Home Depot builds out with SAS 9

PHILADELPHIA — The chief executive of SAS Institute Inc. took a shot at one of Canada’s best-known software companies as he urged user conference attendees to distribute business intelligence capabilities to non-technical employees within

the enterprise.

Speaking to an audience of some 3,000 visitors at the SAS User Group International (SUGI) opening session on Sunday, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight announced an enhanced version to its Enterprise BI Server, a component of its SAS 9 Intelligence Platform suite of software. The product adds SAS OLAP Server at no extra cost and what the company calls consistent metadata that will ease the creation of reports, either from scratch, with a wizard or pre-defined templates.

“This means you’ll no longer have to use low-end reporting tools like Cognos or Business Intelligence,” Goodnight said. Business Objects and Ottawa-based Cognos both make software that competes with SAS. “This was once considered a tool for high-end analytics, but now it’s more like a generalized resource.”

SAS is using the SUGI conference to highlight a number of SAS 9 early adopters, including Home Depot. Mark Healy, the retailer’s senior director of merchandizing operations, said improved business intelligence was one of the driving factors around a project that started three years ago to centralize its nine divisional offices.

“We want to look at the historical data (and) get out products quicker, before they become inventory dogs in the stores,” he said, adding that Home Depot moves more than 30,000 items a year through its 1,800 stores. “It’s time to get out of the mainframe Microsoft Excel/Access world.”

SAS is promising a system that will not only help users predict the future but get more out of existing data. Ron Guggenheimer, a senior vice-president of Citigroup’s Citi Card division, said the financial institution has already built a 50TB data warehouse built on SAS OLAP structures. The company wants to pull data from that warehouse to help develop new products and services to offer to its cardholders, he said.

“We’re really looking forward to the next turn of the crank, when you see seamless integration that will let us look at geospatial data,” he said.

SAS said it had responded to Citi Card’s needs through a partnership announced at the conference with ESRI, whereby SAS Enterprise BI Server will be integrated with ESRI’s ArcGIS server, bringing geographic visualization capabilities to reports.

Goodnight attempted to illustrate the ease with which mainstream users would be able to create BI reports with the company’s Web Report Studio product, but the demo went awry when the software stalled at the report generation phase. Goodnight jokingly chided the employee manning the console onstage that it might have been his own fault.

“You opened up too many instances of Internet Explorer,” he said. “You’re just asking for Microsoft to dump on you.”

As part of its plan to ease the SAS installation experience, Goodnight said the company had whittled down the seven CDs it normally packaged with its instruction manual into a single DVD. Executives are also expected to discuss upcoming releases to the company’s forecast and ETL studio.

Every year SAS employees nominate a customer who has excelled in their use of its product line. This year’s recipient, Eli Lilly assistant information consultant Fred Forst, said he had started using SAS almost 30 years ago, when he realized that he could manage statistics in an automated fashion rather than by hand.

“I opened my SAS manual — and there was only one manual back then, and I thought this was a miracle,” said Forst, who added he was very interested in the grid computing capabilities of the SAS Connect software.

SAS also announced an integrated version of JobScheduler from Ottawa’s Platform Computing with Enterprise BI Server, which will help manage project flows within the enterprise.

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