady, easy-to-follow pace of the course, I learnt a range of different level skills, in a relatively short amount of time. The introduction to some basic skills at the beginning of the course helped me, as a beginner, to become comfortable with the essential skills and functions to use Excel. Throughout the course, the content progressively became more advanced, finishing with more complicated skills such as pivot tables. Despite these being much more tougher skills, Steve and Paul explained them in a detailed yet straightforward way, so even I (a novice) could follow the instructions easily. By learning this range of different skills, I was able to learn how to sort data, and how to use functions in order to read and find certain pieces of data or information within the spreadsheet.

The best bits

The best part, in my opinion, is the post-course workbook which includes a set of data and instructions to complete the spreadsheet in order to practice your newly learnt skills. I feel it really helped me consolidate the skills taught in the course, as I was able to practice them within a realistic dataset. Once sending it through, the feedback I received from Steve helped further as I was given tips on how to improve the whole look of the spreadsheet by making it look more professional. After completing this I received a certificate, which makes the course even more worthwhile, as you have proof of your newly learnt skills.

Would I recommend the course?

I would most definitely recommend this course, it is highly informative and easy-to-follow, and I feel I will value it in years to come as I continue to develop the skills. Paul and Steve are exceptional in ensuring everyone is keeping up and understanding, so I never felt like I was falling behind or losing track. The post-course workbook is a brilliant way to practice the skills, and the instructions that came with it are extremely helpful in order to help complete the exercise. The range of skills I think were great, as it starts basic and progressively gets more advanced, with each function being thoroughly explained throughout.

I really value what I learnt in the course, as Excel skills are so important and relevant within the workplace. As well as Excel training being useful for work, I also feel it will be valuable in personal life, with things such as budgeting money and planning revision.

For more information on Red Tiger Training courses, please email meg@redtigerconsutling.co.uk

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.

Post Lockdown – What are our predictions for the future?

It’s the end of the (old) world as we know it (and I feel fine) 

Now I have finished with my review of how businesses and individuals have been coping, (Click to read Part One and Part Two of the New Normal) I thought I would conclude the final part with some predictions:

  • Too many people, too few jobs – I do believe that we will start to see an increase in the announcement of redundancies as the Government looks to end the Job Retention Scheme.  Once businesses start to incur the significant costs of staff and premises it really does depend on how their revenues recover post lockdown as to whether they can maintain their pre-covid employment levels.  We are already seeing some businesses (including those owned by Gordon Ramsay) using the Job Retention Scheme funding to pay people through their redundancy notice. 
  • Head Office/Home Office balance – This isolation has proved that a lot of people can successfully work from home and businesses are still able to function.  Offices will need to be repurposed in order to cater for reduced employment densities (most offices are now aiming to operate at 20-25% capacity immediately after lockdown easing) and the way we interact with them will change.  Some businesses have already made the decision to not open their offices until 2021.  Most of us will still desire that face-to-face interaction and collaboration with our colleagues, albeit, on a less frequent basis. 
  • Hours to suit – Flexi-time will see a resurgence. Most businesses will need to show willing to enable their staff to commute with minimal exposure at peak times on public transport. The authorities and environmentalists would like to see everyone walk/cycle to work (participation will inevitably be higher during the nice weather) but where public transport is the only practical mode it will mean flexible start and finish times to minimise peak travel. 
  • Digital dominance – We will all emerge from lockdown with new abilities for the digital age – particularly around remote working and video communication.  I feel that this will help diminish the need for some physical face-to-face contact in order to get business done.  It will mean greater scrutiny and justification of travel, particularly with use of public transport.  There will also be an emergence of new rising stars within businesses who have a natural flair for engaging in the digital world – some skills may translate from the physical world, other competencies will be discovered or developed. 
  • Home delivery and online will rise sharper than recent historic growth levels – The grocery sector has seen phenomenal growth in demand for online services in the last few months, to the extent that they have been unable to fulfil all the potential. I believe this will continue as more capacity is added and the crisis proves to be the trigger that forces a step-change in people’s behaviour, with more preferring to have their regular groceries delivered, to the detriment of the environmental considerations. 
  • People will shop local and support their independents – The successful independents have been very good at adapting their offer in the crisis and really engaging in support of their local customers.  I believe there will be a lot more emphasis that people put on supporting these independent businesses and shopping local. 
  • Retail Phoenix from the flames – There will always be a physical retail/leisure/F&B sector in the UK but there will be some clear winners and losers that emerge.  Some businesses will be rendered flightless (excuse the analogy) and be left to wither in the embers, struggling with business models that are unsustainable moving forward. Other businesses will adapt and survive.  
  • The death of retail browsing? The old ‘retail therapy’ rule book will need to be ripped up. Conversion rates should increase as people make visits with a clear purpose, and average basket sizes will increase as shopper frequency will be down and customers will be unable to try before they buy (due to the changing rooms being unavailable). This will result in an increase in returns and in the challenge retailers face on getting this returned stock sold.  
  • Retail Property is broken, and it needs Landlords and tenants to fix it – Both parties need to share the pain out of the current crisis. There has to be a recognition that Landlords still have bills to pay and so withholding rent for an extended period of time may not be acceptable.  This crisis will drive a fundamental re-correction in retail rents in order to take account of the new function of retail and ongoing rental sustainability.  There also needs to be a drive for more flexible leases where both parties share in the upside but share the pain of depressed performance.
  • Staycation havoc – With businesses encouraging staff to take holiday, people wanting a change of scenery from their home, and continued uncertainty on the opening up of international borders (and who will be around to take us to foreign climes) this can only mean that everyone will be holidaying in this country in 2020.  My advice, particularly if you have children, is to get your October half term and Xmas trips booked as soon as possible as prices are likely to go through the roof. 
Have you planned your staycation?
  • We will be better prepared for next time – This may be a once in a lifetime event (or longer) but be sure that UK plc will need to become a little more self-sufficient in certain areas – particularly with regards necessary medical supplies.  Who is to say that some forms of manufacturing won’t come back to our shores?
  • It will be an employers’ market – to a certain degree.  With too many candidates chasing too few roles the big challenge will be efficiently filtering applications.  This is where, as a recruiter, we can do our big value add to hiring managers and HR teams.   This will also mean that candidates will have to be more on point throughout the process than they have ever been, from their CV and covering letter, to interview skills – again, something we are well placed to support.  

