Dan Murray is Director of Strategic Innovation for Interworks, a global IT services and business solutions provider. He is the author of Tableau Your Data!, and will be the featured speaker at this year’s Seminar by the Sea. We had a chance to talk with him about the data modeling ecosystem, and the value of an iterative process.
Describe your practice at Interworks.
Murray: InterWorks has a different model than most consulting companies —we aim to do high quality work, very quickly and then leave. Our consultants are good at translating technical needs into business cases. We also provide clients with thought leadership and project planning/implementation. Then we help them design dashboards that help them see and understand their data. We
have a broad skillset surrounding business information including data visualization, database design, extract, transform and load logic, hardware and network design to enable appropriately responsive data.
How did you get started working with data?
My first job was with a leveraged buyout firm. We bought bankrupt companies, looked at data, figured out how to make them profitable, and flipped them. That was better than an MBA – I figured out how to set up capital structures, leverage business assets, and drive profits. Over the last 30 years I’ve used data to solve problems, identify opportunities, and drive improvement. In the last seven years I’ve focused on teaching clients how to do this well.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen in your 30+ years managing data?
The proliferation of data bases – they are growing all the time. Many of our clients don’t have one database; they have a dozen and they can’t figure out how to get to the information. Our practice is built on helping companies bridge those gaps. And the tools are so much less expensive. Small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford to spend $1 million on toolsets to extract data and spit out multiple scenarios. Tools like Quantrix are dramatically lower in cost.
What else sets Quantrix apart?
Quantrix defines formulas the way that databases think – not by the cell, but by dimension. You can take a model with 4,000 formulas in Excel and do it with 40 in Quantrix.
You talk about the data ecosystem – where does Quantrix fit in?
At the center of everything is some kind of database. And Quantrix does something that no other tool does – it architects formulas in a very efficient and powerful way by speaking the database language at the data level, not the cell level. This means it can do powerful things with assumptions for predictive analysis. Factors that affected a business’s performance a year ago might not affect it a year from now, so you need to build a complex calculation that based on a sliding assumption. You identify the dimensions that are important to your business, and the assumptions that have worked in the past. With Quantrix, you can adjust the sliders to see if each factor will impact the future, by how much, and the outcome.
Give me an example of how that information impacts performance over time.
Today, most companies create a budget, and then re-budget every quarter. They take it for granted that they need to revise their forecast, but they are not using that information to refine their forecast. Quantrix can be the tool that you are iterating the potential future from. When you have new information, you should be populating the database with that innovation, and capture your assumptions. They are part of the innovation cycle. We tend to forget the bad ones and overemphasize the good ones – but with Quantrix connected to a database, you can see how good your assumptions were, and use them when you iterate. If we can reduce the time and effort required rebuild that forecast, then you can really advance over time.
What’s the bottom line for companies?
In the end, it’s all about data. Do you have it? Can you interpret it correctly? If you move the dial – which you can do easily with a Quantrix slider – did the expected outcome occur? That, to me, is what it’s all about. Drop the technology hurdle, expose the bones from the assumptions, and have a learning process where you get better over time. It is measurable. At some level, something significant happens – if you’re doing it right, the cumulative effect of the effort will help you grow.
We are always amazed and gratified by our customers’ passion for Quantrix Modeler, but Rich Lopez has taken it to the next level. By day, he works in the finance department of Litehouse Foods, but by night he is YouTube star The Quantrix Authority. His series of three- to five-minute-long how-to videos helps others get the most out of using Quantrix’s multidimensional modeling software, from learning how to snap two matrices horizontally to a canvas, to the benefits of using Timeline for recursion in a model.
How did you get started with Quantrix?
I was introduced to Quantrix when I worked at clothing retailer Coldwater Creek. I used it to build an allocation tool to manage inventory at our 350+ stores. When I moved to Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division, a co-worker and I built a distribution model to ensure that we were getting the Xboxes and games shipped properly. It was during some of the really big
Microsoft launches, like Halo 4 and Windows 8, so we build scenarios for everything we had to manage during the holiday season. We were able to model it down to the daily levels. Quantrix saved my bacon at that job – I could not have done what we needed without it. Now I use Quantrix for financial modeling and capacity modeling for Litehouse.
