Business intelligence top tech priority, says SAS MD


20 Nov 2006

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Business intelligence is now a higher priority than IT security in many companies as they look to get more out of the data they have accumulated in order to perform better.

The issue has also grown in prominence as technology trends change from simply inputting information to analysing it in order to make business decisions.

That’s the view of Michael Kearney, newly installed managing director at SAS Ireland. “Business intelligence has come right to the fore: security was the number one business issue, now it’s business intelligence,” he said. “The business has changed from tools, such as reporting. Now it’s about business issues, whether it’s credit risk, fraud or IT performance.”

As companies come under pressure to get more from their IT, any new system has to deliver real value to the business, Kearney said. “If you say to a CIO: ‘Here’s a fancy piece of software,’ you’re going to get a blank look. It has to solve a business need.”

According to Kearney, there is now a greater realism in expectations from technology. “The days of something looking great and sounding great getting the spend are gone,” he said. “Budgets are tight but business intelligence is one area where you can use what you have. The vast majority of businesses have the information already but still have to ask: ‘What does it all mean’?”

Many organisations still think of IT as a repository for information, missing the point that analysing patterns in the data could help them perform more efficiently or reduce wastage, Kearney maintained. “People are in the mindset of putting information into a system. The concept that software could analyse millions of data points and tell them what they need to do tomorrow is an eye opener to them,” he told siliconrepublic.com. “Transactional IT is dead: it’s just going to store your data. For example, putting in a big ERP [enterprise resource planning] system will let you do what you do better. But is it telling you something you didn’t know?” he asked.

Research shows that Irish companies lost an estimated €2bn in 2004 through acts such as fraud, embezzlement, cheque and credit card fraud and corruption and spent a further €500m seeking to prevent and combat the problem. “If we take that number, and that’s a conservative number I suspect, and the same issues are true for companies here: the big thing for insurance companies is fraud. If you could have identified the problem earlier, you minimise dramatically the consequences,” Kearney pointed out.

For example, HSBC bank analyses every single transaction from its 100 million credit card bearers, profiling the use of the cards to establish certain types of spending profiles which indicate that a transaction could be fraudulent.

Kearney stressed that putting in place a business information system needn’t mean massive disruption to a company’s operations. “This is not a big ERP implementation. You can get on with your business and find that what’s delivered to you is a system that delivers information to help you make decisions. It’s low-risk, relatively low cost, the vision is clearly defined and easy to articulate and the benefits are real.”

SAS, which is the largest privately held software company in the world, has several major customers in Ireland including Diageo, Intel, Seagate, Analog Devices, IBM and HP as well as some public sector bodies. Locally, the company plans double-digit growth next year in Ireland and is already in the process of recruiting additional staff in presales and professional services roles at its Dublin office. “My personal aim for SAS [in Ireland] is to be one of the leading performers within EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa],” Kearney said.

By Gordon Smith