SAS spreads the benefits

31 Mar 2004

The world’s largest private software firm, SAS, has launched the latest version of its successful business intelligence application. SAS 9 has been described by the company as the most significant product launch in its 28-year history.

The new application incorporates a number of new features including the SAS Intelligence Platform, a broad set of integrated software for enhanced data integration, business reporting and data analysis.

A total of seven new software tools will be rolled out on this platform over the next two quarters, starting with SAS Marketing Automation, a quasi-CRM application that addresses such areas as marketing optimisation and customer retention. Other applications to come include financial management, risk management and supplier relationship management tools.

SAS 9 is the culmination of a four-year US$1bn R&D programme. Speaking to Patrick Durkin, managing director of SAS Ireland, says the main achievement of the new application is to take business intelligence (BI) out of the hands of the organisation’s number-crunchers and make it available across a much broader range of job roles so that up to 80pc of people in an organisation will have access to it – hence the launch slogan: ‘Business Intelligence for everyone’.

Not quite everyone perhaps: SAS’s software is still very much targeted at larger public and private sector organisations and a typical implementation might cost six figures in licence fees alone. In Ireland its customer base includes Bank of Ireland, AIB, Revenue, IBM and Intel.

SAS, which reported global revenues of US$1.3bn in 2003, is growing at a 13pc annual clip – 22pc in the Irish market – fuelled by strong demand for BI products in a number of different vertical markets such as financial services, public sector, manufacturing and life sciences.

Said Durkin: “We talk about an ‘intelligence gap’. Yes, companies have invested heavily in IT but can they actually get the information they need, fast enough: which customers are profitable and not profitable? What markets should I enter or leave? How do I meet my regulatory obligations? All these issues have gone beyond doing things faster; it’s about doing things smarter.”

Durkin noted that the business drivers vary from industry to industry. “The high-tech manufacturing sector, for example, is under extreme pressure from its sister sites in lower-cost countries and they want to get their costs down. Our software can help them analyse costs, identify where there is waste in the manufacturing process and so on. The other side of it is that they have to show they are smarter than their peers. Even if Ireland costs a bit more, if they can show they have more innovative ways or bringing products to market or doing so a bit faster or by reducing wastage they’ll win out. Some of our customers are telling us that they have gone up the food chain versus their peers because they have started to get a bit a smarter about what they do.”

Durkin added that in the financial services area, a tightening regulatory environment reflected by Basel II legislation in Europe and Sarbanes Oxley in the US is causing banks and other organisations to invest in systems that can help them achieve compliance.

Although SAS 9 is being touted as a major milestone for the organisation, Durkin believes it will reinforce the company’s market leadership (its revenue is three times that of nearest competitor Cognos) rather than fuel explosive growth. “For us this is not a silver bullet that we’re hoping will get us to a whole new level; we would see this as sustaining and continuing to extend our record of double-digit growth over the past 28 years,” he said.

Internationally, names like Barclaycard and Amazon have been early adopters of SAS 9. In Ireland, the product is set to be rolled out to the SAS customer base over the next two months, Durkin said. Unlike other software vendors, SAS provides product upgrades to customers free of charge, the theory being that creates a lot of goodwill which is repaid at licence renewal time.

“We’d rather see customers do it at the right time for their business rather than ram it down their throat,” added Martin Duffy, technical director, SAS Ireland. “We have a totally different philosophy to many other BI vendors in the marketplace.”

By Brian Skelly

Pictured with Triple Crown hero Shane Byrne is Patrick Durkin, managing director of SAS Ireland and Sharon Dowling, marketing executive