Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Episode Guide

Interested in a specific topic or guest? Check out the guide for a list of all our episodes!

Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Adrian Loong joins us to chat about tackling business challenges and why you should embrace change management.








  • What do you see as one of the trickiest challenges when thinking about change in the business space?



Community Picks





Episode Transcription

BRIAN: 00:06 

[music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data and analytics culture. I'm Brian Oblinger, and I'll be your host. We're joined today by Adrian Loong for a chat about tackling business challenges and why you should embrace change management. Let's get into it. [music] 

BRIAN: 00:28 

Adrian, welcome to the show. 

ADRIAN: 00:29 

Excited to be here. 

BRIAN: 00:30 

Great. Great. So let's start out, as always, with a little bit of an introduction. Who are you? What do you do? What are you passionate about? 

ADRIAN: 00:37 

Great. My name's Adrian Loong. I'm down from Sydney. So really excited to be at my second Inspire conference, and it's a fantastic conference. My day job's really a senior manager of analytics within one of the largest financial services organizations in Australia, so really excited to be here. 

BRIAN: 00:53 

Great. Great. You just sort of mentioned the first topic that I wanted to dig into. You said you're a senior manager of analytics, and one of the reasons that we wanted to have you on the show, I think, is that you have a unique perspective about-- how is analytics sort of the culture and, from an organizational perspective at your level, what does that look like, how do you see that, and where do you think it needs to go? 

ADRIAN: 01:19 

Yeah. Thanks for the question. Analytics is really central to any organization of which business sponsorship of any analytic initiative is really, really critical because, at the end of the day, our function exists to serve the business, to actually help them drive better decisions, and put some data-driven facts behind decisions they are about to make. 

BRIAN: 01:39 

Right. So from that decision-making standpoint, we always talk about the - and I'm using air quotes for folks listening to the show -"the business decision-maker." Let's talk a little bit about that person and what their role maybe is in this, or what their role should be, or what you personally would like it to be, and how does that ultimately shape how an organization thinks about analytics or goes about that business? 

ADRIAN: 02:10 

Yeah. It's a really interesting question. Generally, there are three types of people, transformational leaders that are really passionate about analytics, and then the second type is people who sort of sit on the fence a bit, and the final type is people who are a little bit skeptical of analytics. So really, you need different strategies to actually help these three different types of people along. For transformational leaders, it's really about helping them understand what analytics can and can't do, but more importantly is to actually help them understand the maturity of the organization, how far actually you can help use analytics to change the organization, to help them take small, incremental steps so that they'll be ultimately successful. For the second group of people, people who are a little bit disinterested and dissatisfied or skeptical, it's really important to dig into their reasons why. Often you find some of these people have many years of industry expertise and they feel that analytics is just, "This can't replicate my 20 years of experience." For those types of people, it's really good to actually show that analytics doesn't actually take away from the experience but provides an objective measure that they can use to actually balance and augment their industry expertise. So that's really how I think you should approach these different types of people. 

BRIAN: 03:25 

Yeah, that's really interesting. So which one of those-- you gave three different types. Which one of those is the hardest to turn, I guess? Is it the on the fence or is it the skeptical? Which one there? 

ADRIAN: 03:37 

Yeah. I think I see a lot of people on the fence, and some even a little bit skeptical, simply because of the actual personal reasons. They feel that it sort of discounts their industry expertise. But I really encourage you to actually take on a few analytic projects. Do small, little things for them. Do small POCs that last maybe two weeks to a month, and actually show them the value that you can provide. It could be as simple as building something that answers a customer question, something they haven't thought about, for example, using location special data to actually augment their industry expertise, or even something as simple as a predictive model for customer churn. So pick any of these. It doesn't need to be a full-blown project, but it actually needs to deliver concrete financial value. 

