“Over the last 15 months, we’ve seen the world change in countless ways,” SAS CEO Jim Goodnight said to virtual attendees at SAS Global Forum’s Opening Session. “We’re relying on math and science to make important decisions. We look at data to determine when it’s safe to travel or return to the office. Through data, we’re answering some tough questions – and making better decisions each day.”

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Thousands of analytics professionals tuned into SAS Global Forum, an all-virtual event for the second year in a row. During Opening Session, Dr. Goodnight was joined (virtually, of course), by leaders from organizations that have done incredible things to recover from the initial stages of the pandemic -- and reimagine how they could work in the future.

Citibank’s analytical journey

Jason Gray, senior vice president of data and analytical solutions at Citi, was first up to discuss how they’re using SAS Viya to create a more powerful analytics ecosystem.

“We needed a repeatable and auditable process,” said Gray, and SAS ensured that they had that. “The top benefits that Citi is seeing from its comprehensive analytics hub are rapid scalability and future proof deployment.”

Gray also heralded the low code and no code tools like SAS Model Studio and Model Manager, which make it easier for anyone to create models  –  not just data scientists. "We're now able to find analysts in the job market. We're able to hire wide range of people who can work on a range of modeling projects without coding experience needed."

Monitoring COVID trends with analytics

Jonathan Wexler from SAS product strategy and Dr. Goodnight showed attendees what SAS Viya can do, demonstrating how SAS provides the ability to not only monitor COVID trends, but build and deploy models on a global scale using the power of cloud computing.

Wexler logged into the publicly available Coronavirus Dashboard (powered by SAS). This report is updated with the latest data from around the world, providing insight into trends and potential early warning signs for new surges and spread. Wexler demonstrated how users can quickly drill into any country around the world for in-depth analysis, and how a massively parallel processing cluster allowed him to run thousands of models using advanced, automated machine learning.

“I want us to be ready for the next pandemic,” said Wexler. “What I want you to take away is the ability for SAS to provide immediate, tangible value for a global problem –  and get this information out to governments, labs, hospitals within hours of the next pandemic hitting.”

Wexler also showed how to build and deploy models – and then communicate results all without code. "You don’t have to be a SAS user or even a data scientist to use SAS. We have truly democratized the use of analytics with our scalable, automated platform."

From mental health to British Rowing

The next two SAS customers who joined Dr. Goodnight showed the far-reaching effects of the pandemic – from a global increase for mental health services to the 1-year postponement of the Olympics.

Dr. Josh Morgan and Dr. Dawnté Early from the California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission discussed how they’re using data and analytics to show how programs are working within the state (read more in this profile of Early).

“The pandemic has brought to light what many of us already knew in regard to health disparities,” said Morgan. “What we’re witnessing is the impact of social determinants of health. To better assess how all of these factors are impacting the lives and outcomes of mental health consumers we’ve brought together data from multiple county and state health agencies. Together, data from all these systems tell the story of whether we are really moving the needle in the right direction.”

When the summer games in Tokyo were delayed by a year due to the pandemic, athletes around the world had to stay in top shape. SAS has worked closely with British Rowing for years, and Brendan Purcell, Director of Performance at British Rowing, joined Dr. Goodnight to talk about how they overcame the challenges of the lockdown.

“One of the first things we had to do was deliver ergo machines to the houses of all the athletes so they could train at home,” said Purcell. “This allowed us to continue to collect data as multiple athletes were able to input information into a single source which we were then able to analyze as we did before.”

“In some ways the pandemic came at a good time for us in that we’ve spent the last 5 years improving how we collect, store and analyze data,” said Purcell. “Otherwise the physical separation would have created a much bigger problem for us.”

Next steps with Microsoft and new partnerships

Last year, SAS announced a new partnership with Microsoft to allow our customers to easily run SAS workloads in the Azure cloud environment. SAS is also working with Microsoft on integrations that can bring SAS analytics to Microsoft cloud solutions, like Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.

Dr. Goodnight told this year’s Opening Session attendees that that we’re also announcing support for additional cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Services. “We know that our customers have options as they move to the cloud, and we will meet them where they’re going,” said Goodnight.

When brilliant minds compete, the world wins

Last year, SAS put out a call for curious and bright individuals across the globe to use analytics and AI techniques to solve real-world challenges. It was a frenzy of creativity and innovation as more than 100 teams from 32 countries were chosen to take on a wide range of real-world challenges.

All teams used SAS Viya 4 in the Azure cloud for easy access, and the 66 teams who advanced to the final round produced an impressive 66 use cases (see some of the use cases here).

Dr. Goodnight announced the Hackathon winners at Opening Session, including:

  • The Hackanadian team from Canada – This group focused on reducing emergency vehicle collisions through audio-sensing and autonomous intersection management.
  • Liv-N-Sense from India – This team focused on real-time energy optimization for furnaces to reach a net-zero carbon objective.
  • The War on Cancer team from Sweden – took home the prize for their use of analytics to improve mental health for cancer patients.

Support for data literacy

SAS has supported education for decades, from fostering STEM skills in young students to cultivating new data scientists. At Opening Session, Dr. Goodnight announced new SAS Data Literacy Training that teaches strategies for seeing the usefulness in data, interrogating data, discovering meaning making decisions, and communicating data.

“The course will help people gain the confidence and skills to be a little more curious, and critical, about the data they encounter every day,” said Goodnight. “Today’s data natives want to change the world and they will need to be data literate to do so. We are excited to support them in their journeys.”

Thriving in the new normal

In his closing remarks to attendees, Goodnight reflected on the companies that we’ve all seen thriving in the new normal. “They achieved this by embracing digital transformation through the integration of analytics and decisioning,” said Goodnight.

“At the end of the day, if you’re not doing this, you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage in the market. Speed and accuracy of decisioning making are of the essence. Know that you can look to SAS as your trusted partner. We will empower you to accelerate, innovate and disrupt.”

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About Author

Anne-Lindsay Beall

Senior Editor

Anne-Lindsay Beall is a writer and editor for SAS. Since joining the company in 2000, Anne-Lindsay has edited print publications, Web sites, customer success stories, blogs and digital publications. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in English from North Carolina State University. You can find her on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/annelindsaybeall

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