SAS Institute has set its sights on extending beyond its traditional marketplace with the release of SAS 9, writes Bloor Research analyst Philip Howard.
SAS is the largest vendor within the business intelligence market. It has not, however, historically been considered as a business intelligence vendor in the same way that you or I might have thought of Cognos or Business Objects. This is primarily because, while it was well known for its data mining, it was actually best known for its packaged analytic solutions, spanning a wide range of horizontal and vertical applications.
With SAS 9, this will change. SAS can now offer conventional business intelligence products, ranging from OLAP (whose server has been re-written to provide better performance), through production reporting and from spreadsheets (which provide full security and audit trails for Microsoft Excel environments), to dashboards for different constituencies that spread across the organisation. In particular, the company has introduced new user interfaces for different users. Whereas previously it was limited to specialists and business analysts, it has extended its focus to include power users and business users.
SAS will be competing, or intends to compete, head-to-head with Business Objects - both with respect to that company's eponymous product and its recently-acquired Crystal products.
However, regardless of how good each individual product within SAS 9 might be, that isn't its major strength: integration is where it really scores.
First, we should point out that SAS 9 doesn't just include all of the aforementioned business intelligence capability. It also includes the company's well-known data warehousing capabilities, data mining, ETL tool (which has also been extended in this release), data cleansing (ditto) and data profiling (ditto - substantially).
And all of that is built on a single platform with a single metadata model underpinning it. The repository within which this is stored is compliant with the Common Warehouse Metamodel and supports XMI for the interchange of information with other environments. The point is that there is no other product that has this depth of integration across this breadth of offering.
This significance of this is both general and specific. In the latter case, it means that corporate governance requirements - such as being able to trace the lineage of data - are very much simpler to implement. This is because you do not have to transfer data and metadata from one environment to another. This in turn makes auditing more complete and comprehensive.
The other big advantage of this integrated approach, from a more general perspective, is that the whole SAS 9 environment should be much easier to manage, resulting in lower ownership cost compared to more fragmented environments. The chance to reduce the number of suppliers may also be appealing to some companies.