Give us a call on +44(0)7918 653 877 / +44(0)7979 756 257 or email info@redtigerconsulting.co.uk if you would like to talk about finding talented individuals wishing to consider a fresh challenge to join your team.

Image: Photo by Mark Arron Smith from Pexels

The new normal (part one)

Coronavirus has impacted everyone’s lives over the last few months and I would imagine most people are well and truly bored of the subject. With lockdown slowly being lifted and we tentatively ease back into more flexible routines, I thought it would be an appropriate time to provide an irreverent summary of my thoughts.

It’s Only Words 

This crisis has certainly expanded everyone’s vocabulary and brought new meaning to a number of words and phrases: 

  • The new normal – typically a management consultant’s mantra, this phrase has permeated into all manner of writing and conversation in relation to Covid-19 to provide a catch all on what our world will look like post pandemic. It infers that there will be some changes to the status quo. One change will be that it will make its way onto the boardroom bingo list. 
  • Driven by the data – never before have I witnessed such a consistent emphasis with the public on the use of data to inform decisions.  The nation at large have had to get used to a wide range of graphs, charts, infographics and maps, albeit of varying quality.  It is interesting to see how some regular charts have dropped off the agenda – particularly the one that ‘compare’ the death rate across different countries.  What can also be seen is how merging different disparate datasets can help give a much clearer picture and that individual datasets must be understood in the context of what they include or don’t include (metadata).   It is also worth mentioning how terms such as algorithm and modelling/models have stealthily sneaked into the lexicon of healthcare officials.  It is a good time to be into data!  If you interested its worth checking out this BBC4 programme. Watch Contagion The BBC Pandemic 2018
Sales of Corona Extra dropped as people avoided it for fear of catching the virus
  • Coronavirus and Covid-19 – I do wish we had never heard of these two phrases and I would imagine that AB InBev the company that owns Corona Extra lager would say the same for the former commonly used phrase. 
  • Lockdown – When will it end?  What are the transition rules going to be?   Do we stay at home or stay alert or both?  I’ve seen some interesting innovations, such as a lockdown rave with strategically placed tape allowing for a socially distanced square to dance in, and restaurant concepts where everyone dines in an enclosed bubble.  What will ongoing social distancing restrictions mean for consumer businesses, their space requirements and their business model? 
  • The R number – This is the (R)eproduction number which measures the average number of people that an infected person will pass the virus on to.  More than 1 is bad, less than 1 and as near as possible to 0 is good.  I’m not entirely sure how we can accurately track the R number without thorough testing and tracking but I am sure that the contact-tracing app that is trialling on the Isle of Wight is one step in the right direction if we can get widespread adoption. 
  • Social distancing – A series of interventions designed to minimise the spread of the disease. This can be everything from not going out at all, to ensuring you stay a minimum of 2 metres away from people from outside of your own household (in Australia it is 4 metres!), and only going out for essential trips such as shopping, visiting the doctors/pharmacy and exercise.   Apparently Boris has been asking medical experts whether it is feasible to reduce this down to 1 metre.   Based on my experiences I do perhaps think there should be public training on what 2 metres actually is, oh no, I’m starting to sound like a:  
  • Covidiot – This has become a common phrase to describe those that clearly break the rules on social distancing.  I would argue that it should also be used to describe those who have nothing better to do than highlight how well they are doing with regards sticking the rules (are they rules or ‘guidelines’) and take great pleasure in highlighting situations where others aren’t being so strict. 
Durdle Door beach in Dorset, during coronovirus the pandemic
  • Video calls – A lot of people didn’t know what Zoom, MS Teams or Skype really were before Covid-19 struck.  Whatever your preference it is a great bit of technology when used in the right way, but there have also been a number of video call fails – from connection problems forgetting to unmute when speaking, speaking when someone else is speaking, spewing profanities when thinking you are on mute, all the way through to walking around in your altogether in the background whilst being blissfully unaware that your partner is on a live work video call.   
Coffee Break Zoom Call

