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SAS releases data analysis upgrade in bid to broaden use

Company execs are looking to take on Business Objects, Cognos

By Craig Stedman
March 31, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Cary, N.C. -- SAS Institute Inc. yesterday released an upgrade of its data analysis software that's designed to boost performance, simplify the technology for end users and make it easier for IT departments to set up and manage data marts for users of the tools.
The SAS 9 software became available almost exactly a year to the day after the company announced plans for the upgrade, saying at the time that the new version would be ready by the end of 2003 (see story).
SAS has traditionally been known as a vendor of data mining and statistical analysis software. But CEO Jim Goodnight said at a news briefing here that the upgrade is aimed at making SAS more of a direct competitor with Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc. and other vendors of general-purpose business intelligence tools.
With SAS 9, "we want to be the most strategic part of a company's business intelligence platform," Goodnight said. During an interview, he acknowledged that users with big investments in rival query and reporting tools "are not going to change easily" to SAS 9. But SAS hopes to reach a broader set of users within its installed base and expand its presence among midsize companies, Goodnight said.
Dreyfus Service Corp., a mutual funds company in New York, has about 100 statisticians and data analysts using the SAS 8 software. Prasanna Dhore, executive vice president of marketing, e-commerce and CRM at Dreyfus, said simplified user interfaces included in SAS 9 could make it easier for salespeople to run their own queries instead of having to ask the statisticians to build reports for them.
Dreyfus, a subsidiary of Mellon Financial Corp., also uses data analysis tools from vendors such as Cognos and Business Objects. The predictive analysis capabilities that SAS offers are "a tremendous advantage," Dhore said. "We don't want to keep using all the software [we have now]. But are we going to replace all that other stuff? The jury's out there. We have to evaluate it."
In the past, SAS often was adopted by power users "who wanted access to data and often circumvented IT" to get at the information they needed, said Wayne Eckerson, an analyst at the Seattle-based Data Warehousing Institute. But SAS 9 looks to be a more IT-friendly offering because of new features like a common metadata repository and improved data quality tools, he said.
Michael DeMatteo, manager of market intelligence and planning for strategic marketing at KeySpan Corp. in Brooklyn, said his group of SAS users is in contact on a daily basis with the gasutility's IT department. He added that IT staffers maintain a set of data marts for the marketing analysts, a big improvement over a previous approach in which the SAS users "collected shoebox data sets that someone stuck on a disk."
DeMatteo noted that his users do have the ability to make changes to the data marts, as long as they notify IT. "If you don't have that communication going back and forth, it's going to be a failure," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

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