I recently attended SAS’s European analyst event, where I went to focus on new developments around customer intelligence, an application of big data that SAS includes in its high-performance analytics and visual analytics. SAS offers an amazing number and range of products that is hard to keep track of, so I was glad to get a sense that now it is focusing more on business solutions built with data visualization and discovery, big data, data management, cloud computing, marketing analytics (which appears to be the new branding for customer intelligence) and enterprise decision management. It appears that the European event followed closely the lines of the U.S. event my colleague Mark Smith attended; he offers an analysis of the company’s wider messages.
In my areas of interest SAS showed some pertinent developments. As I mentioned, it is now marketing customer intelligence as marketing and customer analytics. Last year its customer intelligence product focused on bringing together as much transactional data related to customers as possible and building from it complete pictures of the customers and their relationships with the company using the software. SAS appears to accept that in the future marketing departments will “own” the customer, and so it is bundling the products it acquired with Assetlink and customer analytics to help users build targeted marketing campaigns and track the success of those campaigns. I am not one of the analysts who subscribes to this view of Marketing’s dominance. In my opinion most CMOs don’t watch ads on TV, they don’t read newspapers so they don’t see print ads, they see email as a file transfer mechanism rather than a true communication tool, and they don’t realize that direct mail has become just junk. This isolation creates challenges in keeping up with consumers’ broadening communication preferences, which take away the main channels of old-style marketing. What is important now is the customer experience, at every touch point. These touches occur across the organization, and so I believe that we must see customer analytics in a wide perspective.
When it comes to big data, during an executive Q&A session SAS CEO Jim Goodnight was dismissive of the trend, saying it is nothing new and that SAS has been analyzing big data forever. To a large degree, I agree with him. Companies have always had lots of customer data – financial transactions, CRM records, letters, email and so on – and have managed to process it. What has changed, again, is the importance of the customer experience in conjunction with the much larger volumes of data customers generate because of their communication preferences. Despite pronouncements to the contrary from pundits and vendors, consumers still make millions of phone calls to companies. The information in these communications has largely gone unused, but companies now realize they contain valuable insights about customers, products and services that they want to discover. Then of course there is social media. The volume of posts has exploded, and companies need to find the tiny amounts that relate to them and to use those insights also to address customers’ issues and likely actions. Including phone calls and social media in customer data brings us into the realm of big data and the need to process the data in real time. Many customer experiences happen in real time – the phone call, the chat session, the post to social media – and to properly respond to interactions, companies need to know the customer and put the interaction into context so they can provide consistent, personalized responses. During one of the event sessions, we were shown how the SAS architecture lends itself to processing large volumes of data and producing the results in near real time, and thus is ideally placed to support the customer experience. SAS has planned product announcements for later this year, and when they arrive I hope to see that SAS has added processing of call recordings to the product.
Another big change has happened in the last year or so: We have all gone crazy for smartphones and tablets. It seems as if no one wants to sit at a desk any more, and everyone wants to work on the move. Vendors have to realize that they need to provide capabilities for people to work while mobile. The SAS visual analytics product is its version of what my colleague Tony Cosentino calls mobile analytics which is continuing to grow according to our next generation business intelligence research and deployments . It enables access to the outputs of analysis on a smart device, typically an iPad. The demonstration we saw shows that such outputs can be visualized in just about any way users require, and users can click on a display to see the detail behind the information. What is different is that it also provides capabilities to build customized analysis models on the smart device using point-and-click techniques. Results of the custom analysis are delivered back to the smart device, and the user can choose for the results to be updated as the back-end system data changes or to wait until rerunning the analysis. Once more the importance of gaining real-time insight into customer experiences makes these types of capabilities a “must have” in today’s competitive markets.
SAS is a very successful company, as was illustrated by its impressive financial results, growing employee numbers and an even faster growing ecosystem of partners. Its huge range of products can be built into solutions for specific customers or market segments. As it focuses more on solutions, especially around the customer, I hope to see less emphasis on marketing and more on broader customer-facing activities and the customer experience. SAS has the products, with the current exception of speech analytics, to build what is commonly termed the “360 degree view of the customer” and which my research shows is something many companies lack as they try to support these vital customer-facing activities. Given the plans we heard about for the coming year, SAS should be one of the vendors on companies’ short lists to support such initiatives.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director