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Home » BI Tools, Visual Analytics

Is SAS Visual Analytics the Missing Piece of SAS BI/EBI?

Submitted by on 2013-09-11 – 8:17 AM One Comment

Earlier in the year I wrote a “Are you a SAS BI Geek seeking Visual Analytics Answers?” post about some of the questions I had about SAS Visual Analytics.  I have done a lot of research this summer about data visualization, approachable analytics, in-memory processing, mobile BI, big data and plenty of other buzz words.  Plus, I’ve learned how to use the tool!

In this post I am revisiting my questions from the earlier post and providing what I think are the answers. Speak up in the Comments section if you think I need to consider some other angles.

Overview of SAS Visual Analytics

Here’s the components of the SAS VA toolset to help you understand how everything goes together, the inputs and outputs.

sas visual analytics overview

Icons: courtesy of FindIcons.Com

Q: How do I keep the data user-friendly?

Information maps are a part of the SAS BI tool because it allows the BI Developer to create a business layer of the data over the top of database tables.  Since the database contains variables names like  ACCT_NM, which might mean Customer to the business – it makes it easier to use. The value of the information map is that the data is changed in a central location so you don’t have one person calling the field “Customer” and another calling it “Client” or “Company”.  It’s a slight difference but can add confusion.

SAS Visual Analytics 6.2 can import simple  information maps, which means it doesn’t support maps that use cubes or stored processes.  I spoke to a developer who said they are headed that way in a future release.  Using the Data Explorer, Data Visualizer, or Data Designer, users can change variable names, formats and default aggregation.  It probably depends on what you are doing with the data when you change the name.  For instance, if I just got the data set and I’m exploring the data – I probably don’t care as much about the names other than just to clarify that Party_Name means Customer.

In this example, I plan to rename cycle_2_defs_score to Cycle 2 Deficiency Score and the aggregation method to average instead of sum.  I just selected the variable and then make the changes in the areas noted with a 1 and 2.

sas visual analytics change format


Q: What about OLAP Cubes?

OLAP cubes are a different method from the LASR server. Think about it this way – when you design an OLAP cube you have to consider how users want to explore the data and what questions they are likely to ask.  Basically you must pre-determine the drill paths to build the hierarchies and to some extend consider what measures are needed.   Once the cube is built, it becomes a mini-database of sorts.

For LASR server the data is loaded into memory and users explore the data as they prefer.  They can create hierarchies on the fly. Then if a particular hierarchy does not work, it can be changed within moments.  During an analysis phase this flexibility is really useful.  Here’s an example of adding a hierarchy in two simple steps in the Visual Designer.  Basically, you click New Hierarchy and drag-drop your variables into the choice you want. Yeah … that easy.

SAS VA build hierarchy


Q: Who is using the mobile features?  What about security?

Murali Nuri’s paper discusses How Mobile Changes the BI Experience and provides some detailed information about how the security is handled.  It seems as secure as you can make it.  Truthfully – is there any way to keep data 100% safe other than allowing no one to see it?  You can manage the user list by Inclusion (whitelist) or Exclusion (blacklist).  If you manage with a whitelist method – then only those users who have their mobile device on the whitelist can access the data.  If you manage with a blacklist, then only the devices you specifically disallow cannot access the data.  The user still has to have metadata credentials to see data or reports. [More about designing for mobile devices.]

sas visual analytics mobile security

Q: How does this product work with the SAS EBI?

My opinion is that this tool fills in the self-service BI option that SAS EBI misses.  As much as I find the BI tools and even SAS Enterprise Guide easy to use – there’s many new user who seem to struggle being able to use the tools.  These aren’t dumb people, just ones who maybe don’t want to learn SQL programming or EG process flows – they really just want to compare sales quarter over quarter or answer simple questions.

So SAS Visual Analytics should be thought of as “in addition” to SAS EBI – much like those organizations who adopted Tableau or Spotfire. [Review of BI tools: Gartner’s 2013 Magic Quadrant Report] This tool is an easy way to get quick results and create fabulous looking reports.  And don’t tell me someone has not said to you that your SAS report was not as attractive as  insert another tool here, usually Excel.

I’m blown away by how easy SAS Visual Analytics is to use.  A user can create an interactive report or dashboard in minutes.  It’s almost a thoughtless process.  The tool invites the user to take part in the report building.  It really makes me think of how easy Excel makes it to build a report – only it’s easier!  I put together the following chart with the interactions and filtering in less than 10 minutes. [More about using maps in SAS VA]

 sas va example

Q: What does SAS Visual Analytics cost?

This question is completely dependant on how you plan to implement the tool. I have heard a range of $15k to $500k depending on the hardware used, the data you need to support, and if you want SAS to host it. So – talk to your sales representative about what makes sense for your organization. [Be sure to mention BI-Notes as a part of your decision!]

Some companies are opting to use SAS Visual Analytics for certain departments or functions and letting SAS host the data.  This makes it easier on the IT department and lets the company explore how useful the tool is. This makes more sense because SAS BI still has a role in your organization.

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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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