Data Analyst and Population Geographer, GIS Department
Overview of Use Case
FLO Analytics is a Geographic Information System (GIS) & Data consulting company based in Portland, Oregon. We are a small company of 18 GIS professionals, serving a wide array of clients, such as local governments, utilities, environmental engineers, and school districts. With over 3 years of Alteryx experience, we have helped clients by developing custom, repeatable solutions to semi-automate their analytic processes and drastically reduce the time to get results.
Describe the business challenge or problem you needed to solve
Before Alteryx, we spent an inordinate amount of time doing ad-hoc data preparation and blending. We primarily use Esri GIS software for geospatial analysis, but these tools have limitations when it comes to easy and efficient wrangling of data. For example, it is surprisingly difficult to change the order of fields or field names or types using Esri products. When we received data from clients or other organizations that came in different file formats, we had to spend a lot of time using clunky tools to standardize and blend the data.
These issues were also encountered when assisting our K-12 public school district clients with tracking student enrollment per school and attendance area. School populations are often in constant flux; some grow rapidly due to new economic opportunities in particular areas, while others shrink due to demographic factors like declining birth rates. When schools across a district become unbalanced, districts often look to revising attendance area boundaries. Many districts would take on this challenge alone, bringing large printed maps and spreadsheets of student data to meetings with teachers and parents/guardians. For each committee meeting, district staff would spend time manually preparing student statistics in Excel. This process was time-consuming, and the resulting data was not always reliable and would become out-dated as soon as the committee proposed a new boundary scenario. To get answers about a new attendance area configuration, the committee would need to wait at least a week before the manual process could be completed for a given scenario.
Describe your working solution
Before we adopted Alteryx, FLO was searching for a solution that would provide more flexibility in terms of working with different file types and blending multiple datasets. Because we’re a small firm, and we work with many different types of clients, we needed something that was adaptable but also repeatable. Personally, I am not proficient with any one coding language, so I wanted a tool that allowed me to quickly wrangle data without investing time in a new coding language, but also allowed me to use my Python and R skills. Alteryx met these goals, helping FLO and I provide solutions to clients more easily and faster than with our existing toolkit.
With the power of Alteryx, FLO developed a "Boundary Scenario Modeling" analytic app that provides data-driven decision-making capabilities to school districts during boundary review committee meetings. The app leverages the district's student information system and attendance area boundaries in combination with Alteryx's spatial tools to quickly calculate the student statistics that were once manually calculated in Excel & GIS. Interface tools allow FLO staff to quickly select the appropriate input datasets, schools of interest, and materials to be reported from the app. Reporting tools are used to produce formatted tables of student statistics, graphs of socioeconomic status, and maps of attendance areas The app allows the committee to create boundary scenarios on-the-fly during meetings and receive answers almost instantaneously, eliminating what used to be a week of wait time.
Describe the benefits you have achieved
The single biggest benefit Alteryx has helped us bring to our clients is time savings—acquiring, munging, and blending data now happens in minutes rather than days or weeks. Our clients can also be more confident in our results, because we've moved away from ad-hoc processes in Excel and GIS to semi-automated workflows in Alteryx.
Alteryx also helped change my perspective on data analysis. I now work with data in ways that once seemed impossible or too time-consuming to attempt. The problem-solving flexibility of the software makes me happy to come to work every day and tackle challenges I once found out of reach. The time-savings of Alteryx has allowed FLO to spend more time developing new methodologies and tactics for our clients. And personally, I can now finish my tasks quicker and more confidently, so I have time to enjoy my out-of-office hobbies, like road cycling around the Pacific Northwest.