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Home » BI Tools, Visual Analytics

Are You a SAS BI Geek Seeking Visual Analytics Answers?

Submitted by on 2013-04-15 – 10:57 AM 10 Comments

sas visual analytics demo SAS Global Forum 2013 is fast approaching so I realized I better plan my schedule. While I enjoy the social events the most, the other obvious thrust of the conference is to learn more about the new SAS products.  At last year’s conference they were introducing the Visual Analytics, so the conference was not overall dominated by the product.  However,this year I expect there to be an information overload on the product. I don’t mind- I want to know more.

Last December I had short chat with Rick Styll, a SAS product manager, who was really excited about the product and encouraged me to learn about it and write about it.  I believe he brought SAS Press editor Julie Platt with him as a hint.  When VA 6.1 was introduced, I grabbed the free online customer documentation  to start reading it.  [That’s right …when all else fails RTFM baby!]  Ok, would you believe I skimmed the first few chapters – heavily?

[BTW Rick is presenting a Visual Analytics paper on Tuesday afternoon so make sure you attend and sit on the front row.]

What is Visual Analytics?

Remember the idea is that this product can handle big data quickly and allow users to easily interact with the data!  Last year Dr. Goodnight said the application reduce a job that required ~18 hours to run to under a half hour. Impressive for sure – but that was a lot of hardware.  I like the live demo he gave on stage of the product [see here:Link to billion records in seconds video.]  It was certainly fast and the results were very pretty.

That’s an important point because some of the SAS output would not win any beauty contests -especially when Excel charts go walking down the runway.  The speed was due to the fancy server SAS LASR Analytics Server, but the beauty was the Visual Analytics product.

Quick Product Overview 

Visual Analytics is a web-based application that can be broken into several components:

  • Visual Data Builder allows you to build queries, join tables, and create calculations from registered database tables. It’s how you prepare the data for display.
  • Visual Analytics Explorer allows you to interact with the data.  You can build charts, tables, maps in the workspace area or just play with the data.  
  • Visual Analytics Designer allows you to create reports or dashboards that can be viewed on a mobile device (using the SAS Mobile BI app) or in the viewer.  This product is most similar to the existing BI Dashboard product.
  • Visual Analytics Viewer allows users to view the report on a Web browser.
  • Visual Analytics Administrator allows you to manage the environment.

This configuration looks similar to another SAS application that we may be more familiar with!

I downloaded the SAS Mobile BI app for my iPad from the Apple store. [Also available on Google Play.]  SAS has some samples setup so you can interact with it to learn how to use the product. Just click on the Library button and you’ll see a list of items you can add.  For instance, I added Mashups and Explorations. 

sas visual analytics demo


Questions I Have

Update: Check out What I learned Over the Summer about SAS Visual Analytics for my answers to these questions.

First let me re-iterate that I like what I am seeing so far in the demos and the documentation.  I’d say SAS is rockin’ it with this tool and it generates some fantastic results.  I also realize every product has it’s limitations – which is not good or bad – just reality.

After skimming the documentation, here’s the questions I hope to have answered at the conference.  Some questions I think I know the answer  – but I want to confirm before I start blabbing to everyone else.

  • What I like about the information maps is that they apply a business layer to the data making it easier to understand.  Since the Visual Data Builder is inside the database, what features do I use to make the data more “user friendly”?
  • What about OLAP cubes? Are those supported?
  • Who is using the mobile features for this product?  Most of the jobs I have done, the data was extremely confidential.  I cannot imagine a bank allowing their data to be available from an iPad easily.  Maybe summarized data is okay – but is that really useful?  Maybe it’s meant for sales people?
  • The product uses Flash.  I thought Steve Jobs used his iPad to squash Flash in favor of HTML5? 
  • How should I think about this tool in conjunction with the SAS BI tool set   Is it just part of the tool set  is it replacing it?
    • Looks like there is not an upgrade path to this product from my existing BI install.  What suggestions does SAS have for re-using my existing work?
    • Can I link to my Web Report Studio reports?  Pass values through a parameter?  How about a SAS Stored Process?
    • Are my stored processes re-useable?
  • Will Siri interact with my mobile BI app?  Can I make her build charts for me?
  • Oh … how much does it cost?  How is it licensed?   Can I purchase it without the fancy-schmancy hardware?  Really I’m just looking for a price range, not a quote. 

