I recently attended SAS Institute’s analyst relations conference. There the company provided updates on its financial performance and its Viya platform and a glimpse into some of its future plans.
Financially the company reported another year of growth for 2016, growing 4 percent in constant dollars. Although it is slight in U.S. dollars (1.3%), that growth in constant dollars represents approximately $120 million, which exceeds the total revenue of many software companies in the data and analytics space. I mention these figures because although it is the largest independent analytics software company, SAS doesn’t get always get the respect it deserves. (I discussed this issue in general in Big Vendors Deserve Some Respect.) Having worked at companies that partnered with SAS, I know that their processes are designed not for speed but for reliability. A consistently growing revenue base is one indication that enterprises value this approach.
SAS introduced Viya at last year’s event, which I covered although analysts had to agree not to talk about it pending the public launch at SAS Global Forum that now has become public information. Viya now has become the core analytics platform for SAS. The company has used the transition to the Viya platform as an opportunity to rearchitect for the cloud, using Cloud Foundry, a PaaS technology, to provide support for public and private clouds and on-premises deployments. Viya also provides a modern user interface for both desktop and mobile deployments combined with in-memory responsiveness to support the visual discovery capabilities required for self-service analytics.
Viya continues to hold center stage as the company rounds out the platform. Over the past year SAS has delivered a number of products on Viya, including Visual Analytics, Visual Statistics, Visual Data Mining and Visual Forecasting. It will continue to bring other parts of the SAS portfolio to the Viya platform, and add some new products including data preparation and data quality, which were listed on its product roadmap. SAS co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight even kicked off the event demonstrating a prototype of Amazon’s Alexa voice interface on Viya. Our firm has been impressed with Viya and recognized it with our 2016 Ventana Technology Innovation Award for the business analytics category.
At the event, recently appointed CTO Oliver Shabenberger talked about some of the future directions SAS is exploring. He said he was talking about “the art of the possible” and discussed some of the research the SAS is conducting rather than going into specific product directions. He and other executives stressed artificial intelligence and machine learning. We can expect to see these technologies to become more prominent in general; in effect they extend what SAS has been doing for years. Ventana Research will be conducting research on machine learning soon. Other themes SAS discussed included cognitive computing, which my colleague Mark Smith has written about; hardware acceleration, which makes some analyses perform much faster; and edge analytics for the Internet of Things. More than half (53%) of organizations in our IoT benchmark research said that processing events at the edge of the network is important or very important.
As last year’s event, SAS began introducing open APIs and insisting on the “openness” of the SAS platform. There was some skepticism among the analyst community, myself included, but SAS has persisted. The company does not intend to open source its entire platform, but its executives recognize the value of participating in a community that can extend and add value to its ecosystem. SAS has embraced open source technologies such as Linux and Hadoop and now is surrounding the platform with REST APIs for the open source community. To my surprise, the event featured several customers who spoke of both their strong open source commitments and their willingness to invest in SAS products.
There was little talk about data management at the event, but it is such a critical part of the analytic process that I was briefed on it recently and will include an update on that. SAS continues to invest in Hadoop. It supports five distributions – Cloudera, IBM Big Insights, Hortonworks, MapR and Pivotal HD, even though Pivotal no longer distributes Hadoop. This is an example of where this big company should get some respect. SAS has customers running Pivotal HD and continues to support it for that reason. It has integrated the capabilities of SAS Data Loader for Hadoop with the SAS 9.4 platform, offering more enterprise features and making it easier to deploy and manage throughout the enterprise. The other key area of investment around data management tools is to provide integration between SAS 9.4 and SAS Viya. With the emphasis on Viya noted above, this certainly makes sense.
SAS continues to deliver new and enhanced functionality in its products. It has proven itself to be a reliable partner for enterprises that need analytics delivered in an enterprise-grade system. The new products demonstrate some innovation that can attract new customers as well. If you are considering analytics vendors to help you squeeze more value out of your data, I recommend you include SAS in your evaluations.
SVP & Research Director