After the SAS analyst event last year, I wrote that it is hard to keep track of everything SAS has to offer because it had so many products and developments in the pipeline. Back from this year’s event, I can report that 2011 was successful, its revenue and worldwide presence are up, and SAS continues to expand its channels to market. On top of everything I saw last year even more products and developments are in the pipeline, but the theme and focus remain the same: enabling business analytics.
With a little help from some experts, CMO Jim Davis and CTO Keith Collins presented how all these products are being focused on five key areas in which SAS is enabling business analytics: high-performance analytics, business visualization, information management, decision management and cloud computing. Each profile included an impressive array of capabilities and roadmaps that showed SAS is not resting on its laurels but has an extensive R&D program with many new releases planned during the year. An important message was that high-performance analytics is the SAS approach to managing big data, which was mentioned often during the event. As CEO Jim Goodnight explained in simple terms, bringing high performance to analytics involves not just Hadoop or other big-data processing software, but executing analytics in memory and thus producing results much faster. For SAS, Hadoop and similar technologies provide data sources that its software can pull into memory and thus include in analysis. For a layman like me on this subject, the demonstration looked impressive. In my area of specialization, customer and contact management, the key point was that SAS works as well with unstructured data as is does with structured data, so it supports fast analysis of text and social media.
The second highlight was visualization. My research into contact center analytics and customer analytics shows that as well as needing analysis in near real time, users want systems to be easy to use, and more want to see results on their tablet devices. Judging from the demonstration, SAS has put a lot of effort into these areas, and I felt that with a little help from IT to set up the data sources, even I could learn to run sophisticated analysis of almost any form of data. And users can not only see the results on a tablet, but the mobile technology is interactive, so users can drill down into underlying information.
One area I still have questions about is SAS’s cloud strategy; for example, during question time Jim Goodnight was dismissive of the hype around the cloud. While SAS showed development in services supported in the cloud and promised more to come, I was left with the feeling this is something management feels it needs to do rather than embraces as a strategic direction pursued with the same vigor as other vendors.
Another session showed how SAS is channeling its products and developments into three key business areas: customer intelligence, fraud management and risk management. Several presentations illustrated capabilities in all three areas and roadmaps for multiple upcoming releases.
When I wrote recently about new developments in customer intelligence, I failed to note that the DataFlux subsidiary has now been fully integrated into SAS, which strengthens the company’s overall capabilities in two key areas. My recent research into customer relationship maturity shows companies struggling to manage multiple sources of customer data (both structured and unstructured) and thus are unable to produce a single set of reports and analysis about their customers. The combination of DataFlux’s customer data management capabilities and customer intelligence can address both issues in an integrated way. In particular, as organizations introduce more channels of customer communication, these combined capabilities enable them to produce the cross-channel analytics our research shows many companies are looking for.
Events like this always include customers presenting their own success stories. One analyst questioned the value of these because all the case studies are bound to be glowing; if they were not, SAS would choose other customers. This proved to be the case in my one-on-one session with a customer that had deployed some of the marketing products, the picture he painted was not as rosy as in the public presentation. There had been ups and downs during the project, but in answer to the crucial question, “Knowing what you know now, would you still choose SAS?,” the answer still was yes. The customer said his users love the product, and it is producing the business benefits his company was expecting. He also confirmed plans to extend its use of SAS products.
In summary, the event confirmed that SAS has lots to offer companies looking to improve their use of analytics. In my area of interest, SAS has the tools to help manage customer data, and to produce reports and analysis using data from multiple business units and data produced by multiple channels of communication –things that my research shows company struggle with but increasingly want to resolve.
Richard J. Snow – VP & Research Director