The evening concluded with several impersonations, including an Elton John look-alike belting out Philadelphia Freedom. It commenced with SAS Institute executives promising the real thing: “analytics-driven business intelligence” (BI) that produces results and ROI.
The event was the 30th annual SAS User Group Conference (SUGI) flagged off on April 10 in Philadelphia.
It’s a city that shares much in common with SAS, according to the conference chair Greg Nelson. He recalled a statement by one of Philadelphia’s greatest citizens, Benjamin Franklin that “an investment in knowledge still yields the best returns.” That, he said, is a view SAS and its user groups completely share. “Philadelphia and its citizens have broken new ground. So has SAS.”
From a “products” perspective the new ground this year is a spruced up version of SAS Enterprise BI Server — a key component of the SAS 9 Intelligence Platform. Enhancements to the Enterprise BI Server announced by SAS, include an OLAP server and new OLAP clients at no extra cost.
SAS says these features are unique, as no other BI provider delivers OLAP (online analytical processing) storage and mapping capabilities.
A company statement emphasized the benefits of combining comprehensive BI capabilities (reporting, query and analysis, OLAP, integrated analytics, visualization, and Microsoft Office integration) with targeted interfaces that meet specific needs.
At least one expert agrees. “SAS has done well to analyze the needs of different user types and focus on the distinct needs of casual users, and business analysts,” said Cindi Howson, president of Analytic Solutions Know-How (ASK), a New Jersey-based BI consultancy. Howson said the Enterprise BI Server represents SAS’ “foray into mainstream business intelligence.”
Whether this foray will augment user demand for the company’s flagship SAS 9 Intelligence platform is too early to tell.
The product — released in March 2004 — has already sold 20,000 copies, according to Jim Davis, SAS senior vice-president and chief marketing officer. Davis sees this as yet another proof that BI is no longer a backroom operation, or a tool, but “deserves platform-level status.”
Speaking at the conference, the SAS CMO cited an Accenture study about U.S. executives’ increasing discontent among with their BI implementations. (More than 90 per cent of the 150 Fortune 1000 senior executives surveyed said they need to significantly strengthen their firms’ BI capabilities to drive business growth).
Davis contrasted that with the “success and satisfaction” of SAS customers in various sectors.
Some of these customers provided testimonials at the event. They included Jim Bowman, CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), which manages the official league site www.MLB.com.
Bowman related how his company relies on SAS’ marketing automation tool to intelligently handle the colossal traffic on the site (MLB.com provided 10 billion page views to more than one billion visitors in 2004).
He said SAS has helped MLB.com learn a great deal more about fans visiting the site. This helps with targeted marketing — personalized e-mails, instant messages, SMS alerts — as well as cross-selling and upselling efforts.
SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said his company’s policy of consistently investing 26 per cent of its annual revenues in R&D is paying rich dividends. He said products such as SAS 9 raise the bar on BI — enabling not just hindsight, but foresight as well. True BI, he said, doesn’t just provide a historic view, but a predictive one as well. It’s doesn’t just help in analyzing what has happened, but also in predicting what will occur with increasing accuracy.