I’m just back from the SAS 19th annual analyst summit in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It sounds like a boondoggle, doesn’t it? But as it’s the week after TDWI, with my daughter’s birthday in between, for me it’s one heck of a long business trip with no time for skiing. Missing my daughter’s birthday is not an option.
Beyond even the BI world, SAS is an inspiring company. With revenues just over $2.3 billion, it is the largest privately held software company. Its founder, Dr. Jim Goodnight is visionary in the way he treats his employees. Fortune just awarded SAS THE best company to work for. Amid a severe recession, SAS has had no layoffs. With outsourcing the norm, SAS keeps everyone from grounds people to cafeteria workers to advertising executives directly on their payroll. Then there is the on-site day care, medical care, school, gym and more at its headquarters in Cary, NC. Dr. Goodnight’s view is that if you treat employees well, they will be happier and more focused on the customer and delivering value to them. Even their subscription-based pricing model was ahead of its time, before SaaS made such pricing standard.
In the BI world, SAS is the leader in advanced analytics, but it is in a crowded second tier for BI. When I came to this event two years ago, I felt SAS was somewhat dismissive of core BI. The basics of BI – query, reporting, OLAP, dashboards-- seemed beneath them. This year, SAS did a better job of acknowledging that there are different BI requirements, with varying levels of analytic complexity and sophistication.
With IBM having acquired SPSS, SAS’s closest (but distant) competitor in advanced analytics, I thought there would be more attention on how this acquisition will affect SAS’s strategy and market dynamics. And yet, it sounded almost like a nonevent. VP and Chief Marketing Officer Jim Davis, said “IBM has a tool box that lets them sell services. We have solutions.” Indeed, the solutions account for more than a third of SAS’ revenues. With the exception of Oracle, most of SAS’ competitors don’t have a strong portfolio of analytic applications; it’s a fragmented market dominated largely by niche providers.
SAS previewed some exciting enhancements to its core BI capabilities and to its predictive modeling tools, but as analyst Merv Adrian aptly tweeted, “the dreaded NDA has reared its ugly head.” So I have to hold off writing about that until nearer the product releases. I have to say, while the tweeting and integration of tweet comments at the analyst summit (see #sassb) was probably one of the best this year, it reinforces that vendors need to have much clearer, timelier NDA guidelines. People were tweeting about non announced stuff. As you’ve read here before, I err on the side of caution.
With SAS being so forward thinking about its employees and even its pricing models, there was one thing that left me puzzled. Of all the executive and even customer presentations, there was not a single female speaker. I’m not a quota person, but with females accounting for a third of the BI workforce, it was noticeable, at least to me.
As I headed back to the airport with blue skies and breathtaking views of the mountains, I lamented that I hadn’t made time for skiing. I texted my husband, wondering if there would still be snow in Vermont at the end of March, a quick weekend getaway. I’ll let you know if we make it!
Cindi Howson, BI Scoreca