We kick off 2017 with excitement about big data and analytics still at fever pitch. Thankfully the discussion has now moved to business impact, and explores how good use of analytics is vital to make money, save money, and maintain competitive advantage. Data scientists now they have the sexiest job of the 21st century and are scarce.
Despite the hype, however, many companies are still struggling to work out how exactly to use analytics. It seems that moving from data to insights is still a big challenge. But there may be easier ways to get started with analytics than to rush out and recruit your own data scientists. I caught up with Colin Gray from the SAS Analytics On-Demand team to understand options available to organisations.
What’s different about how to start with analytics today?
There are now many more ways to manage data and tap into expertise. You can either set up your own analytics function in-house, or you can ‘borrow’ the analytics function, by using analytics-as-a-service. We offer this service as “SAS Results”. The decision will depend on your corporate strategy—whether you want to outsource or not—and the skills available to you. If you don’t have any data scientists, you may not be able to do your own analytics in-house. And then of course, there is the question about whether you have the necessary infrastructure and software.
How is analytics-as-a-service different from doing the work in-house?
Analytics-as-a-service is a bit like outsourcing, and shared services centres. Over the last decade or so, large companies have made huge savings by outsourcing back office functions, and sharing services. Analytics-as-a-service is just moving things a bit further up the shared services curve. Instead of having to make the investment, with analytics-as-a-service, you have analytics on demand. This means that you can use as much or as little as you need, so it’s really easy to scale up and down.
Is this an easier and lower risk approach to understand more about the potential benefits?
Yes, it’s a very good way to dip a toe in the analytics water without having to make any big investment. I think it is particularly good for small to medium sized enterprises, although any size organisation can benefit. You don’t need to recruit new staff, or incur any fixed costs, and you have no infrastructure or software requirements. You can use just what you need, when you need it. Analytics-as-a-service also delivers value quickly—usually within six to twelve weeks, compared with six to twelve months for setting up an in-house analytics function. And as a bonus, it probably comes out of an operational budget because it’s a service, rather than a capital expenditure budget. Our customers have found this approach significantly improves their response time to business needs.
What kind of problems do you tackle?
It’s really broad and the range of industries varies from banking and insurance through to leisure and manufacturing. We’ve done projects around creating segmentations for Marketing, identified fraud within banks, analysed the text customer complaints and helped tune manufacturing processes. As analysts, its really exciting, as we get a fantastic range of problems to tackle. And often solving problems in one industry you find that another industry has similar issues.
How does this service actually work?
We have formed a SAS Results team to help everyone focus on the outcome. For a customer, it is as simple as putting your question and raw data into the skilled hands of the SAS Results team, and you will get the answers you need. Customers’ requirements differ as to their involvement; some literally only want a report at the end of the project, with some updates on progress throughout the lifecycle. For others, it’s much more of a partnership where the customer really wants to get involved in the whole project and it becomes more of a learning experience. In the latter case, we’re running regular workshops and WebEx calls where we transfer and share the insight gleaned during the analysis.
What happens to the data? Can I access it and the results later on?
We offer two variants of Results-as-a-Service. The first is SAS Results, which is what I have described so far. But it also offers a slightly different option called SAS Results+, which provides access to the results from the analyses via a cloud-based thin client interface. Additional analyses can also be carried out independently on this interface if necessary.
What about data security and data protection?
It’s fully secure. The infrastructure is cloud-based. SAS uses data centres all over the world, including in Frankfurt and Dublin in Europe, and you can be sure that the service complies with the relevant data protection legislation. Generally, we avoid using personally identifiable information (PII) within the analysis and have algorithms for masking such data if required.
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