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July 20, 2015

SAS UK Chief: Envious rivals, skills gap & analytics in the cloud

C-level briefing: Mark Wilkinson, MD, UK & Ireland SAS, on his rival SAP, the Big Data skills gap and Analytics-as-a-Service.

By James Nunns

There is a lot of competition in the Big Data market, but also a lot of collaboration between large vendors. So if you are competing in overlapping markets tensions can grow. This may have been why SAP President, Steve Lucas, said that SAS: "Could be entirely replaced."

Following SAP’s Steve Lucas’ comments from SAP BI CBR spoke to Mark Wilkinson from SAS.

While Mr Wilkinson said he was aware of the spat between Tableau and SAP (see report) he was unaware of Lucas’s comments.

Slightly taken aback, Wilkinson said of the relationship between the companies: "It started off being a bit more of an official partnership. I think the partnership is not as official as either party intended when we first got into bed with one another."

"They’re very envious of our financial services customer base, we’re very entrenched in financial services and SAP’s strengths are in other areas."

Wilkinson diplomatically finished, saying that he sees a place for both organisations to continue to be successful.

Wilkinson was keen to stress how SAS is collaborating in the fields of Hadoop and R and that neither can replace it due to the company’s ability to drive analytics.

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Trends in the data market show an increase in data visualisation capabilities which are added onto Big Data platforms. Although Wilkinson sees visualisation as important, the underlying analytical capabilities are even more so.

"SAS’s visual analytics tool, which Tableau would say is their competitor, has a much richer set of analytical capability than some of the pure-play visualisation tools."

While visual analytics provides ease for use for those that just want to look at data, when it is underpinned by strong analytics, it allows for deeper interrogation.

It is being preached to the business community that data must be used but many are yet to adopt – and part of the problem is the skills gap.

Wilkinson points out that part of the problem is education and guiding people into the right degrees is a long process, with market adoption suffering in the meantime.

"One of the challenges for the market and for companies is they don’t have firstly the number of skills and the depth of skills for them to fully exploit the data."

He expects this to result in a demand for Analytics-as-a-Service: "We truly believe that if hosting data for an organisation isn’t an issue, with the emergence of cloud as a common provision of software.

"It’ll become more apparent that we’d rather outsource (data analytics) to a third party, that does have the skills and does have the time to interrogate that data for us."

He expects this trend to start with SME’s where traditionally they haven’t had the people available to do this kind of work.

This won’t spell an end for the demand for data scientists, which he expects to have a role to play for many years to come, but it may ease some of the adoption issues.

As the market moves forward Wilkinson expects to see more focus on industry specific solutions, which is something that has been apparent in recent releases from Oracle, IBM and Salesforce.

The conversation moved towards the necessity for data but a dislike for Big Data as a term: "A lot of people don’t like Big Data as an expression because it’s a bit of a catchall it’s not very specific."

Despite this dislike of the term, Wilkinson stressed its importance but warned companies not to use it as a crutch: "It’s almost like a crutch for companies, we’ve got all the data, they now sell a fridge that’ll tell them how you use it, and they call it ‘great data’, well what are you going to use it for?"

In the end, Wilkinson wants to see point of sale data and the new area of usage data to be used to drive insights and not just as a boast to say the business has it.

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