Twitter, iPad will define future of SAS

LAS VEGAS — The push toward mobile and social analytics will be the key theme for almost every future product announcement from SAS Institute Inc., an executive with the Cary, N.C.-based company said.

“For every single solution we have, we’re thinking about whether there’s a mobile application we can do and what it’s going to look like,” said Jim Davis, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at SAS.

Speaking at this week’s SAS Global Forum 2011 in Las Vegas, Davis hyped the company’s new Social Media Analytics Executive Briefing app, which he showed off to audience attendees on an iPad 2. The app, which is part of the company’s growing social analytics portfolio, allows executives the ability to drill down into data and charts on brand image, social trends, and sales figures.

Another tablet-optimized app, SAS Retail Space Management, allows retailers to look at underperforming items in real-time through a 3D view of their store shelves. After drilling down and identifying action items, retail managers can actually use the app to interact with the back-end system and change their order information.

The company also showed off SAS Conversation Center, a software tool that can analyze hash tag traffic on Twitter and use company-specific taxonomy to determine negative and position sentiments. The product can also route specific Tweets in real-time to customer service personnel, in order to directly reach out to a Twitter user who might be unsatisfied with your brand.

SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said the company is banking so heavily on both social and mobile analytics that it has formed a new 350-employee R&D unit that is focused solely on developing new user interfaces geared to mobile.

The biggest hurdle for SAS could be getting large enterprises excited about social and mobile analytics.

Lou Costa, director of service performance for Bell Canada’s field services unit, said the telecom giant’s field technicians have all used wireless devices and laptops for years. And while the iPad might seem to be the next logical step, Costa said the form factor is a poor fit for the daily grind of Bell’s road warriors

“A lot of technicians need a form factor that has ruggedness to it,” he said, adding that many technicians get into manholes and other potentially dangerous areas.

In the realm of social networking analytics, Bell is currently monitoring sites like Facebook and Twitter manually. But, Costa said, one of his primary reasons in attending this year’s SAS global conference is to explore how the company can automate this data collection and use social analytics to improve customer engagement.

Vic Moschitto, director and head of decision support and management at Scotiabank, said his bank is interested in exploring how to move BI to its mobile workers and how to tap into the social media space.

“The bank has to manage its reputational risk,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t get blindsided by something that grows out of social media and isn’t captured quickly enough.”

Moschitto said a major reason he attended the SAS event was to get a better handle on how other organizations are using the social media data they collect for marketing, pricing and risk management.

Costa’s one pet peeve with SAS is the reporting platform that is difficult to roll out to mass users. “For field technicians, for example, it’s not very interactive for them,” he said.

The company hopes to solve this gripe by developing new tools  such as the company’s tablet-based executive briefing app geared toward front line managers and workers.

Carl Farrell, executive vice-president for SAS Americas, said the successes of early adopters could also help sway organizations currently on the fence.

One of its financial services customers is combining social media platforms with its trading platforms. “Traders are basing their strategy for the day on (social media),” he said.

Another customer an unnamed Las Vegas hotel — is trying to build a profile of their upcoming guests before they check-in. “They will look for you everywhere and pick up on your likes and dislikes,” Farrell added.

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