BRIAN: 04:22 

Right. Yeah, you're reminding me. The other day I was rewatching the movie Money Ball again, and there's so many scenes in that movie where the general manager of the team is trying to convince the scouts, right, that we need to go to this data-driven approach, and we need to look at the numbers. And they're very threatened by it because they feel like, "Hey, I spent 40 years in baseball trying to figure out how to build teams and talent scout," and I think maybe of the central themes - maybe you could talk about this a little bit - is that I don't think it has to be either/or. I think they're threatened by it in terms of thinking, "Well, if I turn on the spout of all this data and analytics, and predictive analytics and all this, that all of a sudden, my expertise are rendered useless and I'm just going to be a dinosaur and gone." I actually think it's somewhere in the middle, right? Is that right? And how do you help people kind of balance that, "Your expertise is important but it can be augmented or made better with the data." 

ADRIAN: 05:21 

Yeah. I think it's critical to actually show them how other companies have done it. How the industry professionals have actually leveraged the use of data to actually make better decisions, so it actually complements and augments their capability. It actually provides a different lens, as well, to help counterbalance them. In one of my deployments, one of the general managers actually said his key capability is he's done this for 20 years. He actually runs his business based on gut instinct, right? And he says he actually uses our team to counterbalance him because we sit as an objective team. We're happy to call him out privately on how we can actually drive the business outcomes further from a productivity point of view. So it's really about augmenting that. But just be conscious, as well, when you're dealing with situations like that. Always do it in private, one-on-one, so that you don't actually call him out in front of his peers. 

BRIAN: 06:11 

Right. Right. And lastly, the on-the-fence team, I guess we're calling them-- what would be your number one tip to someone that is dealing with an on-the-fence person? What's the quickest way to get them off the fence, I guess, is what I'm asking? 

ADRIAN: 06:28 

Yeah. I think with people on the fence-- I come from a financial background. I'm a CPA by training, so I always try and bring in some sort of financial reward, whether it's a revenue uplift or a cost reduction. Being able to really clearly articulate what it actually means to senior executives is key. So I think it's our role as analysts to not just give them reams and reams of information but actually to distill that into three solid recommendations and make a call with senior management and show them what you're actually thinking. Think from their perspective, never from yours. 

BRIAN: 06:59 

Right. Okay. One last thing, actually-- you just reminded me. So you said you were a CPA by trade. One of the interesting things is everybody that we've talked to on this show so far come from wildly different backgrounds. I'd like to hear from you in your own words, how did you make the transition or the switch from CPA into this analytics world? 

ADRIAN: 07:20 

Yeah. That's a really interesting question. I actually started off doing financial analysis and budgeting for some of the senior execs and general managers for an insurance company, and one of the challenges that they had with their accountants was that they couldn't respond to their questions and explain the whys. Everyone can easily put 5, 10% uplift in the budget, but no one could actually articulate why and what assumptions went around it. It would take too long to actually cut [cord?] to do it. And that's how I actually discovered Alteryx because Altreyx allows business users with very limited skills-- I've got good Excel skills, so from there on you can actually build and learn Altreyx. So this is one of the things-- at the end of the day, we were here to actually enable-- we are a partner to the business. We want to actually lift the game for the business. [music] 

BRIAN: 08:10 

Okay. So the next thing I want to talk a little bit about you with is when you're evaluating different technologies, different processes, different groups of people maybe, that need to be involved in these kinds of things, how do you place your focus? How do you think about the trends and the tech and the people and the process? What does that look like for you? 

ADRIAN: 08:28 

Yeah. It's an interesting question. I think, generally, there's three or four key themes happening in the market, first of which is the democratization of analytics. What that actually means is you can't keep hiring more and more analytic resources in the business. It costs too much money. Rather, you actually have people already existing in the business that you can actually upskill and teach. So that's the perfect use case of Alteryx tableau together. Enable people to actually answer the questions themselves in a much shorter time frame. The second of which is really a shift to higher-value analytics, and what I mean by that is when you first begin the analytic journey, you build a lot of dashboards which actually provide a lot of valuable insight to the business. But as you are further on that journey, you want to actually use more advanced analytics, whether that's spacial or predictive optimization, and that's where tools like Alteryx come in. That actually drives significant uplift in your revenues for [profits?] optimizing, or in costs for locating your source in the correct area. So that's the second major trend that I see happening in the market. The third of which is around cloud and IA. There's a lot of hype around AI, but the reality is most companies that adopt a cloud platform are able to compete very significantly with the larger companies as well, so that's really enabling a step change in performance. Likewise, a lot of the major vendors like Amazon, as well as Microsoft, are working on areas where they can actually democratize AI. I believe Alteryx actually plugs really well into both platforms, so that's really a great way to get into AI. And finally, it's really about the regulatory framework. There's the rights of GDPR and privacy laws which we have to be conscious of. We have to act in our customers' interest, to give them access to help them understand what we are using their data for. So it's really three, four central themes that are being talked about. 

