SAS leader isn

Since he co-founded the company in 1976, president and CEO Jim Goodnight has built Business Intelligence software developer SAS Institute into the world’s largest private software company. During SAS’s international media day last month at the company’s Cary, N.C.-headquarters, Goodnight sat down with ComputerWorld Canada Senior Writer Jeff Jedras.

What sets SAS 9 and your platform of tools apart from the offerings of your competitors, such as Cognos and Business Objects?

It’s the platform we have. SAS has its own data store so you don’t have to rely on other database. You can use our ETL (extract, transform and load) processes to extract data from all of the other databases. We provide all the tools to access it, such as simple query and reporting, which is what all the other vendors call Business Intelligence. But we also provide analytical tools, data mining, operations and research tools, It’s the depth of what we offer that is so much superior to what Business Objects and Cognos can offer.

Will the imminent acquisition of Siebel Systems by Oracle, and Siebel’s new focus on operational analytics, have a big impact on the BI market?

Not really. I think Siebel wasn’t really able to sell their CRM products, so they’re trying to figure out what other markets they might get into. We see them as just a little bit in the analytics space, but not a lot. That’s obviously the direction they’ve tried.

A knock against SAS that has been made by some is that your business analytics tools are perhaps “too complex” for some users. How has SAS addressed these concerns?

That’s just not true. Our BI tools have been more complex in the past, but with our recent edition we can go head to head with Business Objects or Cognos on ease of use, functionality — anything you want to compare . That’s why we’re selling so many; we’ve made it so incredibly easy to use, and we also provide the entire SAS 9 platform, which allows for all the heavy-duty analytics to also be brought into play.

What is the future for the SAS 9 platform?

SAS 9 will probably last another four or five years. It will still have updates; we’ve got a 9.2 coming out probably a year from now, maybe a little sooner, that adds some additional features and capabilities. Version 9 is just so rich. It’s 64-bit and it’s multi-threaded, and so as we see more and more chips coming out with the dual cores, SAS is capable of taking advantage of all that power. The speed is just unbelievable. This multithreading stuff is a lot of fun.

Your executives have discussed how SAS has gone through three phases since its founding: from tools, to horizontal offerings and now products tailored to specific industry verticals. What will be phase four?

Our BI offering is very much part of the tools space. Our horizontal solutions cover things such as human capital management, supply relationship management and financial management. In vertical spaces we’re in right now, there’s a lot of [focus] on financial services, pharmaceuticals, retail, telecommunications, and we’re also doing work in the manufacturing space. All those phases are still carrying on; they weren’t distinct. All of these vertical areas are quite active for us right now. I can’t think of a phase four to even start, we’re still working on phase three, and we’ve got a long way to go. Our goal is to dominate everything outside of the transactional space. We leave that transactional space to Oracle and SAP, but we want everything else. Taking that data, pulling it out, working with it, analyzing it, producing results, modeling and predictions.

You’ve been at the helm of SAS since 1976 and have built the company from the ground up. Do you see yourself slowing down any time soon?

I still enjoy the day-to-day operation of the company. I would say another 10 years probably before I’m ready to step aside.

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