Where Can I See It?

SAS is presenting some papers about the Visual Analytics product.  Check the #SASGF13 Agenda Builder for times and locations [or the mobile app].  Here’s a partial list that I hope to attend.




Also, check the demo hall for specific product demonstrations.  

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Tricia Aanderud

Director of Data Visualization at Zencos Consulting
Tricia Aanderud is a SAS Business Intelligence and Visual Analytics consultant based in Raleigh, NC who works for Zencos Consulting. She has written several books about SAS, presented papers at many SAS conferences, and has been using SAS since 2001. Contact her for assistance with your next project.
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  • I was in Greg Hodges Visual Analytics Roadmap presentation at SAS Global Forum 2013 and there are plans for a HTML5 viewer but no timeframe for delivery as yet.

  • You know you make a good point Nick.

    I’m really curious to attend the panel discussion first thing Monday morning to see what questions they may answer.

    I don’t see SAS EBI going anywhere anytime soon.

  • Nick Rose says:

    I am not particularly happy with the direction that SAS has gone with Visual Analytics. It is not that, I don’t think the product is great; however, it is really a niche product for those with big data needs. For many, SAS integrates with RDMS’s and other databases and works relatively well with modest data sizes – no need for onerous hardware requirements. Furthermore, ad-hoc analysis of data where the user is free to explore relationships can be misused and, the advantage of OLAP cubes and Information Maps is that you can restricts analysis to what makes sense and in a manner that is understandable to the user.

    The main issue then is that development efforts in Web Report Studio, Information Maps and OLAP cube enhancements have all but disappeared, leaving those that have invested huge amounts of resources to have to migrate content, invest in new infrastructure, and pay new license fees in order to benefit from the enhancements found in VA. My question are: what is the future of EBI, and how will they support those users in the future? What integration will be possible with VA?

    As for license costs – good luck with finding out information on that one.

    I once responded to a comment on Visual Analytics being much like the moon landing It’s a shame that the Forum will be focussing on a product that may look nice and lead to a lot of buzz and excitement, but for those established SAS users who were expecting enhancements to their current products, there won’t be much to get excited about.

  • That was my suspicion but I was wondering what SAS was doing to provide a bridge. Many companies have spent considerable time and effort evolving these cubes – it’s hard to keep dropping these things.

  • According to this review it says that VA can access relational tables and makes no mention of OLAP cubes. Add to that this quote from Jim Davis:

    ‘but Davis said VAE “shoots OLAP [online analytical processing] in the head for good”‘

    It looks like the answer would be no.

    And as far as I am concerned, that is a good thing. I never liked SAS OLAP cubes. They could not be easily accessed by traditional SAS tools, and in my experience it was not difficult to create a relational summary structure that outperformed OLAP cubes. Web Report Studio is the only reason SAS OLAP cubes survived as long as they did.

  • Good one! I’m curious about that as well.

  • Bruce Bartek says:

    If we already have a data warehouse with OLAP cubes created from relational tables, does SAS VA read the OLAP cubes or the relational tables, or both?

  • Kent Odelli says:

    Regarding the data security issues on SAS Mobile BI:

  • Good point Don. I don’t know that much about Flash or HTML5. I have heard that HTML5 had it’s own set of limitations. I will be curious to find out more about this decision.

  • I plan to check out VA at SGF. And I hope to hear that they are working on alternatives to Flash. Flash looks nice, but there are so many known issues with it beyond the fact that it does not work on IOS devices that I am surprised SAS is still using it. It should clearly be relegated to the legacy dust-bin.