What inspired you to start making video tutorials about Quantrix Modeler?
I leaned a lot about using Excel from a guy on YouTube called MrExcel. Bill Jelen has more than a thousand videos, and I used to watch him every day. I am a pretty advanced Excel user, but I love Quantrix more. After seeing what MrExcel has done, and seeing how his expertise helped me, I thought I could do something similar to help others with this fantastic software.
How do you choose the topics?
My first video was about the first feature I learned in Quantrix – “Using As.” My mentor taught me that when I started at Coldwater Creek, and it’s basic functionality in Quantrix. Some people at my company are struggling to use certain features of our Quantrix Models, so I’m starting to create videos on topics that will help them.
Who are you targeting?
I am pretty much reaching out to beginners and intermediate users. I am very open to questions – after my second video, I got an email from a Quantrix user in the Ukraine. Just this week someone asked me about using DataLink with .csv files, so I made that video. Whenever someone asks me a question, I try to answer it.
How many videos do you plan to make?
MrExcel has more than 1,000 videos and a forum that everyone knows. I have eight videos online now, and if I get to 100, I know I will have really accomplished something.
I’m following you on Twitter. How famous are you?
Ha ha! On a scale of one to ten, I am probably a “one” in real life. But in the Quantrix world, I hope to one day be about an eight! I am having fun with the videos, and with my Twitter account (@QuantrixAuthor). I have legitimate Quantrix users following me, and I feel like I am rubbing shoulders with some real legends. Some of these people are such power users, and they are telling me to keep making videos. Their feedback is so positive, and it’s great.
Final question – what was your “aha” moment using Quantrix?
It happened at Microsoft. I remember being called into a room by eight managers and having them tell me they needed some specific information, and they wanted it in three days. It could not be done in Excel, so we just pounded out a model in Quantrix. I stayed up until two in the morning a couple of nights, but I developed a model where if the managers wanted to add another distribution center, product line, or launch scenario they just could select a category and hit “enter”. That was it. And I realized then and there that Quantrix Modeler was the coolest tool that has ever been made. Quantrix Forever!
James Kipling started his professional career at IDBS, which develops advanced software for research and development and also is the parent company of Quantrix. When assigned the task of developing a performance management tool, he immediately decided to use Quantrix Modeler for the project. He became as hooked as many of Quantrix’s other customers, and recently joined the Quantrix product management team. Following are some insights from James.
Tell us a little bit about your history with IDBS.
I started working summers while I was at university. I was a software tester, and then worked on the Help Desk. That was a great experience, and really helped me understand our customers. When I graduated, I was assigned to Operations, and worked on our Balanced Scorecard Project.
What did that involve?
A Balanced Scorecard is basically a way for a company to measure its performance and trend it between periods. We are developing our Scorecard to measure metrics such as revenue, profit, customer satisfaction, adherence to forecasted product release dates, and more. We will use it for performance management for IDBS and our subsidiaries around the world. I knew this would be a project that Quantrix Modeler was perfect for.
How did Quantrix perform?
We are still in the process of refining it, but once it’s fully linked to our support systems and data sources, it will be a completely automated system. We will be able to get an instant update about anything happening in our business – this process used to take us a full month just to pull the data together.
Like many Quantrix users, we had multiple iterations of Excel models around the business. Marketing had one version, corporate had another – it was a challenge to determine who had the right number. We needed a single model that accessed the right information, but that could provide different views. This is where Quantrix excels – we can trend metrics over time, and generate views very quickly. This will become our single source of truth for metrics.
I bet your Quantrix skills are pretty good now.
I would say that I am now a Quantrix power user! I was invited to speak at the annual customer event, Seminar by the Sea, in Portland, Maine last fall about my work on this project. It was great to be surrounded by people who love Quantrix as much as I do.
How else have you used Quantrix?
