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October 28, 2011

SAS Goes Inside Analytics in Orlando

Nicole Hemsoth

This week we reported about SAS and their announcement about upcoming high performance analytics offerings. These news items were released at the company’s Inside Analytics 2011 event, which was held this past week in Orlando.

The new event merged together formerly disparate SAS conferences that focused on data mining and forecast. With the consolidation, the first annual Inside Analytics 2011 conference broadened the scope to include other elements, including text analytics and predictive modeling.

In addition to providing sessions on these topics, SAS was providing on-site training and education events around their portfolio as well as SAS certification opportunities.

While the focus of Inside Analytics was on generating interest and buzz around the company’s analytics products, a few interviews with key attendees shed light on the company’s strategy going forward.

For instance, keynoter Oliver Schabenberger, who serves as the company’s lead architect from the high performance group, discussed how the new SAS analytics and risk assessment products could be “game changing” technologies for companies.

As he states above, SAS is hoping to make performance gains at the software level that go far beyond five or ten percent. He says that they are focused on making revolutionary performance gains that can literally transform a business’ operations. For instance, Shabenberger says that for gauging risk in financial services could take a couple of days to process, but with such improvements, this process can happen in near real-time. This not only marks a significant performance advantage, but could transform the way financial risk managers do business and compete.

The event put a great deal of emphasis on making sure the real-world implications of performance improvements and refinements in analytics software were clear. Many of the speakers discussed use cases that put the power of data mining, sentiment analysis, risk assessment analytics and other software tools in context.

Richard Foley, who serves as Global Text Analytics Product Manager at SAS provided a few examples of SAS text analytics software in action. He pointed to the ability to use sentiment mining across social media, web content and more traditional structured data to equate the souring sentiment for a particular American Idol contest to their inability to proceed to the next round of the show.

Outside of the entertainment example, Foley also spoke about how the same sort of technology is being harnessed to gauge risk for microlenders in third world countries. Foley explains this example in more depth below.

Social media data is indeed playing a large role in the way Fortune 500 companies relate to their customers—and function internally. In many ways, this was something of an ongoing theme at the event. Among the host of attendees that talked about the possibilities of using structured and unstructured (i.e. social and web) data was Emmett Cox from BBVA Compass Bank talked about how companies are collecting an unprecedented amount of data to store, but are still not seeing any return on that investment.

According to Cox, there are many lessons to be learned from the world of retail that can be extended to many other sectors, all of which are based on using analytics and data to their fullest potential. For instance, x says that he has been able to apply analytics-based principles from retail to work for telecommunications companies, including a Russian telecom giant that used software to make critical broadcast geography decisions.

He says that social media is playing a big role for retailers and other companies, but the problem now lies in not just in collecting, storing and performing base analytics—but having a more intelligent approach to what information is actually going to be useful.

Of course, all the data and analytics tools in the world are useless without hardware and other vendors to support the computational, storage and warehousing needs of business. SAS partners, including EMC Greenplum and Teradata were central to the company’s announcement of their high performance analytics offerings.

Bill Franks from Teradata was on hand for the event to discuss the role his company plays in the future of SAS’ high performance analytics push. He says that outside of performance improvements in the software, there are hardware-end issues that can be improved by companies like his. He says that since they formed a strategic partnership four years ago, Teradata has been working closely with SAS to improve the speed and performance of mission-critical analytics.

For the curious, SAS has provided a decent well of materials to choose from that sum up the event at