Q&A: SAS CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
03:40 PM
Ted Kemp
Ted Kemp

Q&A: SAS CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight

"SAS really thrives on competition," Goodnight says. "Give us somebody to go after, and that's a great motivator for my developers and my sales people alike."

Dr. Jim Goodnight has held the post of chief executive at SAS Institute since he co-founded the analytics company in 1976. The world's biggest privately held software firm is pushing to gain greater recognition for its business intelligence capabilities, especially compared with competitors Goodnight identifies as "low-end" vendors: Business Objects, Cognos, MicroStrategy and others.

Last year SAS introduced SAS 9, a user-friendly upgrade to its flagship BI platform. Here Goodnight discusses his company's evolving image, SAS's standing in the BI market, and his thoughts on business process management.

Business Intelligence Pipeline: SAS is known as a maker of tools for statistics-savvy analysts. What precipitated the company's move toward analytics and reporting tools that are more friendly for business users?

Goodnight: Well actually, we've been doing that since 1976, when we were formed. You've always been able to do simple query and reporting with SAS. The only thing that's really different today is that we've put a lot of effort into a very easy-to-use interface. But many of our users have been doing that simple query and reporting stuff with SAS for years.

Business Intelligence Pipeline: Then how do you account for the perception in the market that SAS is not well-entrenched in that "simpler" reporting and analytics area?

Goodnight: It's certainly true that we've been very active in the high-end analytics space. But SAS has always been able to handle the low end too. It would require just a little bit of programming knowledge. The low-end vendors have dominated the non-programming area for people who don't know anything about computers but want to learn a few simple instructions and do very simple queries. We thought it was time to focus more in that space and improve our own tools to allow non-technical people to do simple query and reporting.

Business Intelligence Pipeline: What do you see for the future of real-time or near-real-time analytics and business process management (BPM)?

Goodnight: You can update any control chart and display information in real time if your data is that important. For most financial data and stuff like that, overnight updating is quite sufficient. We first saw the idea of a balanced scorecard -- I think that's where most of this stems from -- in that Kaplan and Norton book (Editor's note: The Strategy-Focused Organization, 1992.) about 10 years ago. It was brought out as a management philosophy. If you identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) in your company, you can then use those metrics to measure how you're performing against those targets.

What we're seeing with the software vendors, though, is really just a new version of an EIS -- an executive information system -- where you have a dashboard on your computer that you can check and see how things are going. Really, most business process management is not much more than an EIS. To really make it work, you've got to do more than just display the stuff on a computer. There certainly is no difficulty in displaying some numbers or KPIs or simple charts. To make it really work, you've got to get the entire business to buy into that management style.

Business Intelligence Pipeline: It seems that when it comes to BPM, the main problem companies encounter is workflow modeling, which isn't a technology issue per se.

Goodnight: Yeah, it's extremely difficult. We've been in the software business for 30 years now, and the idea of how you measure and come up with KPIs for programmers, I've never quite figured it out. You can only judge performance when a total project is finished, and that's based on hundreds of people working together. It's difficult to measure individuals' performance.

Take programmers, for example. If you measure things like how many lines of code they generate in a week or how many bugs they create -- those are measurements that they can distort. If you measure how many bugs they create, then their tendency is going to be to try to minimize how many lines of code they write or change. Sales is just about the only measurable area as far as individuals are concerned.

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