When I moved into sales operations at IDBS, I used Quantrix for sales forecasting, pipeline analysis, and to evaluate sales opportunities across multiple regions. After using Quantrix so much, I really aspired to be on the Quantrix team. When I had the opportunity to join the product management team, I jumped on it.
What does the new position entail?
I’m working with the desktop software development team as the voice of the user. My job is to listen to customers, learn what they need and want, shape the feedback, and relay that back to the team. My aim is to help the team bring out high-quality features that will help our existing and prospective customers get the most out of Quantrix.
How has this played out with the team?
I have had so many interesting conversations with the team about how customers use certain features. One example is the Dependency Inspector – it was created primarily as a debugging tool and of course it works great as that. But our customers also use it to query how a number is generated within Quantrix. Executives can click on a number and find out its sources and how the final number is calculated. That’s just one interesting way that I can bring the customer’s voice to the table when it comes to design and development – I think it will really help us make even higher quality products.
You’re splitting your time between the UK and the States for this role – what do you do in your spare time other than trying to get some sleep at 35,000 feet.
I have done a lot of offshore sailing, and would like to get back into that. But I’d also call myself a foodie – Portland, Maine is one of the foodiest cities in America, so I’m looking forward to working my way through the more than 200 restaurants here.
We’re excited to introduce you to Tom Ahern, our new Account Manager. Tom is a 20+ year veteran of the software industry, primarily in the business intelligence and performance management. He sees a huge need for performance management solutions in today’s fast-paced market.
“This is such an opportune time in the analytics and performance management market because organizations of all sizes have found the gaps in Excel and are looking for better, more secure alternatives. Quantrix neatly solves those problems and gives the business user unparalleled capabilities for analyzing, exploring, and understanding their business,” says Tom. “I am looking forward to working closely with the team to build Quantrix into a major player in the PM market!”
Tom is impressed with Quantrix’s “passionate and devoted customer base”, which he credits to the fact that Quantrix makes it easy for people to take ownership of their business and make faster, better, and smarter business decisions.
When he’s not at work, Tom loves to travel, camp, hike, and play sports. He and his wife are based in Massachusetts, yet travel frequently to New York to visit their two grown children.
Welcome aboard, Tom. If you’d like to say “hi”, just reach out at email@example.com
We’re excited to announce that version 5.3 of our Quantrix Modeler desktop modeling and analytics application is now available. This release focuses on fixes in the code base to better support Timeline, which streamlines the process of setting up time-based dimensions in models. It also improves inter-model formulas and models that use deep recursion with multi-threaded calculation. If your business and financial models have these characteristics, you’ll find they perform more quickly and efficiently in Quantrix Modeler 5.3.
Other enhancements include:
Updates to the Quantrix Qloud for online access to multidimensional business models
- -When a model is checked out from the cloud-based version of Quantrix Modeler, the toolbar save icon automatically saves changes directly back to the Qloud.
- -The language is simplified on the last page of the Qloud upload wizard.
UI & Formula Improvements
- -Constrained lists in cells support tab autocomplete functionality.
- -Status summary bar now displays the result in the color of the number format of the cell selected.
- -New time-aware function called sublist has been added to aid in ‘rolling’ calculations such as rolling averages.
- -Scripts now return the items from a selection in another matrix.
- -New script support for unlinking of categories.
- -Timeout setting can be applied for scripts
You can see all the details of the changes in our version 5.3 release notes PDF.
FYI, our last production release was version 5.1, so you may be wondering if you missed a beat. Version 5.2 was an internal release to support our parent company’s (IDBS) implementation of Quantrix in its E-WorkBook application. You can jump right from 5.1 to 5.3.
This is a free upgrade for all customers of our version 5 series.
The Help > Update Quantrix feature is not available for this release. Please use Help > About Quantrix to verify your version number. If your version is not 188.8.131.5250302, you can download the installers using one the links below:
Quantrix On-Line Support Portal:
Free Trial Form on Quantrix.com: (Just note in the comments box you are upgrading version 5.3)
If you have multiple computer installations of Quantrix Desktop, it is best to update all installations to the new version at the same time. Also, good data practices dictate taking backups of all your model files prior to using with a new version.