There is always one who takes their mastery of the technology to another level.  Basic operators know how to join a call, switch video on and unmute the microphone.  Intermediate level operators take it one step further by showing they can raise their hand, chat to the group (or privately to individuals), record the proceedings, and change their background picture to something vaguely amusing for a nanosecond.  Advanced users take it one step further both in their attire (a professional looking headset may well be accompanied by a funny hat or wig) and their mastery of the technology.  This includes choosing a background video (I haven’t seen a roller coaster video with a fan on to mimic the blowing of hair yet), to suggesting the use of Whiteboards for that all-important group brainstorming session. I recently learned that advanced Zoom users can ‘touch themselves up’, read into that what you like.  I call these people Zoom goons and they can accelerate… 

Zoom fatigue  – When lockdown first happened it was an excuse for people to show off these skills for the sake of it, because for most it was a novel and new way of doing things.  People are certainly showing signs of this novelty wearing off and Zoom fatigue is certainly kicking in.  The problem is there is no escape, morning, noon and night, diaries are chock-a-block with Zoom meets (even double bookings), juggling work, catch ups with family, quizzes and virtual pubs with your mates.  Unlike pre-lock down – the organisers know that you will be in, so there is little escape!  It has been lovely to see various companies shouting about how they are continuing to do business and share their screen captures of team calls. Based on my experiences of trying to get an approved selfie with just my wife I do often wonder how many takes were required to get the perfect picture.  Remember to build in an extra 15 minutes to each meeting if you plan to capture the moment.

Shielding – This is used to describe the process of helping those who are particularly clinically vulnerable, with a pre-existing condition such as cancer, severe respiratory conditions or immunodeficiency problems, where the advice is to stay at home at all times.  These people got an additional letter from the NHS to say that they need to stay inside.  Shielding used to mean something I would try and do (and fail) when playing on one of my son’s fighting games on the Xbox. 

Herd immunity – This is best achieved by introduction of a vaccine but some theorists believe a managed introduction of the virus into the population so that between 70-90% gain immunity. This means that the virus can’t spread (containing the R rate) and it is really  a form of ‘natural selection’, resulting in high death rates and significant capacity issues with the NHS service.  We have already lost significant numbers of our ‘herd’ and this as a full-on approach would have made the losses to be in the hundreds of thousands. 

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – We are all leading authorities on challenges with supply of equipment that is necessary to protect healthcare workers from infection by the virus.  Members of the public have been largely impacted by a lack of toilet paper and flour but PPE equipment has clearly not been in the right quantities in the right locations at the right time for our healthcare professionals.  It is a geographic logistics challenge that doesn’t seem to have been solved in the last 2-3 months.  I was speaking to a logistics professional who said that it is also a challenge to ensure the equipment is delivered to the correct location within a large hospital where there may be multiple PPE storage facilities and delivery points.  

Bookcases – The de-facto background to a zoom call, particularly for those speaking on national news programmes. Surely there must be more interesting places to choose than in front of a bookcase as a backdrop to your 3 minutes of fame?  I do recall Judy Murray mixing it up a bit and doing a Zoom call on BBC news in front of her fridge. It was a particularly nice fridge, I might add. 

