SAS Puts a BI Spin on Time-Tested IT Management Practices

New product exploits scorecard analytics to present information in a way that’s intelligible to executive decision-makers.

Last week, SAS Institute Inc. announced new versions of its IT Management Solutions products, a suite of analytic tools that support service-level analysis, chargeback, activity-based costing, and other business-alignment metrics.

Privately held SAS first made its name as a data-mining specialist but has since expanded into the predictive analytics and business intelligence (BI) markets. What’s more, since 1996, SAS has also marketed analytic tools for IT organizations, under the umbrella term SAS IT Management Solutions.

What’s new, SAS officials say, is that the IT Management products are pegged to the SAS9 BI platform release SAS announced earlier this year. This allows them to tap SAS9 enhancements—such as improved integration, the new Web Studio, and enhanced ETL—to perform more comprehensive analysis.

To date, SAS IT Management Solutions has been a popular option in large enterprise shops, says Dan Minto, global head of IT management strategy with SAS: Fully 40 percent of its customers are mainframe shops that use it for its IT resource management or chargeback capabilities. While SAS has a traditionally strong mainframe presence, Minto says his company has seen interest from new and existing customers alike.

There’s a good reason for this, he argues. “The products that we’re offering enable CIOs to actually solve business pains that they’re experiencing today. CIOs need to be able to align themselves with business today. They need to be able to talk about the services they’re delivering [and] how they’re performing in their organizations. Typically the way CIOs do that or how they’ve done it in the past is they have four or five people who sit and correlate data at the end of the month to try to come up with what those service levels are. We obviously think we’ve got a better way.”

SAS’ IT Management suite uses scorecard analytics to track user-defined metrics and present them—via reports, graphs, and summaries—in a way that is intelligible to executive decision-makers. It consists of four discrete offerings: SAS IT Resource Management, SAS IT Charge Management, SAS IT Service Level Management, and SAS IT Value Management. The products help ensure that information technology systems perform as designed, accommodate consumption and growth, operate efficiently, and deliver the greatest business value possible.

While practices such as chargeback aren’t new, Minto says SAS’ expertise in the BI and analytic spaces helps to differentiate it from many of its competitors. As a result, he says, SAS promises a new wrinkle on many time-tested IT management practices.

Take IT resource management, for example. “You’re able to look at the availability and also do forecasting and trending of what kind of availability you would need in the future,” Minto says. Forecasting, trending, and predictive analysis are “the kinds of thing SAS has specialized in for decades.”

In this case, Minto observes, SAS has married forecasting and trending to common IT metrics such as availability. He uses the example of a bank that plans to launch a large marketing campaign to entice new customers over the Internet.

“IT needs to be able to assure that line of business that they’re going to be able to have the resources available, and that they’ll have the bandwidth available to be able to handle all of that traffic and do all that work,” he says. Effective trending analysis can allow a CIO to decide whether or not—and if so, to what degree—the organization must upgrade its infrastructure to ensure that IT systems are available and reliable enough to support the new campaign.

Chargeback has always been seen as "either you use capacity or you don’t." This worked in a paradigm when IT was seen as less business dependent, or more of its own autonomous ecosystem. But in the new paradigm—where IT is understood almost entirely in terms of business processes—it’s unacceptable. Instead of merely charging lines of business for the capacity or resources they use, then, SAS officials say IT departments must provide value-added services, perhaps pegged to trending and analysis, in which—for example—utilization can be projected over time. This allows managers in discrete lines of business to more effectively budget their own resources, and helps to enhance IT’s relationship with that line of business.

Of course, Minto promises the usual benefits associated with chargeback. “We’re able to go to the different lines of business, or to the different independent groups within an organization, and show them the actual machine utilization and machine consumption that they’re using,” he acknowledges. “What that allows you to do is to sort of drive the cost to the right cost-causers or to the right organizations within the line of business or the company. And it allows you to sort of get to where a lot of organizations want to get, where you’re fully allocating all of the costs of IT out to the lines of business.”

Aside from helping improve IT’s relationship with executive decision-makers and different lines of business, Minto argues that SAS’ IT Management offerings can help organizations save money, too. Take service level management, for example, which is the costly bane of CIOs and many IT decision-makers.

“Instead of having seven or eight people doing service-level management, you can probably do it with one or two,” he says. “Or from a resource management perspective, it allows the capacity planners and the availability managers to understand where those hotspots are in their network and to move traffic around to some of the more underutilized hardware pieces in their network, and it can also help guide on whether they need to make new purchases.”

About the Author

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