Democratizing analytics

Noshin Kagalwalla MD SAS India

Data is the new oil, and has rightly become the new currency of the digital economy. And India, perhaps, represents the biggest story in terms of opportunities for technology firms. The rapid adoption of smartphones, and the concurrent shift of enterprises towards a digital roadmap, and the encouraging policies of the government for creating a digital ecosystem has lead to a market opportunity that is unique to India. As more firms go on the digital journey, data volumes are going up exponentially, and the consequent need for analytics solutions for finding insights from this data is also increasing at a fast clip.

Analytics firm, SAS India, is right in the center of this action, as it sees huge growth coming from almost every sector. “We have been consistently clocking double digit year-on-year growth in India. We are probably one of the fastest growing subsidies in Asia Pacific. And we are witnessing growth in terms of employees, customer acquisition, as well as extending the relationship with the existing customer base,” says Noshin Kagalwalla, MD, SAS India.

Out of the all the countries, India contributes significantly to the overall SAS story. Started its operations way back in 1997, the company has since scaled up its presence and currently employs about 700 employees serving approximately 550 customers in the country.

The major share of its revenues from India comes from banking, telecommunication, government, manufacturing, and healthcare and lifesciences. In order to tap the huge growth opportunities available in India, the US-based technology giant is looking to invest heavily in the country, which is also its fastest growing market. In fact, SAS considers India as a very unique opportunity, especially the announcement of government’s Digital India and Smart Cities initiatives that offer huge investment opportunities for the company.

“With the Indian government increasingly pushing for a cashless economy to increase transparency in the system & demonetization being one of the significant steps taken by the government, there is great shift happening towards the digital platform. Increasing digitization also means new avenues for illegal activities and this brings the focus towards fraud detection using analytics. We have strong presence in the government sector, wherein we are working closely with CBDT, CBEC and other state agencies for direct and indirect tax detection and prevention. From a public sector point of view, when it comes to integrating/ cleansing data and providing meaningful analytical insights, SAS is way ahead of the nearest competition,” highlights Kagalwalla.

From a public sector point of view, when it comes to integrating/ cleansing data and providing meaningful analytical insights, SAS is way ahead of its nearest competition. Currently, it is serving 5 state commercial tax departments and 3 state DES and also the Central Statistics ministry (MOSPI). Other SAS projects with repeatable analytics applications across states include applications such as Voice of Citizen, Chief Minister’s Dashboard, SRDH, etc. The company is the only analytics OEM with presence in Education ( NSDC), Employment (DGET), Agriculture ( ICAR), Health care ( ESIC and Ministry of Health ), Finance ( FIU, CBEC, CBDT) sectors in the country.

Verticals driving growth
The core solution areas driving revenue growth for SAS includes advanced analytics, data management, customer intelligence, risk management, and fraud intelligence. Apparently, 90 percent of its software revenue today comes from these core areas. And the company will continue to allocate its resources in these areas to drive future impact.

As SAS has been primarily a business analytics company, the larger pie of its revenue comes from advanced analytics. In fact, it has 31.6% market share in this domain, which is significantly higher than any of its competitors. Despite the onslaught of competition from start-ups, open source tools, and some established vendors, SAS has continued to dominate this market.

Citing the reason behind this high market share, Kagalwalla points out, “The real differentiator for us has been the way we look at advanced analytics. We believe that using the historical data or data that is there in the organization, one can predict an outcome like forecasting of sales or demand. And this approach will help customers get quantifiable benefits. Besides, we have used these solutions to provide industry specific solutions to the customers, who don’t want to buy technology for the sake of it. Along with technology, we also carry the expertise of understanding each of the verticals that we address. It is this combination of technology plus the domain expertise that is helping us gain a large market share in the area of advanced analytics.”

With regards to data management, the company believes that data is the key for unlocking its value using analytics, hence data management is a vital precursor to analytics in the ‘data to discovery’ life cycle. Like analytics, SAS has been solving complex data quality related issues for years specifically in banking, telecom, manufacturing, and government sectors.

“We are witnessing Hadoop related technologies gaining momentum in the Indian market. However, we also see that organizations are unable to really utilize and exploit data in Hadoop for what it is meant for i.e. analytics. SAS data management technologies for Hadoop, more precisely SAS Data Loader for Hadoop, advocates self-service data management in Hadoop, bridges the Hadoop skill gap and simplifies movement of data from Hadoop to the Analytics Platform,” explains Kagalwalla.

