A huge benefit of working at SAS is that you work shoulder to shoulder with people who have extraordinary long-term, hands-on industry experience. In the continuation of my interviews, I met Andrew Fowkes, whose experience in retail and analytics spans 30 years, and from whom I have learned a lot. I met with him to dig a little deeper into the sustainability topic, how it relates to market trends, and how the SAS and Microsoft partnership is a catalyst to tackle the question of agile and cost-effective analytics.
Thanks for joining me, Andrew. Your finger is on the pulse of the many challenges facing businesses, both industry and tech.
How do you see the sustainability challenges across different types of retail and consumer goods operators? Are they the same? Or do you see different challenges in apparel vs. FMCG, for instance?
Sustainable practices and products have really become front of mind as we come out of the operating challenges that the pandemic created. It’s been really interesting to see how different companies across the industry respond. I see consumer goods companies that put most of their energy toward things like packaging and reducing plastic consumption and waste. While in fashion, it’s been a strong shift to growing the range of products with strong eco-credentials – like sustainable cotton sourcing and using recycled material in clothing.
In fact, SAS is currently investigating some highly interesting work that North Carolina State University is carrying out on an Ethical Apparel Index. We have a long-standing, close relationship with NC State, and its work is very often extraordinary and of the highest caliber. There is a common challenge, though: to bring focus on the right data that helps to measure and track the credentials of products from their origin right through to the customers' hands. I see a shift in realizing the analytical challenge that using this data to identify and predict improvements against the ESG goals the business has.
What trends do you see in the marketplace at the moment? Where is there significant development, and what is proving to be trickier?
While second-guessing what the consumer wants and will do next is a growing challenge across all of the sector – especially after the changed behavior during COVID-19 – the new biggest trend and challenge has to be the inflation in raw materials and cost prices we are all seeing. It adds a new complexity to predicting and forecasting what demand will be under new price structures. And organizations will face profitability challenges as it seems every facet of the supply chain faces increasing costs.
Why is the partnership with Microsoft so significant in helping businesses tackle sustainability challenges?
Often these new challenges that sustainability and ESG targets throw up involve lots of new data gathering, storage and compute power to make sense of the impact on daily business decisions. What we're seeing is that the ability of SAS to generate analytical power in decision making is so much more affordable and practical and timely when it's executed on Microsoft Azure. We also see in retail and consumer goods business that the operation needs to be agile and react to the changing marketplace and situation almost day to day. Operating in the cloud on Azure gives us that environment to refocus and shift the analytical engines and models to focus on the right part of the challenge.
SAS and Microsoft
Where have you seen positive results in the partnership between SAS and Microsoft? And how can we support customers with this relationship?
Only this last week I saw a great report from Forrester which highlights that the return on investment of running SAS Viya on Azure is some 204% with payback in less than 14 months. Some of our largest customers in the retail and consumer goods sector have already had great success in moving to the SAS hosted Azure cloud with intensive data and business decisioning around customer intelligence, and also in areas such as supply chain planning and demand sensing. We look forward to sharing at EuroCIS some of these great success stories with businesses such as Nestlé, Barilla and Hanesbrands.