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SAS Visual Analytics: What’s Happening to SAS BI?

Submitted by on 2013-06-11 – 9:29 AM 6 Comments

With all the hype about the SAS Visual Analytics product, you start to wonder what is the plan for the SAS BI/EBI? During the SAS Global Forum 2013 opening session, Jim Davis pointed out that Forrester Research had selected SAS as the leader in strategy and current product offering with the Big Data Predictive Analytics Solutions.  [SAS made this report free to download here.]

Forrester had a 51-criteria evaluation for the 10 product offering. The lead analyst, Mike Gualtieri, was interviewed on the Science of Better podcast where he discussed the evaluation process and provided some insights about the world of predictive analytics.  He commented the report was written for data users who want a better understanding the state of the market.  [Listen to the 30-minute interview here.]

Big Data vs Proactive Analytics – Know the Difference

Davis focused his talk on the need for fact-based decision making, which means you need the answers in seconds not weeks.  He noted that the terms Big Data and Analytics were being used interchangeably in the market and he thought the differences needed clarification. He presented a Capability Segmentation chart that compared Data Size to Analytic Capability.

comparing big data to predictive analytics

The reactive analytics and large data is how traditional BI (1) is used. He gave examples such as alerts, OLAP, reporting, etc.  As the organization moves forward and collects millions upon millions rows of data – they may find themselves with big data; however if they are continuing to use the same reporting techniques it’s really just Big Data BI (2).  In other words, more data, same reactive approach.  Reactive data has it’s place, but there may be more to gain from predictive or proactive analytics.

Proactive analytics is about being ahead of the game.  Davis called this area the current market “hotspot”.  He gave examples of proactive analytics such as marketing optimization and predicting issues so you can respond to customer requests quicker.  This quadrant (3) uses large dataset but the analytics are different.

The last quadrant(4) focused on huge datasets and using the proactive analytics. As the data becomes larger, it’s more difficult to use with existing tools.  This is where the high performance hardware need arises.  One example he gave was repricing a huge department store’s inventory, where there may be over 300 million SKU combinations.  Before it would have taken a week, with the new hardware and software – it can become hours or minutes.  Wow.

This is impressive – I have waited 8 hours  for a job to complete with a deadline looming before.  While Davis calls it reactive analytics or reporting – I prefer the term “real”  as in “Here is the real number of  products you  sold yesterday” or even “actual”, as in “Here is the actual number of rats that died from your product.”   All joking aside, I can see where predictive analytics would be a little more fun.

As I was listening – I was a impressed but stunned. It seemed like Davis was saying “SAS EBI is so yesterday.”  [Check out the Opening Session here.  Davis’ talk starts around 10:53 mark.] I listened to the re-broadcast and now I believe his intention was more about selling the new Visual Analytics Explorer that allows more on-the-fly data analysis for non-statisticians and meeting the new demands for the business environment.  The software handles more of the predictive analysis to help the user along.   This point was discussed in the  Whirlwind Tour Around SAS® Visual Analytics paper presented later in the week.

Big Data Guy was Entertaining


After Davis was finished, the session focused on some customers [JP Morgan Chase, Lenovo] using  the product and what value they have received. It’s interesting to see how these companies are using big data and predicting what is going to happen.

Oh … check out the Big Data commercial at 19:18.  I thought it was really cute. There were some others later on that were even cuter.

The opening session also shows some of the SAS 9.4 plans, which are way cool.  I’m watching my inbox to see when  it is available.


What is Happening to SAS BI?

In the BI panel discussion, Stuart Nisbet, VP of BI R&D, said that SAS fully supported the SAS EBI product and would investing in it’s development.  The SAS 9.4 release would contain 200 new features – more details here and here.  I spoke with him afterward and he was clear that SAS will continue to support the BI product line.  He encouraged me to attend Rick Styll’s  “New Features for the SAS Enterprise BI Server 9.3” discussion about the SAS 9.3.  Check out the end his “What’s New in SAS EBI 9.3” paper because he details the coming attractions for SAS EBI 9.4, due later this summer.  [Also here’s a link to Rick’s Webinar about SAS EBI 9.3.]

SAS sees the EBI and VA products as serving different customer needs and thus different products.  The VA product line is targeted to non-SAS programmers and generally non statisticians.  They see that customer as someone who wants to explore the data and have the tool help with selecting the visualizations.  Also the VA tool is designed to work with the high performance  SAS LASR Analytic Server hardware.  [Update: Check out What I learned Over the Summer about SAS Visual Analytics for some more answers about SAS VA.]

In Cindi Howson’s review she noted that the SAS EBI solution only had 3.2% growth in 2013 compared to other vendors who had double-digit growth.  Ugh – I’ve used some of the other vendors products and this rating is simply startling.  Does make me wonder if some of these analysts actually have to use these products – it can be painful.  However, it might explain why SAS is more focused on being the leader of the Visual Analytics pack.

