During a beautiful late summer afternoon I was heading to the famous SAS Institute in Tervuren to attend ICT industry informative sessions organised by inno.com. Beside my interest in learning about the technology industry and the company, it was a pleasure to meet about 25 other inno.com colleagues for this first event after the holidays. As usual, we received a warm welcome from our guests at the SAS Institute: Michel Philippens, head of Customer Solutions and Patrick Wauters, Head of Technology. I associated the name SAS with statistics and analytics, but I knew little about the company or their solutions. I was eager to learn more about the company and what it has to offer. Moreover, now that everything is going digital and big data is winning momentum, I hoped to learn more on this topic as well.
During the sessions we talked about the impact of the digital revolution and the explosion of data we are seeing today. There is of a growing importance and a need for real time analytics enabling automated personalised communication with customers so we can create a new kind of customer experience, as already demonstrated by Facebook, Google and Netflix. Another important topic was Internet of Things. With a forecasted 40 billion connected devices by 2020, IoT will result in an even bigger explosion of data. The scene was set and SAS has a role to play in this revolution.
I was surprised to learn that the company was created in 1976 as there weren’t many ICT companies at the time. They have academic roots in the North Carolina State University to develop a tool to support agricultural research. SAS stood for “statistical analysis system”. The company has grown to exceed 3 billion dollars in sales with over 14.000 employees around the globe. 91 of the top 100 companies on the 2015 Fortune Global 500 are SAS customers. SAS is known for its open, powerful and robust analytical solution. They are also known as analytics experts and provide their expertise and solutions on three axes: Data (data preparation), Discovery (analysis) and Deployment (integration in business processes). They provide products for advanced analytics, visualization & BI, data management, customer intelligence, fraud & security intelligence, risk management & compliance.
After this introduction, several real customer cases were presented. The first case had my full attention as I am currently working as a Program Manager e-commerce non-food for the Colruyt Group. The case was about Shop Direct, a multi-brand online retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The objective was to create the best personalized shopping experience in the world by providing real-time personalization with a decision engine. The purpose is to present to the customer his next best offer based on his profile. I was quite impressed by this case because I did not expect to see this kind of solution.
Other impressive cases were presented in various sectors where advanced real time analytics with intelligence can make a difference. Shell for failure prediction on oil platforms, FraPort for improving passenger experience and reducing wait time, BNPPF for online payments fraud detection, Volvo for built-in fleet intelligence and predictive maintenance, BCHydro for detection of energy theft and energy balancing, Tesco Bank for risk based premium calculation, Purina for demand driven planning & optimisation, Belfius for self-service BI for insurance. Their message was clear: “When it matters, count on SAS”.
When it matters, count on SAS.
SAS Viya is power
After the case studies, we dove into the technology and products of SAS. We were introduced to their new platform SAS Viya which is based on four key principles: simple but powerful, unified from data to analysis and deployment, open (it has to fit in the eco-system of the customer through APIs) and cloud based. I will however summarize with some key highlights. A key component of the architecture are the source based engines where adaptive, self-learning data management is applied at the source or, as architects call it, at the point of generation. The power of these tools in the hands of business users is impressive ans is leading to the emergence of the “citizen data scientist”. We can see that the line between business and IT is finally blurring, which furrowed some fellow enterprise architects’ brows based on real life experience. SAS Power is providing self-service analytics and enabling data democracy, which, if uncontrolled, can lead to data anarchy and the emergence of the so-called “shadow IT”. This represents a serious risk for companies in the context of the recent EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). We continued debating on this topic during a few drinks.
As a conclusion, this visit was again very instructive and confirmed some observations on the latest developments in technology. Besides the emergence of what Gartner called the nexus of forces, big data, mobile, social networks and cloud, there is a fifth force that is at work and accelerating the digital revolution which is machine learning. As we saw at Microsoft with Cortana, this is now fully integrated in real time analytics. The power of tomorrow will be in the hands of those who have the data, the infrastructure and the most powerful algorithms.