Home Business IT Data It is the analytics way or the highway

It is the analytics way or the highway

“How can I say this nicely? Companies that are not analytics-driven will simply cease to exist!”

So starts an interview with Sean O’Brien, Senior Director of Education Operations at SAS that portends the future. “Analytics is the secret sauce that gives organisations a competitive advantage – it is knowledge in context, and the next big disruptor for business,” he said.

O’Brien knows all about education - over the past 16 years at SAS, he has worked on or managed course development, sales and marketing, Live Web, e-learning, customer service, and global education operations. He also helped establish the international Analytics conference series, Live Web training, and the Business Knowledge Series program. The header photo above is the logo for SAS Analytics University.

The remainder of the interview is paraphrased to avoid overuse of ‘he said’.

When it all started back in 1976, Dr. Goodnight knew he had to teach people about analytics – essentially how to use this emerging software called SAS. He would rent out ballrooms and armed with a data projector simply show them the code.

He realised from the get-go that he needed to build a cadre of SAS trained analytics experts, but he also needed to prove the value of analytics. It is not just there to support a decision but to identify trends, uncover relationships between data, and provide actionable insights. You don’t do something because the data supports it – you do it because the data demands it (or you go out of business).

From that point on Dr Goodnight had the vision to get SAS into university curriculums and he gave the full suite free to all teachers and students that could use it – still does. SAS has co-operatively helped develop certificate, undergraduate and masters in analytics for a broad range of educational institutions but more importantly helped government and business understand the need for it.

Analytics went through several iterations, and this article incorporates some comments from chief geek, CIO, Keith Collins, who loves to talk tech.

In a development sense, it went from mainframe to PC in the early 80’s, and that opened up the software to more users. Then it went through new database technologies and that allowed for more data to be captured and analysed. Then it became network aware and that allowed for parallel processing – using low-cost PC’s to cluster and break up the workload. Then the internet, server side computing came back, and the cloud, and then the term big data started being fashionable. Big data simply means there is so much of it that you need special systems to collect, clean, store, and analyse it – like Hadoop.

All of these stages allowed companies to start using data - first off the rank were the banks and finance.

There are 190,000 unfilled analytics jobs in the US alone. There is an incredible demand for university graduates and an even greater demand for graduates with business intelligence skills on top of analytics. More than that, analytics is driving the workforce transformation from blue-collar manufacturing to knowledge workers.

SAS wants to help to generate a pipeline of employable candidates. Universities can do so much, but it’s the connection to industry that produces the best graduates. Internships, scholarships, work experience, and exposure to SAS rounds out these graduates. It is giving analytics graduates the business experience they need to apply analytics to line of business needs. It is at the stage now that corporate ‘experts’ write a [university] course, and it uses SAS to solve the issues.

SAS also is doing bespoke training where companies can give it their data and tell it what they want to achieve - it will help train its staff to solve the issues.

SAS also has a huge internal training program. Everything from using HTML 5, Hadoop, Amazon web services to using SAS. “We eat our own dog food. Over a year most employees access training,” he beamed.

He was more pensive when it came to talking about learning effectiveness. ‘You need a commitment to learn – not a big stick.’ There is a trend to digital learning – “Yeah, yeah just give me the material,” is the usual request.

SAS has tens of thousands of e-learning videos and tutorials. His greatest disappointment is that 78% of viewers complete less than 25% of a course material. In some cases, they just want to know a specific ‘how to’ so that fine but we need to apply analytics to the learning process and figure out what will improve that statistic.

Our research shows the ideal length of a tutorial is about 3-5 minutes, so we are repurposing our videos to deliver small chunks.

Classroom training is definitely best because of the commitment to attend and learn – and peer group pressure plays a part. We think we can improve on that by using hybrid classrooms where groups around the world participate and two-way interact in a classroom situation with one virtual teacher.

We have also tried gamification, badging, and certification and these increase the learning rate. It is all about keeping the human engagement level up. If any company can solve this conundrum, I am sure SAS can.

In the end, people use the software they know how to use, so competency is more critical than attendance.

We turned to analytics and marketing – the unique combination of business skills and data science.

Marketing has become scientific. You cannot afford to waste a cent, so analytics are driving this. The old story of ‘I know that half my marketing is effective – but I just don’t know which half!’

But marketing should also be about monetising the data you already have. Finding connections, looking for patterns, developing new products or services and delivering them to improve the customer experience. When a company starts using analytics correctly, it starts seeing more needs.

We turn back to the demand for analytics experts.

There are many resources, but the best is to visit our website and look for ‘Getting Started’. It is had over 1.5 million hits since we put it online – many more on YouTube too.

By 2020, most of the workforce in developed countries will be analytics enabled. SAS is helping to build a community that will deliver those skills to all. You can read more at SAS U (University).


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!