SAS: BI Giant Sends Mixed Signals

May 26, 2008

SAS Institute, one of the leaders in business analytics and the world’s largest privately-held software company, has taken several actions that signals changes at the Cary, North Carolina firm.

Prior to the company’s acquisition of Teragram, SAS moved forward with measured steps. Innovations made statisticians and business analysts giddy with excitement. The average employee dependent upon SAS reports and data noticed little if any significant change.

Now changes are coming at what appears to be faster pace. First, the company announced that it was laying off employees in its educational division. I was introduced to SAS or “sass” as my professor pronounced it at university. Other schools indoctrinated their students with SPSS, SAS Institute’s Chicago-based competitor. If you took advanced statistic, you learned one or the other, and once learned, you stuck with that toolkit unless there was a boss who made you learn the other program.

Layoffs That Weren’t

When I saw the announcement of the layoffs, it struck me as odd. Then I saw this explanation by SAS in the Charlotte News & Observer here.  Navigate to this story quickly. Traditional publishers pull articles or make them hard to find a day or two after these appear online.

The terminations rumor if true, the shift seemed to mark change in tactics in the company’s battle with SPSS. Tomorrow’s analysts use the tools learned in their university statistics and math classes. A pull back in education said to me, “We’re looking for better ways to market.”

No. SAS is adding staff, and it is not for sale. In my experience, everything is for sale, but I will take SAS at its word. The mix up in the local newspaper is peculiar. Experienced reporters don’t make these types of mistakes very often. The reporter heard something; otherwise, the story would not have found its way past the editor into the newspaper.

Teragram and Lucene

Then I cam across information in CMSWire here saying that SAS’ Teragram text processing unit was picking “up up some multilingual, natural language support with the recent integration of Teragram Linguistic Tools.”

Lucene, which I describe in some detail here, is Apache open source search engine. Lucene forms the basis of the IBM Yahoo “free” search, and it is used by many companies looking for a low-cost alternative for such basics and key word search.

With the integration of Teragram‘s tools, Lucene appears to get a steroid injection. Beefed up, Lucene should be able to give a Lucene adept a way to use taxonomies and classification schemes. These are essential if you want to provide users with “See Also” and “Use For” suggestions. The popular point-and-click interfaces such as the one I showed in my talk at the Enterprise Search Summit for the Oracle Technology Network are what users crave instead of a laundry list of search results. (In that Oracle demo I showed the Siderean Software technology implemented by Oracle here.)

If Teragram makes its bag of text processing tricks available, you will be able to provide some advanced features to blunt the edges of dull tool of key word search. Teragram provides a spell check feature and its supports different languages.

In short, the SAS Teragram move may signal a shift in marketing for the Cary, North Carolina firm. SAS once meant proprietary. With the Lucene Teragram hook up, SAS is playing an open source card.
When I step back, these two unrelated events indicate to me that staid SAS is in the midst of change. There’s increasing competition in business analytics. See my HiQube and Infobright technology makes it possible for SAS to distance itself over time from the essays. The TeragramInxight technology that SAS has integrated into its core platform. Inxight, as you may know, was a text processing tools vendor not unlike Teragram. Business Objects, a competitor to SAS, bought Inxight. Then Business Objects itself was acquired by SAP further muddying the water for integrated business analytics.

The confusion over staff changes underscore a lack of coordination. SAS had previously done a good job managing its public face. A gaffe in the home town newspaper means that communication signals were crossed, possibly due to pressures within SAS created by marketing shifts.

My view is that I now have to pay closer attention to SAS. For decades, the company hummed along like a Singer sewing machine. Now, the jerks and starts indicate that some changes are taking place. We don’t know what’s happening. We do know that the competitive arena in the once quiet business and text analytics market niche are becoming evident. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Stephen Arnold, May 25, 2008


2 Responses to “SAS: BI Giant Sends Mixed Signals”

  1. Steve Polilli on May 30th, 2008 3:51 pm

    A note of clarification: the basis for the blog posting is a two-year old article in the SAS hometown paper, the Raleigh News & Observer. That article discusses rumors of layoffs that never happened. In a May 24, 2008 article, the same paper reports on a reorganization in the SAS education practice that affected 14 positions. The current news can be seen at

    To be clear, I work in SAS marketing, but I want to be sure the facts are straight. SAS passed the $2 billion mark and the changes in our education practice are unfortunate for the folks involved, but aren’t a sign of trouble at SAS. We’re shooting for $3 billion annual sales by 2010.

  2. Stephen E. Arnold on May 31st, 2008 12:57 am

    The squawking goose thanks you for the correction. RSS feeds can baffle a 64-year-old geezer. I’ll keep my eye on SAS and try to figure out the difference between 2008 and 2006. .
    Stephen Arnold, May 31, 2008

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