BRIAN: 10:20 

Yeah. I'd like to go back to your first point because it's something I've heard a lot is I think a lot of the, let's say, executives or senior management, or those business decision-makers that are coming into this, one of the ways that they find themselves coming into it is that they believe that if they can get better processes and faster delivery time and all of this, that it's going to actually help them reduce their workforce. And I think that makes a lot of people nervous about when analytics comes into the organization they feel like, "Whoa. Is this just a way for me to lose my job somehow?" And I think what we've found, and what we've heard a lot actually, is the reverse, which is that instead of using it as a way to dial down your workforce or some situation like that, what it actually does is it frees up those people who are really smart and valuable to do more and deliver more value. Is that something that you've seen? 

ADRIAN: 11:16 

Yeah. We've definitely seen a lot of that. It's really a capacity release that enables your analysts to focus on higher-value tasks. Instead of refreshing and cutting [cord?], you can actually streamline the time down and actually look for opportunities where you can drive the top line so you can go beyond just cutting [cord?] and producing a dashboard to actually looking at how the company's structured, what are the alternatives in terms of how do you optimize a supply chain or how do you do pricing decisions, and tools like Alteryx are perfect for that. 

BRIAN: 11:43 

Yeah. Yeah. And then I think it's a little bit like a drug, right? Once you get that first shot of it, there's not a whole lot of going back, I think, for a lot of organizations once they get in there. 

ADRIAN: 11:53 

Pretty much. [music] 

BRIAN: 11:57 

Okay. So we've got analytics into our company. We've got the guy off the fence. We've brought in Alteryx. What are the challenges from that point forward? What's the biggest roadblock or thing that people need to get over and how do you [inaudible] that they get over it? 

ADRIAN: 12:14 

Yeah. It's an interesting question. I think, at the end of the day, it's about people, right? So if you focus on that and really understanding where people come from and focus on that. Don't push too hard, too fast. Just be very aware of where the organization's at. So take, for example, a couple of categories of that. When dealing with IT, often you hear they're actually afraid of losing control, losing their jobs potentially, as cost cuts come in. They don't want to be not relevant anymore. So it's really important when you're building the platform, get them involved early on. Make sure that you also give them credit where credit's due and make them part of the process. It's really important. Don't go up against them. Rather, try and bring them along and show them they can be a winner in all of this. That's really critical. From the business perspective, getting by often is quite easy because if you sort of frame things from a financial perspective, most business leaders go, "You know what? Give it a go." I think it's critical to just be aware, even if you have senior executive buy-in, the fact that you need to get buy-in all the way through the chain can get a bit tricky in larger companies. So do invest the time, not just with the senior execs, but all the way through the organizational structure. Try and influence them and show them how much of a capability uplift that they can actually-- and some sort of benefit that they get out of it. So always put back the success of the project onto them as well because, at the end of the day, a lot of knowledge comes from the business end. I think it's really critical. And finally, for people evaluating the platform - IT security is one of them - they will come and say, "Oh, you're processing all this data. You're exposing it to so many people. Isn't that a risk for the organization?" And the counterargument to that would be, "This is all happening in Excel right now in an uncontrolled fashion. You'd be better off buying a product that you can actually govern it in a structured way. " So it's really about giving them an education and showing them that you're not actually losing control, rather this is really happening in a business, and you're actually reducing the risk profile. So that's really key. 

BRIAN: 14:15 

Interesting. Interesting. And so, thinking about that, so not everybody's going to be totally agreeable to that, right? That sounded awesome-- 

ADRIAN: 14:24 


BRIAN: 14:24 

--don't get me wrong. 

ADRIAN: 14:24 

It takes time. It takes a lot of work. 

