Turnkey Data Mining from SAS/Unisys Partnership

New analytics package bundles software, hardware, and consulting

Taking a cue from scalable data warehousing specialist Teradata, Unisys Corp., SAS Institute Inc., and Sigma Marketing Group this week unveiled a new prepackaged analytics offering that exploits SAS software optimized to run on Unisys’ ES7000 servers.

The new offering, called Z3 Customer Analytics, is positioned as a complement to existing customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) solutions. It mines data gathered from CRM applications for business intelligence. The offering also bundles services from CRM systems integrator Sigma Marketing Group. The three partners are presenting the bundle as a turnkey CRM solution suitable for mid-market and large enterprise customers.

Don Montgomery, program director for Unisys business intelligence programs, says that the new offering eliminates the problems of software and hardware acquisition, along with the process of testing and deployment during implementation. Instead, he notes, Z3 Customer Analytics begins delivering return on investment within the first quarter after it is deployed. “We’ve collapsed all those steps [software and hardware acquisition, testing, and deployment] down into one step—the customer signing on—and what we’re telling them is that they can buy today and start realizing return on investment next quarter. We expect that that in turn is going to yield one year pay back in total.”

To that end, the combined offering is not initially tested in customer environments. Instead, says Montgomery, Unisys and Sigma Marketing Group first build the solution and test it to customer specifications in any of several Unisys Centers of Excellence. When it comes time to implement the solution, Montgomery explains, marketing consultants with Sigma Marketing Group are placed on site to oversee the final phases of deployment.

Unisys and SAS have collaborated to ratchet up integration between SAS’ business software—Warehouse Administrator and Business Miner—and Unisys’ ES7000 systems, which, for the purposes of the Z3 Customer Analytics offering, will be outfitted with a complement of from eight to 32 Intel Xeon microprocessors.

Unisys’ ES7000 systems have been described as “Intel mainframes” by many analysts, and Montgomery says SAS’ applications will be optimized to exploit the extended memory, enhanced I/O, and large SMP capabilities of the ES7000. “It’s a component of code that Unisys brings to the table—certain routines that allow the SAS software to run extremely efficiently on the ES7000.”

With its emphasis on tight integration between business intelligence (BI) software and its underlying hardware, the Z3 Customer Analytics bundle is not unlike BI solutions marketed by Teradata, a subsidiary of NCR Corp. Teradata develops solutions for decision support, CRM, and data warehousing that are designed to run on NCR hardware. This has allowed the company to carve out a high-end niche based largely on the raw processing power of its integrated platform, speculates Mike Schiff, a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies.

Unisys’ Montgomery acknowledges that his company and SAS were mindful of Teradata’s example when they developed Z3 Customer Analytics. “We set out very deliberately to emulate the tight integration of Teradata,” he says. At the same time, he adds, the combined offering will not scale to manage the large volumes of data managed by Teradata’s offerings. “This is not a solution that’s gong to scale past seven or eight TB of usable data, and that’s not our target. Teradata does very well in the 10-TB-and-up market; I think this solution is a one TB to two TB usable data solution.”

The three partners outline a variety of usage scenarios that will drive uptake of the new offering. One potential application is in large enterprises—retail and telecommunications companies—that have already deployed CRM and sales force automation solutions. “What they probably aren’t doing yet is mining all of that data and really turning it into something useful, for example, being able to identify the most profitable customers on an hourly basis. There’s the return on investment—to tell those companies where to apply marketing dollars and promotional dollars, [and] sales and field promotions.”

Other potential customers include mid-market accounts, largely by virtue of a $1 million starting price that includes Unisys and SAS testing and modeling and Sigma Marketing Group consulting services. “With the rapid return on investment, this is an investment those CFOs [in mid-market accounts] can sign off on,” argues Montgomery.

Among analysts, MAS Strategies’ Schiff expects that a turnkey all-in-one data mining solution could be a hit with customers looking to extract more value from their existing CRM solutions. “A couple of things about this strike me—the credibility that SAS brings to the table and the fact that it’s turnkey.”

SAS has an excellent reputation among its installed base, Schiff points out, but is viewed by some prospective customers as difficult to use. In this respect, he suggests, the integrated Z3 Customer Analytics consulting services should do much to ease potential concerns. “A knock against SAS is that some people say you need a BI ‘priesthood’ to get anything out of it. I think this is a myth, but if you’re concerned about it, the integrated consulting [services] should make you feel better.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.