It's no secret that I'm no longer a big fan of SAS software. After being a proponent from 1980 to 2000, I found and then adopted the more modern statistical platform S+. Shortly thereafter, I discovered S's open source cousin, R, and have been a been a strong advocate ever since. The freely-available contributions of R's world-wide community never cease to amaze me.

Regardless of my viewpoints, SAS continues to be the market leader in statistics and analytics, dwarfing its commercial competition in annual revenues. SAS's size and stature provide leadership and education to a market that's now taking off – and will no doubt accelerate over the next ten years. Indeed, SAS's continued success creates a rising tide that lifts all analytics boats. And the competition between the statistical big three – SAS, IBM SPSS and R – will be a major boon for both business and analytics practitioners going forward.

SAS does a great job both marketing analytics and positioning its platform as the analytics “answer”. As an illustration, I just received the latest SAS Business Report, an excellent compendium of company activities, product marketing, education, customer testimonials and research. Two articles especially caught my eye. The first, The New World of Business Analytics, was written by Competing on Analytics author Tom Davenport. The second, Driven by Data: The Importance of Building a Culture of Fact-Based Decision-Making, reports on executive research commissioned by SAS to BusinessWeek Research Services. I found both of these pieces to be quite informative, notwithstanding their clear ties to SAS technology.

Davenport, who often collaborates with SAS, exploits his Competing on Analytics cachet to propose a definition of “business analytics”, juxtaposing it favorably with what he sees as the now-stale “business intelligence”. Using a rambling, poorly-crafted Wikipedia definition as a straw man, Davenport depicts BI as a vague, commoditized term that long ago lost its identity. His definition of business analytics as the “broad use of data and quantitative analysis for decisionmaking within organizations” aspires to a higher mathematical calling than BI, and also brings a focus to business decisions.

I'm fine with de-emphasizing the term business intelligence for a cogent definition of business analytics. More than anything, I seek a consistent understanding of either for day-to-day use. SAS, of course, is beneficiary of the change from business intelligence to business analytics, the latter more gratifyingly depicting the company sweet spot.

Driven by Data appears to address many of my concerns about BI research. BWRS recently “launched a research program to determine the attitudes and opinions of C-level executives with regard to the use and value of business analytics. The research program was designed to understand how companies can optimize business analytics to improve fact-based decision-making.” For Driven by Data, an online survey was completed by 101 C-level respondents of leading large and midsize companies who are members of the BusinessWeek Market Advisory Board, a panel of 20,000+ business executives. Funded by a grant from SAS, the research was conducted independently by BWRS with no editorial input from BusinessWeek or SAS.

Of the forced-choice survey questions, strong responses to inquires about the:

  1. Ideal outcomes of business analytics initiatives
  2. Leading obstacles to success BA execution
  3. Importance of factors to successful BA deployment and,
  4. Level of agreement to the following statements about company experience with BA,
    are most informative.

The surveyed executives see a fact-based decisionmaking culture, a performance measurement focus and strategic alignment as major benefits of BA initiatives. Executive sponsorship and an existing PM orientation are key enablers. Siloed departments, resource constraints, data quality problems and difficulties operationalizing the fact-based approach, on the other hand, are inhibitors. Companies without evidence-based management are wanting in data quality, lacking in data stewardship, short on meta data and generally unhappy with the current state of their data warehouse.
Overall, I found my investment in the latest SAS Business Report to be well worthwhile. Even as an unabashed pro-SAS marketing document, it's not difficult to separate SAS promotion from substantive analytics writing. And collaboration with thought leaders like Tom Davenport and the research arm of media powerhouse BusinessWeek assures high quality content no matter what the reader's analytics platform preference.

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