If you have any questions about the upgrade feel free to contact our technical support desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your continuing support of Quantrix.
Behind the scenes, a team of software developers works to add new features and functionality to the desktop and cloud versions of Quantrix Modeler. Learn about their priorities, and the technologies they use, in this interview with Senior Developer Shane Davison.
Tell us about your work at Quantrix.
I’ve been at Quantrix for four years, and I’m a Senior Developer. That means I code software development for the Quantrix Modeler desktop application and the cloud-based version. We write a lot in Java code which provides a stable, mature platform for us to develop software. We constantly research and evaluate new technologies, but we’re very aware of the fact that people need to make sure their models will continue to work over time.
What does the team focus on?
We are always trying to make the user interface simpler. For example, we have made it much easier to share models on the web. We are always working on making the software faster, and more responsive. And we always love feedback on customers about what they want – people can contact us anytime with suggestions and ideas.
Tell us about the migration of Quantrix to the cloud.
We’ve had a web-based version for a while, but now it is much more full featured and developed. For our customers who don’t want to create or share models in the public cloud, we now offer an Enterprise Qloud version where companies can use Quantrix in their private cloud. One of the features is a load balancer that I developed to improve performance and scalability when companies have multiple users on the Enterprise Qloud.
How does the load balancer work?
If you have, say, 100 users accessing models, you want to adjust the server load to accommodate usage spikes at different times of year. Our Enterprise Qloud users can edit a configuration file to assign which machines they want to use for model servers. They can do it round robin, by which one has the most memory available, or any number of options. The load balancer will choose the server based on your criteria, and expand the model server resources available. Users set up their parameters initially, and the work happens behind the scenes.
Sweet! It sounds like you have a lot of experience.
When I was six, my parents got me a Commodore PET computer. The PET is in the Computer History Museum now! I’ve always been a computer person.
And what do you do in your spare time when you’re not writing code for Quantrix?
I like to go out and eat and sample new beverages. I love the variety and quality of restaurants in Portland, Maine, our headquarters. I also like to ski and take road trips. Maine is a great state.
Like most software companies, Quantrix offers technical support on its products. But unlike many software companies, the Quantrix help desk is not outsourced to an external provider – it is staffed by employees of our parent company, IDBS, a developer of software solutions for scientific research and discovery. So, when you call for help, you reach a member of our team. Here’s an introduction to one of our Lead Support Analysts, Dr. Alison Campbell.
What is the support team like?
There are 12 of us based in Guildford, England, and we all have a science background. Nine of us have PhDs, and the remaining three have Masters degrees, so we’re probably one of the best-qualified help desks around! My background is in Toxicology and Biochemistry, and I have a PhD in Biomolecular Medicine.
Both Quantrix and IDBS have customers around the world – how do you manage the calls?
We work on a shift basis, and the help desk is open from 8:00 AM to 1:00 AM UK time. Everyone is trained in all products, so there is always someone on hand to answer questions on Quantrix. No one has to wait for a specific person. We work closely with the development and testing teams if there is a more complex issue that we haven’t seen before or need extra input on.
What kind of calls do you get?
It varies from simple questions such as, “what does this error mean?” to something more complex where a model doesn’t calculate the way they want. We then step through all of their tables and calculations to see if there is a problem with the software or with the model. In addition to answering calls via the phone, we also publish information in the knowledge base so that people can search for answers.
What happens when you get requests for new features?
We work closely with the Product Manager at Quantrix to pass along any enhancement requests for future releases.
What advice can you give to Quantrix users about how to get the most out of their support experience?
If something’s urgent, fire us up – we are always here to help. We will ask you to send your models so that we can troubleshoot. We do screen-sharing sessions so we can troubleshoot directly on your system. We also do support via email, which is helpful for non-native English speakers. We try to give our customers as many options as possible, and help you in the way that’s best.
What do you do in your free time when you’re not supporting Quantrix and IDBS users?
I just had a baby boy, and I’ve only been back from parental leave for a few months. We like to travel, and have been to Morocco and to Kenya on safari. But travel might have to go on hold for a few years – it’s all about the baby!