SAS Skips BI Acquisition Feeding Frenzy

IT will continue to struggle to manage a wide portfolio of vendors, executive says

In the midst of a spate of activity in the usually somnolent business intelligence (BI) space, SAS Institute Inc.—probably the largest BI player with more than $1 billion in annual revenues—has been strangely quiet.

We spoke recent with Don Hatcher, SAS’ vice president of technology strategy, about the recent round of consolidation in the BI space. Hatcher confirms that SAS probably won’t be making any acquisitions of its own, even as he touts the enhanced reporting capabilities that his company is delivering in the forthcoming version 9.1 of its end-to-end BI suite. At the same time, Hatcher takes a few jabs at Business Objects and Hyperion, who he says don’t necessarily have the best interests of their customers—new and old—at heart.

With the recent spate of acquisitions and a trend toward consolidation in the BI space, should we expect a move of some kind from SAS any time soon?

We feel very comfortable with what we have to offer in the space. SAS 9.1 is in the early adopters stage right now, and when it’s available [later this year] it will be extremely competitive, if not have some advantages over our competitors in the marketplace right now. So we don’t feel that we need to look elsewhere when we already have these capabilities [in SAS 9.1].

Any thoughts on the recent round of consolidation in the BI industry?

It’s an interesting set of acquisitions. I think that one of the things that hasn’t been talked about is, Does this really benefit customers? Especially today when IT organizations in particular are under a lot of pressure right now to consolidate their IT portfolios. Business Objects, with their Crystal purchase, while they have enhanced some of their pain points, when it comes to enterprise performance, they have done little to reduce the size of the portfolio for their customers.

As for Brio, they’ve been shopped around for years. They’ve been on the market for years and they’ve been losing a lot of talent. With Hyperion acquiring them, it seems pretty clear that their goal is not to extend [Brio’s] capabilities in the BI tool marketplace but to supplement their BPM solution. And to me that raises a lot of questions for all of the people using Brio’s software now.

[As a result of both acquisitions] IT is going to continue to struggle to have to manage a wide portfolio of vendors … We don’t believe that this is in the customers’ best interests. Spending time integrating products is a non-value-adding activity.

Will SAS deliver any reporting enhancements in SAS 9.1 to compete with the new reporting engines that Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion will introduce?

We have a number of new interfaces that reach out to the broader BI audiences. We’ve had our portal for a couple of years now, and we also are coming out with a Web-based ad hoc query and reporting tool that is very much focused at domain experts. These are who were hired for their domain expertise, not necessarily for their technical competence.

We’re coming out with Reports Studio, which is a little more of a higher-end tool focused primarily at power users, which are domain users who happen mostly to be technically competent. There’s also SAS Integration Component, [along with] integration with the Microsoft Office suite, but we do it in a controlled manner so that [users] don’t get themselves in trouble … Users can …create a stored process that can be exploited from within Office.

Our [SAS] 8.2 release provides the end-to-end platform, [while] 9.1 just takes it to a new level by adding capabilities that allow 80 percent of the enterprise to leverage business intelligence. Business Objects, they’re basically solving their scalability problem from a more enterprise-reporting capability. They’ve been much more focused on the ad hoc query side of things. We kind of feel like we’re taking on the easy stuff now, while for 26 years we were focused on getting the hard stuff done.

About the Author

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