SAS Emphasizes Data Integration Strengths

SAS—the data mining and analysis specialist-cum-BI power—left little doubt about its strategy in the data integration space.

It’s that time of year again. Every spring—i.e., when April with its showers sweet is poised to pierce the drought of March—the swallows return to Capistrano, the tax man gets ready to cometh, and SAS Institute Inc. convenes its annual SAS Users Group International (SUGI) confab. Past SUGI galas have set the stage for major doings on SAS’ part, and this one was no different.

This time around, SAS focused mostly on data integration. The Cary, N.C.-based BI giant last month announced a range of new enhancements for its new SAS Enterprise Data Integration Server—a re-branded and expanded version of the former SAS Enterprise ETL Server—including improved data quality capabilities, a revamped ETL design tool, the formation of a special data integration services team, and the availability of additional data integration services. SAS expects to deliver the revamped Data Integration Server in July.

Elsewhere, SAS announced a laundry list of improvements to its vertical BI offerings, including updates for SAS Anti-Money Laundering, Credit Risk Management, Fair Banking, Warranty Analysis, Marketmax Allocation, Markdown Optimization, and Promotion Optimization. SAS also announced products for several new verticals, including Service Parts Optimization, Revenue Assurance for Telecommunications, and Price Plan Optimization for Telecommunications.

Making Sense of Data Integration

Informatica Corp. and IBM Corp. might be the most recognizable names in data integration, but SAS—according to some industry watchers—is second only to Informatica (and ahead of Big Blue, nee Ascential) in the enterprise ETL segment. Even before Informatica or the former Ascential got wise to the important relationship between ETL and data quality, SAS was a power play there, too—thanks to its acquisition, five years ago, of DataFlux. In fact, market watcher International Data Corp. (IDC) pegged SAS as the number one overall provider of data warehouse generation tools (a segment which includes both ETL and data quality products) in terms of revenue for the 2004 year.

As for the new Enterprise Data Integration Server enhancements, SAS officials say, they’re designed to help struggling companies come to terms with a range of new data integration problems. “Most organizations struggle because other vendors cannot deliver all the critical elements of a comprehensive, effective data integration solution,” said Jim Davis, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer with SAS, in a statement. “SAS Data Integration helps solve a broad range of issues in the enterprise as data volumes explode, further complicated by mergers, acquisitions and the ongoing need to modernize aging systems.”

One of the most important deliverables in the new release is Data Integration Studio 3.4 (a re-branding and updating of the former ETL Studio 3.3; SAS’ spin on the proverbial drag-and-drop ETL workshop), which will be outfitted for SOA. According to SAS officials, the revamped design tool will include a new XML integration feature and can support dynamic Web service deployments in SOA settings. What’s more, says Shawn Willet, a principal analyst for application infrastructure with Current Analysis, SAS’ revamped data integration design tool will be provisionally outfitted for business activity monitoring (BAM), too.

“[Data Integration Studio 3.4] moves closer to providing business activity monitoring with the addition of message queue read/write support and leverages tighter integration with data quality software from its DataFlux subsidiary,” he writes, noting that SAS plans additional tweaks in future releases. “Plans for SAS Data Integration Studio 4.1, due early in 2007, focus on ease of use through an improved user interface and debugging.”

Elsewhere in the new release, SAS plans to flesh out its data quality story, borrowing from its DataFlux subsidiary to beef up Data Integration Server’s profiling, monitoring, cleansing, and verification capabilities. The new release will also incorporate customer data integration (CDI) technology to help companies synchronize, consolidate and manage customer information.

SAS also launched a data integration focus team to help customers assess their data integration needs and deliver customized solutions designed for customer environments. In addition, SAS will create a data integration focus as part of its global Business Intelligence Competency Center program; and will host a series of Webinars designed to help BI pros improve their knowledge and understanding of data integration issues.

Finally, SAS is putting its money where its mouth is. The BI giant plans to increase its data integration R&D by 15 percent in both 2006 and 2007 to help develop a universal data integration platform.

Current Analysis’ Willet says he likes what he’s seen of SAS’ new data integration enhancements, but comments that the company still needs to do more to promote its strengthening data integration story.

“SAS has some really powerful product enhancements with SAS Data Integration Studio 3.4, but has done a poor job of relating these to the public,” he writes. “The new SOA capabilities hold the potential to transform ETL for use for one data mart or data warehouse to a reusable, enterprise-wide service for many projects. This type of messaging could truly help SAS shake perceptions that it is closed and proprietary.”

SAS Updates, Launches Vertical BI Tools

SAS has developed several highly successful vertical BI offerings—including its Anti-Money Laundering and Credit Risk Management solutions. At last month’s SUGI, SAS announced a range of new enhancements for these and other vertical BI tools. SAS Anti-Money Laundering, for example, gets a data integration-centric update thanks to improved interoperability with SAS Data Integration Studio. SAS Credit Risk Management, on the other hand, gets a reporting makeover, such that information can be more easily shared throughout an organization.

SAS has outfitted its Fair Banking tool with new analytics designed to help lenders track global exposure; SAS Warranty Analysis boasts improved integration with standard desktop tools; SAS Marketmax Allocation supports advanced and user-defined allocations, along with industry-standard allocation methods; SAS Markdown Optimization gets a scalability injection to help it better handle large-volume markdown and clearance events; SAS Promotion Optimization provides improved support for complex promotions, as well as enhanced event and scenario analysis and planning capabilities.

SAS’ new offerings include: Service Parts Optimization, a tool that helps companies improve after-sale support by forecasting demand for parts and optimizing inventories; SAS Revenue Assurance for Telecommunications (slated to ship later this year), a tool that helps communications service provider manage their revenue streams and minimize revenue leakage; and SAS Price Plan Optimization for Telecommunications (also shipping later this year), which is designed to help providers improve operational performance and customer satisfaction by identifying price plans with the highest returns for the operator and the highest preference among customers.

About the Author

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