SAS Visual Analytics: What’s Happening to SAS BI?

June 11, 2013
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With all the hype about the SAS Visual Analytics product, you start to wonder: what is the plan for the SAS BI/EBI? During the SAS Global Forum 2013 opening session, Jim Davis pointed out that Forrester Research had selected SAS as the leader in strategy and current product offering with the Big Data Predictive Analytics Solutions.  [SAS made this report free to download here.]

With all the hype about the SAS Visual Analytics product, you start to wonder: what is the plan for the SAS BI/EBI? During the SAS Global Forum 2013 opening session, Jim Davis pointed out that Forrester Research had selected SAS as the leader in strategy and current product offering with the Big Data Predictive Analytics Solutions.  [SAS made this report free to download here.]

Forrester had a 51-criteria evaluation for the 10 product offering. The lead analyst, Mike Gualtieri, was interviewed on the Science of Better podcast where he discussed the evaluation process and provided some insights about the world of predictive analytics.  He commented the report was written for data users who want a better understanding the state of the market.  [Listen to the 30-minute interview here.]   

Big Data vs. Proactive Analytics – Know the Difference

Davis focused his talk on the need for fact-based decision making, which means you need the answers in seconds not weeks.  He noted that the terms Big Data and Analytics were being used interchangeably in the market and he thought the differences needed clarification. He presented a Capability Segmentation chart that compared Data Size to Analytic Capability.  

comparing big data to predictive analytics

The reactive analytics and large data is how traditional BI (1) is used. He gave examples such as alerts, OLAP, reporting, etc.  As the organization moves forward and collects millions upon millions rows of data – they may find themselves with big data; however if they are continuing to use the same reporting techniques it’s really just Big Data BI (2).  In other words, more data, same reactive approach.  Reactive data has it’s place, but there may be more to gain from predictive or proactive analytics.

Proactive analytics is about being ahead of the game.  Davis called this area the current market “hotspot”.  He gave examples of proactive analytics such as marketing optimization and predicting issues so you can respond to customer requests quicker.  This quadrant (3) uses large dataset but the analytics are different.  

The last quadrant(4) focused on huge datasets and using the proactive analytics. As the data becomes larger, it’s more difficult to use with existing tools.  This is where the high performance hardware need arises.  One example he gave was repricing a huge department store’s inventory, where there may be over 300 million SKU combinations.  Before it would have taken a week, with the new hardware and software – it can become hours or minutes.  Wow.   

This is impressive – I have waited 8 hours  for a job to complete with a deadline looming before.  While Davis calls it reactive analytics or reporting – I prefer the term “real”  as in “Here is the real number of  products you  sold yesterday” or even “actual”, as in “Here is the actual number of rats that died from your product.”   All joking aside, I can see where predictive analytics would be a little more fun.  

As I was listening – I was impressed but stunned. It seemed like Davis was saying “SAS EBI is so yesterday.”  [Check out the Opening Session here.  Davis’ talk starts around 10:53 mark.] I listened to the re-broadcast and now I believe his intention was more about selling the new Visual Analytics Explorer that allows more on-the-fly data analysis for non-statisticians and meeting the new demands for the business environment.  The software handles more of the predictive analysis to help the user along.   This point was discussed in the  Whirlwind Tour Around SAS® Visual Analytics paper presented later in the week.

Big Data Guy was Entertaining

SAS business intelligence

After Davis was finished, the session focused on some customers [JP Morgan Chase, Lenovo] using  the product and what value they have received. It’s interesting to see how these companies are using big data and predicting what is going to happen.  

What is Happening to SAS BI?

In the BI panel discussion, Stuart Nisbet, VP of BI R&D, said that SAS fully supported the SAS EBI product and would investing in it’s development.  The SAS 9.4 release would contain 200 new features – more details here and here.  I spoke with him afterward and he was clear that SAS will continue to support the BI product line.  He encouraged me to attend Rick Styll’s  ”New Features for the SAS Enterprise BI Server 9.3″ discussion about the SAS 9.3.  Check out the end his “What’s New in SAS EBI 9.3” paper because he details the coming attractions for SAS EBI 9.4, due later this summer.  [Also here’s a link to Rick’s Webinar about SAS EBI 9.3.]

SAS sees the EBI and VA products as serving different customer needs and thus different products.  The VA product line is targeted to non-SAS programmers and generally non statisticians.  They see that customer as someone who wants to explore the data and have the tool help with selecting the visualizations.  Also the VA tool is designed to work with the high performance  SAS LASR Analytic Server hardware.  

In Cindi Howson’s review she noted that the SAS EBI solution only had 3.2% growth in 2013 compared to other vendors who had double-digit growth.  Ugh – I’ve used some of the other vendors products and this rating is simply startling.  Does make me wonder if some of these analysts actually have to use these products – it can be painful.  However, it might explain why SAS is more focused on being the leader of the Visual Analytics pack.