BRIAN: 14:26 

Yeah, for sure. And so I'm thinking about how do you-- what's the healthy balance, right? So if you go into, let's say, IT-- sorry IT friends. If you go into IT, right, and you're trying to educate them, in your words, about how this can help them and sort of the centralization of these things, and they're just not buying it, what is the correct, in your estimation, approach to either convince them of that or find someone who can be convinced, but do it in a way that's healthy, right, that you're not sort of cutting off your nose to spite your face, in a nice way to say it? 

ADRIAN: 15:06 

Yeah. No, that's definitely an interesting role that IT plays. I think I would definitely try and work together with business leaders because often IT, at the end of the day, is a support function. If you have business leaders bought into this, show that IT can be part of the enabling journey rather than be left out cold. And once they see that, it sort of takes away their fears. So make sure that you get business support because you can use that to actually help the IT people along. I think once they see that, and that actually [journeys?] further investment into them, they do see the benefit from their perspective. 

BRIAN: 15:39 

Right. Okay. Kind of turning our attention a little bit to-- you said before, and I just love this, you said it's about people. Of course, I'm a community guy, so that resonates with me. So let's talk about that for a minute. So from a healthy culture of analytics standpoint, when you're thinking about who are the types of people that you want to hire-- again, as we've said many times before on the show, there's all of these people from all these different backgrounds that are doing analytics and doing it well today. How do you find the diamonds in the rough? What are the kind of skills that people either need to build or that you're looking for or both? 

ADRIAN: 16:19 

I think the key, for me is, I always say, you recruit for the attitude and then you train for the skill. So the skill we can quite easily teach everyone, but that attitude, that willingness to learn, to ask the questions that need asking, and to be unafraid to actually question management but do it in a way that's actually constructive, I think is really critical. Because you see a lot of analysts, they are actually naturally shy and conservative, and they are afraid of actually having a chat with management and going, "Maybe there's an option to deliver a better way." I think it's really the communication that we're looking for, that attitude once again. Because you can be the best analyst in the world, but if you can't actually dumb it down and explain to management what it all means, it's a challenge. I've actually interviewed many different candidates, as well, over the years, and I can say that very, very few of them can actually articulate what it means to the business. It's very easy to get caught up in the modeling side, in the technical elements of it, but to be able to streamline and say, "You know what, Business? Don't worry about all that. That's a call capability. These are the two options that we've delivered to you. And I think relating this second option works better than the first." So really laying it out in a sort of logical way to enable-- rather than letting the business try to work through all the different permutations and combinations. 

BRIAN: 17:39 

Got it. So if I was 17 years old, just out of high school, thinking about going to university, and I got interested in either analytics or something related to it, it sounds like what you're saying is there's sort of, maybe-- there's sort of the soft skill that people learn along the way, but would you recommend they go off and do computer science, is it business college, a mix of those? I want you to fill out a curriculum for me [laughter]-- 

ADRIAN: 18:08 

Right. No worries. 

BRIAN: 18:08 

--is what I'm asking you to do here. 

ADRIAN: 18:10 

Yeah. It's a really interesting one. So take for myself, I did computer science at uni and then I did an accounting/finance degree. So I found that the commercial elements were really important, especially that helped you build your influencing skills. So don't just do the hardcore sciences or maths and stats which are important, but also make sure that you focus on presentation skills, the ability to actually distill complex things and make it simple for people. I think that's one of the key elements. Do some combination of courses. 

BRIAN: 18:42 

Gotcha. So I do that. I interview with you. You hire me. I'm in the business. What type of people get promoted, right? So everybody starts at an analyst or something along those lines. What makes someone stand out. If you have an army of those people at your disposal, who are the ones that you notice the most? Is it the ones that can tell the story, or the ones that can talk to business? Who do you promote into, kind of higher-level roles? 