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Tricia Aanderud

Director of Data Visualization at Zencos Consulting
Tricia Aanderud is a SAS Business Intelligence and Visual Analytics consultant based in Raleigh, NC who works for Zencos Consulting. She has written several books about SAS, presented papers at many SAS conferences, and has been using SAS since 2001. Contact her for assistance with your next project.
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  • Tricia says:

    Good points Nick. I think you are correct in your assessments. I have a customer getting ready to demo the tool, so I’ll be curious for their feedback and even to watch them play on the tool. I think EG can be daunting to a new SAS user – so VA may be what is needed.

    One thing I learned at the SGF2013 was some tools they were creating for the SAS VA 6.2 that allows users to convert information maps into database views. From what I understood – it would do simple info maps to start and then move to info maps with stored processes and then info maps based on OLAP cubes.

    Since it’s VA is a different way to use the data – I can see where upgrade paths and the like would be more of a challenge for the 2 tools.

    I think SAS has the same issue as any other company – “How do we keep this lights on?” By that I simply mean they have to sell stuff to stay in business.

    But I’m like any other customer as well – I have to save money to stay in business and I can’t always purchase all the shiny things I see.

    I appreciate SAS’s approach and diligence to customer service so I’ll be curious to see how they navigate these waters.

    Please continue to share your thoughts.

  • Tricia says:

    I cannot answer your question about the SPWA – but I will try to find out.
    In the meantime – I think Don Henderson’s new book on SAS Server Pages is right up your alley! Check here []. If you recall – Don wrote the book on SAS/IntRnet book and this book seems to continue with that line of thought.

    Don discusses how to go way past stored processes and create some of the missing features of the EBI tool. He has included videos to demonstrate how the output works.

    He also demonstrates how to use the experimental PROC STREAM. More here:

    I’ll be curious to know your thoughts on that!

  • Nick Rose says:

    Thanks for the info Tricia. It is interesting that, on the Web Report Studio discussion forum(, I raised my concern over the future of EBI and WRS in May 2012, and there was a plan to issue a roadmap within a few weeks time, but SAS are still to do so. My feeling is that the original intention to release deprecation plans for EBI was revised, and they are still looking into ways of supporting both platforms until they work out how to reconcile the two. This however is speculation on my part.

    I have been openly critical of Visual analytics, not because I think it is not a useful tool (in fact, it looks like remarkable technology), but because it has diverted development away from WRS and the EBI platform. The approach of putting most of their R&D into VA is punishing the early adopters of new versions. Our organisation has been quick to take up new versions of SAS and we are planning to implement 9.4 as soon as it is released. However, the improvement to WRS are minimal (the next version is 4.4). For those who don’t upgrade readily, the lack of development has little effect, whilst, those who are just purchasing a BI solution benefit from bundles that include both solutions. The rest of us who do want to benefit from improvements in technology have to work out how to migrate our EBI content to VA, and what effect this will have on our budget, not only in time spent for re-development, but also new licensing fees.

    The other concern with VA is that I don’t really feel it is a tool for the non-statistician. I have had a play around with the trial on the web, and, you really have to know your way around the data, understand dimensions and measures, how to combine them in graphs and tables, and make sense of the numbers. The value of WRS and EBI comes from the fact that our organisation can control the content so that the user only analyses and interprets what makes sense, rather than dredging around and making invalid conclusions. Our analysts use Enterprise Guide, and it is here where I think the improvements in hardware seen in VA can benefit the user. The user, in this environment is usually a statistician, and can better understand and interpret relationships seen in the data.

    I believe that SAS has changed their approach to try and support and/or integrate both platforms in response to these concerns, and I must commend them on this. If we do want best value for EBI customers who have supported the platform over the years, and built content with the expectation of continued support and development, then we should express any concerns to SAS. My request, is that any future development should allow the VA web interface to compliment and/or replace WRS without needing to purchase new licenses, or configure new hardware.

    Thanks again,


  • Quentin says:

    Hi Tricia,
    Great post! Since I’m a late comer to SAS BI, I can admit to some worries that it might be left behind for VA. So glad to see evidence of SAS’s commitment to it. That said, even within the SAS BI world, I’ve spent more time learning the Stored Process Web App than I have on WRS. Was sorry to see that in Rick’s paper, when he lists the components of Enterprise BI Server, there was no mention of SPWA. I had hoped that SAS would continue to develop SPWA as the successor to SAS/IntRnet. Do you think there is hope for more to come in SPWA, or do you think perhaps it has been relegated to “functionally stable” (i.e. don’t expect much new)?


  • Dave Sims says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • Whilst the primary target audience for SAS Visual Analytics may be non-statisticians, I think statisticians can also gain valuable insights using SAS Visual Analytics for data exploration.

    My thoughts on this can be read at:

    It’s also exciting to see modernized functionality from current and retired SAS products within SAS Visual Analytics such as JMP, Time Series Forecast System, Analyst Application, SAS/Insight.