Intelligent enterprises need enterprise business intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) is overtaking security as the number one issue for senior executives searching for that competitive edge.

But teasing out meaningful information from a complicated hodge-podge of ERP and content, data and performance management systems scattered across multiple platforms is becoming a major chore for many organizations.

To generate useable, forward-looking information, BI requires its own integrated platform and an enterprise-wide approach to ensure consistency in the data and the underlying assumptions used to evaluate it.

That’s the main message coming out of the 31st annual SAS Users’ Group International (SUGI) conference in San Francisco, attended by over 4,000 SAS users globally.

Enterprise BI is increasingly critical and deserves platform status, said CEO Jim Goodnight.

In keeping with that vision, SAS on Monday announced a major expansion of its data integration initiative. The company plans to increase its R&D investment by 15 per cent in 2006 and 2007 to help advance a universal data integration platform that will reduce the noise and complexity in BI initiatives.

Data integration will also figure prominently in SAS’ global Business Intelligence Competency Center program with a view towards creating cohesive enterprise intelligence strategies for better decision-making.

Data quality is a crucial factor in generating meaningful data, said Goodnight. “Products are only as good as the data you have,” he said. Upcoming enhancements to the SAS Enterprise Data Integration Server software will feature expanded data quality technology for profiling, monitoring, cleansing and verifying data correctness.

To make SAS software more accessible to users, new Microsoft integration features have been added to allow SAS to run in Excel, and to output information direct to PowerPoint, thereby eliminating the need for harried executives on the go to cut and paste existing data into their presentations.

The company also announced new customer data integration (CDI) technologies that will allow companies to synchronize, consolidate and manage customer information across their organizations. Multi-threading and other improvements have been made to boost the speed and power of the SAS 9 software released in 2004, allowing it to tear through huge volumes of data in record time. In a recent SAS test, Goodnight said he was able to process 100 million customer records in 3 minutes and 25 seconds.

In keeping with its strategy of expanding both horizontally across enterprises and vertically within industry sectors, SAS announced enhancements in key industry segments, notably boosting anti-money laundering capabilities in its financial services software and promotion optimization to help maximize profitability in the retail sector.

In addition, a new revenue assurance product was added to its telecommunications suite, and a service parts optimization to its manufacturing software.

These enhancements represent phase three of SAS’ long-term strategy, said Jim Davis, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at SAS.

In the early years, SAS focused on developing a range of tools to access disparate data and to analyze it. During the 1995-2000 period, the company focused on expanding horizontally in response to customer demand to consolidate and reduce the number of software vendors involved in mission-critical applications. Since 2000, SAS has been focusing on developing tailored industry offerings to solve specific business problems within data-intensive sectors.

As a private firm, SAS can funnel funds into these types of long-range R&D initiatives to evolve its products without worrying about meeting quarterly earnings expectations to please Wall Street, he said. “The marriage of software development with publicly traded companies has not been good,” said Davis, pointing out that most of SAS’ revenue comes from existing clients, not new sales.

Tedious data mining and static reports have had their day, according to recent industry reports presented at the conference. Performance-tracking dashboards may be proliferating across enterprises nowadays, but this is a dangerous trend, said Davis.

Lack of consistent metrics across the enterprise can create problems, and lack of drill-down capabilities means users are unable to examine and understand the context of performance information. “I predict ‘Why dashboards fail’ will be the headline at the end of this year,” he said.

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