ADRIAN: 19:08 

Yeah. I think as you get into management roles, you need to be able to build a story about what you're doing and why you're doing it. Equally important is the influencing skills. So you don't want someone that goes in and rubs everyone the wrong way. You want someone that actually collaborates and partners really genuinely with the business because I think most people can figure out very quickly whether or not you're a genuine partner or you're just playing lip service. Always look for wins and think from the business perspective. At the end of the-- business is also getting measured on whether it's revenue or cost performance, or whatever metric, or customer experience. So it's really interesting to be able to see and frame the business question from their perspective. [music] 

BRIAN: 19:51 

Okay. So we've painted the picture here of the perfect analytics culture with the perfect people doing all of the right things and getting promoted [laughter]. I'd like to ask you sort of the 180 of that which is what are the big mistakes? What are the big flashing red warning signs? What are the things that you've seen where you saw it and you kind of instinctively knew, "This isn't going to go well," and maybe help us kind of give some tips for people listening about how they can recognize those things and/or kind of deal with them as they come along? 

ADRIAN: 20:28 

Yeah. Once again, I think it really comes down to people and how you treat them. Never underestimate the impact of change. You have to always see change from that individual person's perspective. Say, for example, someone's been in the business 10 years. He's been doing a variety of senior roles. Just be empathetic. Understand from their perspective. Always frame things how you can actually create mutual wins. It's never about yourself. It's always about the other party and how both of you can actually win together. I think it's really a key story about influencing management, and influencing not just management but all levels, really. I've been reading an interesting book. It's called, Live, Lead, and Learn by Gail Kelly. And she also talks-- she's a senior executive-- or was a senior executive within Westpac Group, and she also talks about change and how she actually delivered it to different organizations, especially the banks that she worked with. The biggest challenge is always how far and how fast you can make the change. And you have to be actually empathetic about the other party, not just being a blunt instrument. I think that's the personal intelligence piece that needs to be worked on. 

BRIAN: 21:39 

And so how far and how fast should people go, in your estimation? Every organization's different. I guess it's kind of a loaded question, but I think what we're trying to say is that you have to be fairly cognizant of your own organization and who the players are, and from then which you gauge how far and how fast to go in X period of time or Y depth. 

ADRIAN: 22:03 

Yeah. The other interesting thing is also build alliances with people that actually matter in the business. Typically, salespeople, they drive revenue so they have a relatively important function within the bank. Build relationships within finance executives, CFOs typically, because they make all the budgeting decisions, and they can approve your [inaudible] buys. But really look for wins. I think that's the key to enable them across the line. I think in large, complex matrix organizations, this is even more important because you have many different teams that are fragmented. See if you can actually build relationships with them. Have a proof of concept that actually spans across multiple teams to actually showcase a capability. I think that's really, really key. It doesn't need to be a very big project. It could be a two-week piece of work, but as long as you show some sort of revenue or cost-benefit, that's one way of getting people's attention. 

BRIAN: 22:54 

So that's really interesting. So if I airdropped you into a new organization today, and it was that fragmented situation that you just described, who are the first people that you go talk to, or who are the first departments? Because you can't do it all at once, right, so you kind of have to pick. Who are the one or two or three departments that you think you go to first to get the ball rolling? 

ADRIAN: 23:20 

I think, for me, it's really about getting the sales guys' buy-in and [inaudible] people buy-in, and actually going to see the CFO type functions as well because once you do that, you essentially have spanned both revenue and cost sides within the business. Therefore, when you're presenting to the executive leadership team, you can say, "See, I've actually developed these revenue initiatives that deliver you X million and these are the costs initiatives." So you've actually spanned the full works. That actually allows them to see that you're not just a functional unit, but you think about the company from a holistic point of view. 

BRIAN: 23:52 

Right. Okay. [music] Okay. So we let the cat out of the bag at the top here that we're recording this at Inspire. It may come out a little bit later, but I wanted to talk to you about the ACE program. Obviously a big deal here at Inspire. People who aren't in the room with us can't see that you're wearing your ACE shirt. So can you talk a little bit about what is it mean to you to be in the ACE program? What are some of your favorite things that you've enjoyed about it, and maybe a little bit of your best sales pitch for why other people should want to be ACEs? 

