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August 11, 2014

Is SAS leading the business intelligence market?

SAS's UK MD, Mark Wilkinson, explains why the privately-owned firm provides better analytics and data management solutions than rivals.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

You were recently ranked as no. 1 in IDC’s worldwide advanced and predictive analytics software report. What do you put this down to?

By investing 25% of revenue every year in R&D we have developed the solutions to allow companies of all sizes to analyse big data and spot trends that most miss. Being privately owned without short term quarterly pressures we can focus our efforts on our customers’ needs and driving forward what’s possible with analytics. This approach means we have a 35% market share because organisations come to us to help them solve the hardest business problems such as preventing fraud, increasing customer loyalty, reducing risks or improving forecasting.

How does your predictive and advanced analytics software deliver?

Predictive analytics combines techniques from statistics, data mining and machine learning to uncover answers from big data. Whether an organisation is focused on marketing, compliance, customer service, operations or any other business unit, by using SAS the data can reveal where they are but, more importantly and where SAS excels, predict what is likely to happen. So global banks can do real-time checks for fraud at point of sale, and Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust are able to transform research into heart and lung conditions, leading to a better understanding of patients.

Predictive analytics is at the heart of our business. We are different because we have a broader mix of advanced analytical solutions than any of our competitors, meaning we can provide answers from data in whatever way the customer prefers, given their size and in-house expertise. Second, we have grown mostly organically so our architecture is more seamlessly integrated than the other players in the market, which have acquired different technologies.

According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, SAS customers consider the BI software among the most difficult to implement and use. What are you doing to improve ease of use?

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SAS is making it easier for customers of all sizes, and users of varying degrees of analytical expertise, to gain valuable insights by using our software. Today, business analytics is a critical, mainstream activity for companies trying to stay competitive in a world that is digital and more driven by data. Its use has expanded beyond traditional quantitative and statistical experts to include a host of other users too, from line-of-business managers and executives to those on the factory floor, store showroom or call centre. So we can provide customers with solutions to fit their requirements. For example, SAS Visual Analytics puts powerful analytics in the hands of business users to easily identify insights from big data and share them across the business.

Our analytics-as-a-service offering, ANSWERS from SAS, can be used flexibly from answering one-off business questions to being a fully outsourced analytics service for customers that cannot afford an in-house team or do not have IT resource availability. Organisations ask us their strategic business questions and give access to relevant data. SAS analytics experts apply our solutions to provide the insights.

How do you find competing with BI and analytics platform vendors, such as Tableau and Tibco, as well as IBM’s Watson Analytics and emerging startups?

SAS is the biggest independent BI and analytics software company in the world. We generated more than $3bn in revenue in 2013. So, while our market is getting more crowded with niche providers and large IT players buying their way into the big data market, we remain confident about our prospects as our near 40 year track record in analytics and continued investment means we have the most complete analytics and data management solution stack available. That said, competition is healthy and ensures we continue to push new innovations in analytics and data discovery areas, so the introduction of new capabilities to solutions like visual analytics, data mining, and predictive analytics are examples of where we set the agenda.

What partnerships are you forming at the moment?

We have developed joint services with the likes of IBM and SAP, while competing with them in other areas. We have strategic partnerships with Hortonworks and Cloudera for Hadoop and many other third party organisations. The next year will see SAS solutions available through a growing network of resellers. Customers will choose the best technology solutions for their business and that typically means for analytics, advanced and predictive analytics they select SAS.

What challenges are there facing the big data market and how are you overcoming them?

Big data is just going to get bigger. The Internet of Things will add more and more data sources. I think we will see more businesses take advantage of their collated big data; investigate using Hadoop to reduce IT costs and as a means to provide access to vast volumes of structured and unstructured data. Increased use of mobile technologies will be the way brands increasingly interact with customers.

The Internet of Things will require high-performance analytics to make sense of the incredible volume, variety, and velocity of data that 50 billion connected devices will bring.

The final challenge is one I am incredibly committed too, and that is reducing the big data skills gap. We have invested nearly £100m in universities and schools in the UK over the last 15 years through a number of successful initiatives, and we will continue to strive to equip more people with the skills needed to extract value from data to keep the UK and Ireland competitive.

In light of your partnership with British Rowing earlier this year to improve performance with analytics, have you seen any returns on the investment?

Our relationship with British Rowing is in its early stages as the team prepares for Rio 2016. The first phase is to bring together the vast number of spreadsheets they have in different formats and better manage their data. I am very excited by this partnership because in international sport, small improvements are the difference between winning and losing…Using our analytics tools, they will help the rowers and coaches make decisions in real-time, improve training, prepare better for races, and predict and prevent injuries. We will also be looking at what the data tells us about the progression to Olympic champion, so we can help them discover and develop the best young talent. At the same time, our marketing optimisation tools will encourage more people and organisations to get involved in the sport. So yes, I think we will see a great return on our investment as we see the GB Rowing Team continue to be one of the world’s top rowing teams.

To what extent are you putting big data to use in other sports?

Around the world, sports teams and organisations use us extensively to tap into big data. For example, Major League Soccer (MLS) in the US use SAS for predictive analytics and data mining to get a better understanding of what their fans really want and then use our marketing tools for improved fan engagement, and increasing ticketing and merchandising opportunities. The Orlando Magic basketball team also uses our software to improve revenue generation. So we are always looking at new opportunities and partnerships



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