Calling all unicorns: SAS remains committed to developing analytical talent


Are retailers suffering a skills shortage when it comes to analytics? Nikki Baird from Retail Systems Research (RSR Group) offers some intriguing observations about the critical analytical talent shortage facing the retail industry in a recent article, “Where Have All the Data Scientists Gone? SAS Analyst Day Report Out.” Her observations came after attending the 26th SAS Analyst Conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Baird says she has believed for a long time that SAS’ customer insight capabilities are some of retail’s best-kept secrets, and SAS’ understanding of the finer points of size optimization is difficult to match in the industry. We couldn’t agree more.

Unicorn in field
Are retail data scientists as rare as unicorns?

However, Baird admits she’s always been curious about SAS’ focus on selling to the "elusive retail data scientists" whom Baird says she's encountered almost as frequently as unicorns or dragons. Consider this excerpt from her post:

This must be why business intelligence and analytics is such a relative mess in retail. I mean, aside from the startling finding from our latest BI benchmark that there is a large contingent of retailers out there who persist in believing that intuition is more important than information for a lot of functions, if business analysts are driving BI investment decisions then I can easily see how the advantages of an enterprise-wide BI platform go down in flames as each group fights for the tools they like best.

I think the big question for SAS in retail in 2014 and beyond will be focused on these data scientist resources. Will retailers recognize and respond to the need for this layer of resource within the enterprise?

At SAS, we recognize this shortage of analytical talent, and we are committed to helping retailers - and nearly every other industry – overcome this challenge in a number of ways. One of our sponsored presentations at the National Retail Federation conference earlier this year featured tips and advice on how to build an analytics team from the Vice President of Global Customer Intelligence and Advanced Analytics at Coach Parinaz Vahabzadeh.

Our broader programs in support of this effort span from education initiatives to training and support for retailers. I'll describe a few of them here.

On the education front, The SAS® OnDemand for Academics programs provides free software to university professors and students who want to become more proficient in analytics and increase their career options. SAS has  also helped create university programs at many schools to train data scientists, including a Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) degree program at North Carolina State University in 2007. In 2012, Louisiana State University collaborated with SAS to launch its own MSA degree. As Baird mentions in her article, graduates with these skills and talents are in high demand. In 2013, SAS began contributing retail analytics software to Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina to help educate graduates planning to work in the retail industry.

SAS also offers a range of products that give business users access to analytics to make better decisions without the need for deep statistical or computer science knowledge. This includes retail solutions designed to support “what-if” scenario planning and optimal recommendations. These solutions typically combine multiple types of analytics, including demand modeling, customer scoring, forecasting and optimization to solve retail specific problems like size optimization, revenue optimization, merchandise planning, marketing optimization and retail forecasting.

Because it is impossible to create a software solution for every business problem, SAS also offers analytical and data management tools that are intuitive and easy to use, giving retailers the ability streamline and create repeatable decision making processes. In addition, our professional services division helps train customer teams so they can grow with the increasing analytical sophistication at their companies.

SAS remains committed to our most loyal users: data scientists. We’ll continue to address their needs because, in many ways, they are pioneers who have used SAS for years to generate, sustain and grow a multitude of enterprises and humanitarian efforts around the world. We meet data scientists every day in every industry. They have different titles and roles everywhere, but they all play an important part in improving decisions at their organizations.

Photo credit: Rob Boudon|| Photo attribution: creative commons


About Author

Saurabh Gupta

Director, Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Product Management

During his tenure with SAS, Saurabh has overseen and driven product strategy for the Advanced Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Retail solutions portfolios. Saurabh graduated with a Ph.D. in Operations Management from The University of Texas at Austin. He has since devoted over 19 years specializing in large scale systems analysis, design and implementations in areas such as price optimization, supply chain management and demand management. As a true advocate for leveraging his knowledge and skills to solve customer pain points, his work has received recognition from the journals of Management Science, and Production and Operations Management.

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