The ultimate Zoom bookcase…

Finally, what do you think the ‘new normal’ will look like? What lessons will we learn and will we take forward new ways of working when we return to the workplace and normality!

We’ve survived the coronavirus pandemic so far and will all hopefully come out the other side a stronger nation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve learnt, what you will take forward and what you can’t wait to see the back of!

Is Your Business Data Driven?

I have been working in Data and Analytics for 17 years and have seen many different ways to manage data and analytics across a business. Working in mature data driven businesses you realise that the legacy of having a lot of data in a business can be as much of a hinderance as a help. 

Invariably data, and the teams that use it, have grown organically within departments and therefore tend to work in silos on short term projects, reacting to immediate departmental needs.  They often manage their own data and software, with individual support from IT. Moving from this situation to more effective ways of working can be painful.

In my experience working with much smaller or less mature businesses gives a great opportunity to get things right from the start. Here are some of the key points that, during my work as a both an analyst and a consultant, I have come across and in order to be effectively data driven, businesses need to consider.

Business vision

When a truly data-driven retailer I worked with recently was struggling, it was my view that it was too reliant on data. People in the business were endlessly looking to the data to tell them whether they should move more upmarket or focus on value. Data can inform this decision but not decisively. Businesses need to have a clear vison and strategy to ensure their data works for them.

Senior oversight

There is great benefit in data and analytics being overseen by a governance team of business leaders representing both users and consumers of the data. This team can set the data and analytics vision and strategy, aligned to that of the wider business and oversee cross functional project prioritisation, usually moving the focus to long-term strategic projects. This team is best placed to effectively agree a program of technology and data developments with IT and procure appropriate business wide software.

Structure

Agreeing an effective structure for your analysts to work in is key. This structure will depend on the size of your business and the number of functions using data. There are advantages to having a centralised team, working on business wide strategic projects, using the same technology and sharing skills and experience. I believe this can sometimes impact on the business knowledge of analysts and their understanding of the issues faced by your internal customers, so a balance needs to be struck between the two structures.

Project prioritisation

Time and resources are always tight in any business and the conflicting priorities of your analysts, your customers and business leaders can be difficult to balance. The governance team play a key role in getting this right and can help to ensure data objectives support business objectives, that there is a mix of short term reactive and long term strategic projects and a clear process for measuring model effectiveness.

Becoming data driven

Too often, businesses jump straight in to big investments in technology or people without understanding their requirements and having someone with extensive data experience involved is key to making things run smoothly in the future. I believe that it is necessary to get the basics right to enable data driven decision making.

Reporting

Often simple performance reporting is time consuming for analysts to run, not prompt enough to make effective time sensitive decisions and lacks sufficient insight to support decision makers. The procurement of new technology and software can be transformative but the financial benefit needs to be investigated to ensure the investment is worthwhile.

Segmentation

Enriching data and creating useful segmentations can add vital insight to performance reporting. Segmentations can be based on numerous data types and attributes including customer, store, product or region. Once useful segments are established based on business need, long term performance trends can be more clearly identified and support better investment decisions.

Well-designed segments can be rolled out across business functions to support diverse areas such as Brand, PR, Marketing, Property, Buying, Price and Promotions and Operations.

Store catchments

Understanding your store catchments, and the customer types who live and work in them, is vital in the current competitive environment and there are a number of ways to do this using both internal and external data. Each method has it’s own advantages and disadvantages and experience in this area is useful rather than buying generic data from the company with the best sales pitch.

Multichannel

Every successful retailer needs a multichannel strategy and strong customer propositions including cross channel marketing, click and collect, store returns for online purchases and stock information. Data is at the heart of creating a seamless customer experience and this is where data teams must work across departments in order to deliver the experience that today’s customers expect.

Modelling

Predictive modelling at business, store, category, customer and product level can be an effective tool to take data based decision making to the next level. It can be implemented on an ad-hoc basis, to quickly improve current initiatives, in particular marketing campaigns. The long term goal should be to automate both model recommendations and results but that involves significant investment in both technology and people. Both breadth and depth of experience is required to understand when and where predictive modelling will be most effective and ensure the right conditions exist for successful implementation.

Red Tiger Consulting can offer practical, cost effective advice on your data strategy. Through interviews and workshops, we determine the analytics maturity of your business and then work with you to create a road map of data and analytics initiatives to help you improve data utilisation.  So if your business needs expert advice to ensure they are making the most of their data contact Anne@redtigerconsulting.co.uk or Steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk to find out more. 

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