Update: SAS unveils new BI platform, apps

SAS 9 takes business intelligence beyond traditional querying, reporting

SAS Institute unveiled its new SAS 9 business intelligence platform Tuesday that includes data integration, enhanced analytics, and refined user interfaces designed to drive BI beyond simple querying and reporting analyzing past performance within siloed departments to a more predictive tool that can be leveraged across the enterprise for critical decision-making.

In addition, SAS detailed plans for a slew of new applications designed to leverage the new platform, including suites for marketing automation, financial management, strategic performance management, and supplier relationship management.

"The need to analyze data and gain meaningful insight has moved beyond the back office to mainstream," said Jim Goodnight, SAS president and CEO. "With this launch, we are really talking about a unified platform. [With expanded user interfaces], information can be delivered in just the right context to employees at every level. It allows organizations to store and distribute SAS programs as shared processes."

The new intelligence platform, which is now shipping, includes data integration through the SAS Enterprise ETL Server, intelligence storage, advanced analytics, portal functionality, and query and reporting via the SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence Server. SAS 9 data integration supports data quality and a common metadata repository designed to ensure the reliability of information across IT systems, while the ETL server is designed to cleanse and integrate data into a common, usable data store to offer consistent answers to BI questions spanning the enterprise. Enhanced analytics include predictive and descriptive modeling, forecasting, simulation, and optimization to make it easier to answer complex question that cannot be addressed by traditional BI, according to company officials from Cary, N.C.-based SAS.

As companies move from analyzing a snapshot of an Enterprise Resource Planning or other operational system to attempting to glean intelligence from vast streams of data, such as those from Web site click streams and point-of-sale data, they are finding they need enhanced analytics, said Guy Creese, a research director at Aberdeen Group. SAS 9 features the performance improvements and scalability needed to address these larger records often generated on the edge of the enterprise, he added.

"There is a shift from data warehouses ... to edge action," he said. "Don't bury the insight in the data warehouse or the back office. Move it to the front office. As you send insight to the edge of the company, everyone needs to get at it. The open architecture of SAS 9 and the ability to play well with other pieces of the IT infrastructure is critical."

The SAS data mining and text mining software have been fitted with new Java interfaces designed to allow enterprises to analyze both structured data and unstructured text more easily. The new Java interface is designed to allow data mining users to extract business knowledge from vast data stores and then create results that can be integrated within operational systems.

Paul Coleman, director of marketing statistics for SAS user Federated Department Stores, based in New York, said he envisions SAS 9 maneuvering critical BI data out of the hands of a few power users to those throughout the enterprise via the improved user interfaces.

"There are a few people now who can have an in-depth view [of BI data]," Coleman said. "The rest of the people have to rely on whatever point-and-click interface is at their disposal. We have terabytes of information just lying around, [and] it's going through a few people. Management often can't get information without going through these people. SAS ... is saying, 'We realize you have various data sources.' They're really trying to use their technology to level the playing field."

SAS Marketing Automation will be the first in SAS' family of customer intelligence applications to be launched on the new platform. These apps will be tailored to address marketing automation, marketing optimization and customer retention. They are designed to give organizations insight to develop and implement smarter customer strategies while boosting profitability.

All seven of the new applications for SAS 9 are scheduled to be available this year.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.