At SAS Institute's annual European gathering, this year in Spain, three messages stood out among the presentations from SAS's executives: SAS has a unified market message; SAS Viya is the future platform for the company and its customers; and SAS solutions will bring the "business check" closer to getting signed.
With a single stroke, SAS positions itself for the future
SAS Institute is one of the vendors in the data management and analytics space; it has a devoted fan base and an enviable record in the industry – 2016 is its fortieth year in business. Yes, forty years in the analytics industry (we've given it different names over the years: remember management information systems?), a market that Ovum predicts will grow approximately 12% this year – not bad for a market that has been around for four-plus decades.
Questioning the analytics competence of SAS solutions would be difficult to do, but – until recently – it was not difficult to suggest that its software looked dated and less than user-friendly in this emerging world of self-serve and business-focused analytics.
SAS Viya changes all of that. SAS invests approximately 25% ($750m) of its $3bn-plus in annual revenues in R&D. That level of investment is above the industry average, but is paying back in the form of SAS Viya. Chief Marketing Officer Randy Guard talked about SAS Viya in terms of four key topics: unified, open, powerful and simple, and cloud. I'll focus on two of these: open and cloud. Open is not a term I'd have generally associated with SAS (fair or not), yet here we are talking about APIs and services, which – for me at least – translates into the possibility of consuming SAS analytics as a service for other applications. Cloud latecomers are often roughly treated by market observers as forced conversions – I disagree entirely. Cloud is a topic that may be largely spent from a marketing hype perspective; however, those large, mature enterprises making moves toward it demand the kind of enterprise-grade capabilities SAS has been known for and will likely bring to cloud customers.
An additional point on SAS Viya: SAS's executives highlighted the important fact that investment in SAS Viya does not mean burning prior SAS investments. SAS Viya can communicate with SAS 9 and vice versa, a sign that SAS has given considerable thought to its existing customers in a way that, perhaps, other vendors have not during the wave of enthusiasm for new product launches.
From a marketing perspective, SAS has generally lent on its difficult-to-question software and analytics expertise, which is exactly what the market expects. However, buyers in this market are no longer just analytics experts; the line-of-business buyer has more recently come to the fore. SAS's messaging has been updated to include confidence, clarity, and compassion, leading us neatly to my concluding point, SAS solutions.
Customer 360 and cybersecurity were both highlighted as critical capabilities; concerns about personal privacy aside (a question the whole industry, not just SAS, has to answer), these are the types of business outcome-focused capabilities that are of interest to those who increasingly drive traditional IT spending.
In its fortieth year, SAS has taken a major step toward the future. I look forward to watching these announcements develop and the possible value they might deliver to SAS's current and future clients.
Tom M. Pringle, Head of Applications Research