SAS Reaches Out to Users

Version 9.1 ships with user reporting; 9.2 on deck with workflow.

SAS Institute Inc. is strengthening its portfolio of business intelligence and data warehousing tools in an effort to satisfy enterprise users need to consolidate IT assets.

The Cary, N.C., company last week at its SAS User Group International conference here introduced Version 9.1 of its namesake BI suite. Key new features of the software, which is due in August, are reporting tools that let business managers generate their own ad hoc queries and reports without IT intervention.

Beyond that, the company is working on Version 9.2, which is expected in the first half of next year and which will include a new workflow engine based on technology SAS acquired from Verbind Inc. last year. The engine will be the core of a new subscription, alerting and monitoring model SAS will also introduce in Version 9.2 that provides real-time analytics of transactional data, with alerts on changes to data delivered to end users.

SAS Chairman and CEO James Goodnight told eWeek in an interview at the conference that the Web Report Studio application in SAS 9.1 is a giant leap for SAS in terms of usability.

James Goodnight

"What were talking about is a very, very easy-to-use front end for the masses of people that dont need the high-end analytics that we provide," Goodnight said. "Rather, they just want to do simple query and reporting."

Hewlett-Packard Co.s CRM Operations business unit, which uses a number of SAS products for data mining, has a companywide license for reporting technology from Business Objects S.A. Still, Randy Collica, senior business analyst at HP CRM Operations, in Littleton, Mass., said the new Report Studio and Web Report Studio products in SAS 9.1 could prove useful in getting the masses of information his group generates into the hands of more internal users.

"A lot of our marketing clients would love to get into the data and look at it and do a lot of self-reporting," Collica said. "[With Web Report Studio,] all you need is a browser to get into the data and do self-reporting without a lot of training."

Collica envisions marketing and sales staff from across HP running their own reports.

SAS, which has 39,500 corporate customers and 3.5 million users, will not ignore the core of its platform—data-warehouse-building tools. At its European user conference in June, the company will announce new data warehousing features in Version 9.1. The new ETL Studio extraction, transformation and loading tool will replace the current Warehouse Administrator data-warehouse-building software.

The tool features a graphical display of data movement that is more aligned with the persona of the user. It will allow data warehouse managers to roll out a data ETL process in stages to ensure that any discrepancies are identified early.

SAS 9.1 will also include support for a central metadata repository, replacing the hub-and-spoke system SAS now uses.

Tim Thein, senior vice president at Noel-Levitz Inc. and a SAS user, said existing SAS technologies made it fairly easy to develop a system to score student records on the fly. But, Thein added, SAS does need to do a better job in future products, including the central metadata repository, of integrating with other vendors products, particularly Microsoft Corp. SQL Server and Oracle Corp. databases.

"If you have to buy SAS Access and 20 ODBC drivers, I dont know if I would consider that being open," said Thein, in Denver. "Getting SAS to talk to Microsoft can sometimes be tricky."