ADRIAN: 24:29 

Yeah. The ACE program is a really fascinating program. It's really recognizing some of the top contributors to the community. And at the end of the day, Alteryx is really about the people and building the community up. So the ACE program, for me personally, is really a way that I can share ideas, learn from others as well. I think there's a preconceived notion sometimes that ACEs know everything about the product. It's a very, very wide product. So the fact that we all get together and try to help each other within different industries, I think, is really phenomenal. The other thing that's really fascinating that I find about the ACE program is I'm probably one of the few ACEs outside of the US. I'm actually in Sydney, but some of the contacts that I get are actually from the US as well, so it's really a global program. And it's really good to see, as an industry, how analytics is going. Always give your views and how you can actually contribute and help others along the journey. Because it's often good to say that you're further along the journey than others, but more importantly, it's about enabling the next person along, or the next company. Likewise, I do learn from other people who are further along the journey as well. So it's really an opportunity to share, learn, and actually exchange ideas. 

BRIAN: 25:39 

That's great. And by the time this is out, Inspire will have passed, so I can give you some spoilers here. So you're right that we want to, this year and ongoing, start to expand the program more globally, recognize people outside of the US and Europe where we've traditionally had ACEs. And I think the biggest point-- you actually touched on before is that-- and it's probably somewhat because of the way we structured the program in the past, but we want the ACE program to be about a lot more than just, "Here are the people who are the best with the product." I think that's really important as advocates and the way that you have a certain street credit, right, with people that know you can open up a workflow at any time and conquer the world, but we're also going to start expanding the program into business leaders, right, people who are influential in analytics that are business leaders. So it's not as if the prerequisite only is that you have to be a wizard with Alteryx, but a lot of the skills and things we've talked about here, actually, are going to start factoring into that, and you're going see sort of a more diverse, broader set of ACEs than we've had in the past. And I think that's going to allow the program to really flourish and help us conquer some new areas of the business, maybe, that we haven't had before when we were more focused on the technical side of the house. So how does that sound to you? 

ADRIAN: 27:00 

Oh, that's fantastic. It's great to see business evolvement, once again, because often we try and fix business challenges and use the product in that way, but it's great to see it broadening out beyond the technical because often it's about change management. So how do you actually do it in larger companies? I think that's one of the big elements that needs to get looked at. Any help that others can give would be really inspirational, I believe, to the wider community, and to customers, as well, in general. 

BRIAN: 27:28 

Great. [music] Okay, and last but not least, as always, is our community picks. So Adrian, what's been interesting to you lately out there? 

ADRIAN: 27:39 

Yeah. For me I find the Alteryx use cases and analytic awards really useful because they actually showcase how different companies use the product, and it's really a learning opportunity for us all. The second thing that I really like about the community is also Joe Miller, his fantastic training. I love to watch those YouTube videos. I actually use that for training my team as well, so keep it coming. 

BRIAN: 28:01 

Awesome. Yeah, so the excellence awards, we've been doing those for a few years at Inspire now, and you can find those-- the entries that people-- these are real-life use cases for anybody out there listening that hasn't seen these. And you can go find them on the community in the Alteryx use cases area. We'll also put links to this in the show notes at And so they're great. They're stories written by real people. Sometimes they even upload their workflow. You can go grab it off of there. So yes, it's an amazing, amazing learning experience. And you also plugged training, which I have to say is one of the number one things about community by both analytics and by just anecdotally when we talk to people about what you find useful in the community, what do you value. And we're hearing a lot about that entire chain of training that's provided, so the weekly challenges, the live training, the interactive lessons, and now, of course, certification is huge and everybody wants to be certified. And if you're listening to this and you're not certified, what is wrong with you? [laughter]? Put everything down and go certify yourself right now on the community. So those are wonderful picks. And just to wrap it up, my pick, which was recent, is we recently did a little bit of a restructure and redesign of the community, so version five of the Alteryx community. I don't know if people know this or not, but we really try to think of community at Alteryx as one of our products. It's on the platform slide. You'll notice that on the website and any of the slideware that we have. And so there's this continual progress that we're making. And so we recently released version five with all of our new branding colors, but more importantly, new navigation that sort of reflects our product line better and hopefully will streamline how people get to things. So we're really excited about that. And we'll put the link in the show notes to the blog post about that. So with that, Adrian, thank you so much for being on the show. We hope you enjoy Inspire. Thank you for being a customer and an ACE and an advocate and all of the things that you are. And yeah, thank you so much. 

ADRIAN: 30:11 

Thanks a lot, everyone. [music] 

This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).