SAS – Generating Knowledge from Experience, Quickly

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If you look at the fundamentals of IT there are a few key drivers behind the use of any computer system. These are the automation (and hopefully consequential reduction in cost) of previously manual operations and the extraction of crucial information on which to base sound business decisions.

The first of these two matters, namely automation, has been at the heart of most research and technology developments in IT over the last twenty years. The latter area – generating knowledge from the now vast pools of data held by organisations – has certainly received comparatively little attention despite the efforts of, and a good deal of leading-edge work from, a number of specialist vendors. When it comes to knowledge generation, SAS is clearly one of the leading lights in the space and intends to remain so for the foreseeable future.

At the company’s annual analyst conference this summer, SAS highlighted that it plans to continue to invest just as much in R&D as it always has, in order to ensure that its customers continue to enjoy the business benefits delivered by its solutions. It is worthwhile noting that this privately held company now generates well over billion dollars a year in revenues, with over 85 percent accounted for directly from its annual software licenses, rather than services.

In line with the company’s history, approximately 26 percent of its revenues are currently allocated to R&D. The directions selected for investment rely not only on the experience and gut feel of the SAS team, but also makes use of the knowledge and desires of its customer community; each year customers of SAS get a vote on what new features should be developed.

The latest release of the company’s hallmark SAS Platform and range of business solutions have concentrated on making it far easier for any worker to extract the knowledge they require from their organisation’s data assets. SAS believes that its Web Report Studio at least matches and probably betters the simple query and reporting capabilities supplied by any of its competitors. Indeed, the tool even comes as a simple add-in for Microsoft Office users.

The software created by SAS has been designed from the ground up to address the needs of data analysis, and the 28 years of its development really shows. It is fast, very fast, and in tests has managed to read in over a billion records in around 8 minutes on a single threaded, though powerful, processor.

Looking to the future, SAS is now ready to promote Performance Management and educate potential customers on the need to move beyond simple analysis of past information and to start generating information that provides both business insight and foresight almost dynamically. Business fortunes now fluctuate so rapidly that most organisations need to exploit their business knowledge to achieve competitive advantage over time cycles measured in days and weeks rather than months and years.

In these areas it is highly likely that the company’s Enterprise Intelligence Platform and Business solutions will continue to gain traction. However, I believe it’s the SAS IT Value Management solutions, which offer IT professionals a way to enhance the Business / IT relationship by identifying growth opportunities and ways in which the IT infrastructure can be moulded to deliver maximum value, that offer a significant opportunity.