Dave Vellante and John Furrier, SAS Explore, 2023

Three insights you might have missed from the ‘SAS Explore’ event

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Data management innovation, and where artificial intelligence fit in, has been top of mind of late.

During this week’s SAS Explore event, one of the biggest questions posed was: How might AI technology position SAS Institute Inc. for AI enterprise use cases, products and services?

SAS does have a history in artificial intelligence technology. And, that history was on the mind of theCUBE industry analyst Dave Vellante (pictured, left) during the event. SAS is, of course, a company that has a really deep industry presence, he noted.

“They span six decades,” he said. “The company was founded in 1976. You’re talking about almost a 50-year-old company … it’s an amazing American story. I mean, they’re a private company. They’ve been threatening to do an IPO now for years, but they’ve remained private, and they’re about a $3.2 billion company.”

Today, a rapidly evolving analytics landscape has posed some challenges for technologists who are forward-thinking. How must one anticipate what’s on the horizon and capitalize on opportunities? These were the questions that analysts on theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, sought to answer during our our exclusive coverage of SAS Explore. The event saw participation from developers, data scientists, analysts and IT professionals.

Insights during SAS Explore were provided by Vellante, along with fellow industry analysts and company executives. They unpacked SAS’ history in AI and how things are going today, given SAS’ recent investments. (* Disclosure below.) 

Here are three key insights you may have missed:

1) SAS is pursuing a grounded approach to AI.

The keynote session during the SAS Explore conference included presentations from Bryan Harris, executive vice president and chief technology officer of SAS, and Udo Sglavo, VP of advanced analytics research and development at SAS. The company unveiled Viya Workbench and App Factory during the keynote, both of which are intended to create fertile ground for data development across enterprises.

For theCUBE industry analyst John Furrier (right), there was much to get excited about during the keynote, which made fun of generative AI as a hype cycle but “brought out the goods” when it came to demos. For loyal SAS customers using products, it’s almost been as if they have been waiting for the AI moment to come, Furrier noted.

“AI is a tailwind and an accelerant for SAS, because even though they’ve got some legacy and history with their customer base, it absolutely changes the game of the product capabilities, which actually makes them a net winner in the game,” he said. “Because you can take the existing stuff and abstract away the complexities with AI and some of these Copilot-like tools, augmenting the human.”

SAS could light up its verticals with AI and then create an interconnect layer around the data, in Furrier’s view. But he also noted that one must be mindful of the technical debt, which was a point that Vellante picked up on.

“I think the reality is that AI might get you 75, 80% of the way there in terms of the code development. You know, it’ll get you to MVP; it’ll get you beyond that,” Vellante said. “But when you have to scale, that’s where that last mile, that last 20% is going to be very difficult.”

But there’s still an important point to note even if the AI only gets individuals to the 80% faster. In that case, it’s going to free up time for the top developers to focus on that last 20%, Vellante noted.

“That’s [if] you have real AI like these guys clearly do. They’ve been working on this forever,” he said.

The company’s emphasis on governed AI and ethical use of data also sets SAS apart, the analysts noted. At least half of the keynote was spent demoing real products, according to Vellante.

Here’s the complete keynote analysis:

2) The company is looking to capture momentum.

As noted, SAS has a long legacy working on ideas that have drawn much focus in recent months. For the last 25 years, it has been deploying neural networks in production with consumers, Harris noted.

“In some ways, we feel like, welcome to the party. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’re extremely proud of that history and really the results we drive for businesses, where we’re mission critical to so many businesses today,” Harris said. “For us, seeing the market recognize the broader appreciation now of what AI can do, for us, now it’s about just productivity and speed.”

The company’s goal today is to make it as easy as possible for the broadest audience to take on AI, integrate it into their businesses and do it at a price point that’s cost-effective, according to Harris. The cloud computing paradigm has also enabled the company to ultimately achieve new outcomes.

“Cloud compute has been a big part of that … whoever unlocks value fast enough to make the best decision the fastest is going to win,” he said.

Meanwhile, as companies look to adapt to a rapidly evolving landscape in the age of AI, big responsibilities are placed on the shoulders of chief information officers. There’s a lot of potential for CIOs who leverage technology while building a resilient and innovative business landscape, according to Jay Upchurch, CIO of SAS.

“[SAS] is really poised to take advantage of this incredible excitement that is the adoption curve of generative AI,” he said.

Here’s the complete video interview with Bryan Harris and Reggie Townsend, vice president for data ethics at SAS:

3) There’s an opportunity to pursue innovation collaboratively.

Through all of this, SAS also points to its partnerships as key to unlocking the benefits of generative AI. That includes a partnership with Microsoft Corp., which involves a co-engineering relationship, co-sell agreements and a commitment that the companies say is tied towards delivering transformative solutions for customers.

“Our customers want to run and consume analytics, AI and data management in the cloud, and we’ve done pioneering work in a lot of ways to bring that forward to them,” said Gavin Day, executive VP of the office of the chief executive officer at SAS.

Among the big themes at SAS Explore was the company’s billion-dollar investment in advanced analytics solutions. All year, SAS has been speaking to its customers about real-time balance sheet management and asset liability management, according to Jack Thompson, head of U.S. financial services at SAS.

“These things are emerging. As the artificial intelligence hype cycle extends and as we see the reality of what AI can bring to the table, it’s also important that you have governance, scale and control. That’s what SAS is bringing to the table,” he said.

As AI evolves, it’s important to ensure that vast volumes of data can be handled efficiently. That’s something SAS does well, which is especially important for financial institutions, according to Paresh Patel, senior principal data platform engineer at Discover Financial Services.

“Big data, the volumes of data — for financials, that’s a very common theme. We do not deal with gigabytes; we deal with multiple gigabytes,” Patel said. “SAS is the tool that … easily scales in the processing of the data — whether that is megabytes of data, gigabytes of data or hundreds of gigabytes of data.”

Here’s the complete video interview with Gavin Day and Michael Glaros, principal program manager for Azure global commercial industry at Microsoft:

To watch more of theCUBE’s coverage of the SAS Explore event, here’s our complete event video playlist:

(* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the SAS Explore event. Neither SAS Institute Inc., the sponsor of theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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