Customer intelligence is the one solution stack where SAS has been successful in implementing customer value management solutions globally across industries. Since the last couple of years, in addition to B2C enterprises such as banks and communication, its customer intelligence practice is serving a host of B2B players as well.

Kagalwalla states, “With digitization initiatives across the spectrum of industries, organizations today have started to ask question on value generated through the digital programs and approach to sustain it going forward. Thus, the need of the hour now in today’s digital world is to do relevant and contextual customer targeted marketing intervention in real-time. This is an undisputed right thing to do to stave off competition from influencing the customer, increasing customer loyalty, and thereby driving profitability. Our solutions use data, analytics and insights on prospects and customers to create relevant, individualized experiences in real time, which is not only oriented to deliver best customer experience but also maximize value from each customer.”

Risk management – a big opportunity
Another focus area has been risk management, wherein SAS provides a comprehensive solution for addressing all aspects that organizations risks including credit, market, operational and compliance risks. The company has been consistently rated as the category leader, wherein banks in India and globally have deployed its risk management solutions to manage risk and comply with regulatory requirements.

“The new challenge for financial standards – IFRS9 (International Financial Reporting Standards9) will require banks to accurately predict ECL (expected credit loss), which in turn, will require new credit loss models to be conceived based on analytics. In fact, we are already in process of implementing IFRS9 at Standard Chartered and more than 40 banks globally. With regards to the domestic market, the company is already in talks with leading banks to deploy the related solutions,” asserts Kagalwalla.

As far as fraud intelligence is concerned, SAS solutions are being used by banks and government revenue agencies. The company is also venturing into newer verticals with respect to fraud detection such as telcos, mobile wallets, and e-business among others. In addition, offerings like the SAS Fraud Framework have been deployed at banks to detect financial crime patterns. The company is also making great strides in easing the investigation process through its new Visual Investigator offering.

“Our journey with tax fraud management started with Maharashtra Sales tax department. One of the reputed customers in this domain includes CBEC (Central Board of Excise & Customs) and CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes). SAS fraud management solution is a central component in CBDT’s ‘Project Insight’ program for detecting direct tax fraud. Besides, the commercial tax departments across most of the states like Maharashtra, UP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh among others are using SAS solutions for fraud management. Our solutions are helping the government in increasing its revenue collection,” says Kagalwalla.

Along with these core solution areas, the company has made inroads into data visualization space as well with its visual analytics solutions. SAS visual analytics provides an interactive user experience that combines advanced data visualization, an easy-to-use interface, and powerful in-memory technology.
“About a decade ago, organizations used to have a small team of mathematicians / statisticians doing number crunching and providing relevant information. But today the visualization solutions have given organizations an ability to take swift business decisions. You don’t need to have a technical background to analyze the data and then take decisions. This is what we want to leverage through our data visualization solutions and invest in the coming days,” adds Kagalwalla.

Betting big on SAS Viya
In order to modernize its existing analytics platform for the future of analytics, SAS has undertaken a $1 billion commitment and launched SAS Viya, which helps minimize the time between early-stage analytical exploration and the end result of business value. SAS Viya is the foundation of a suite of offerings, including machine learning, to address any analytic challenge. Open and cloud-ready, SAS Viya and its associated offerings provide a simple and unified computing platform that addresses all analytic questions, from small to large. The simple and powerful architecture of SAS Viya ensures easy deployment in the cloud or onsite.

“The open SAS Viya architecture makes analytics accessible to anyone, and we want to build upon that openness by creating a community for knowledge sharing. Users will be able to contribute code, procedures, visuals and services, and collaborate on ideas,” opined Kagalwalla.

Bridging the skill-gap
Looking at the skill gap in the analytics space, SAS is putting a lot of effort in training people and churning out data scientists in the market. The company believes that data scientists are one of the most employable professionals in the world today. It is simply because analytical talent is in high demand.
The most effective data scientists can go beyond analysis and communicate what they have learned into actionable recommendations for clients as well as incorporating solutions into automated production systems.

Kagalwalla asserts, “Analytics is an area that we are looking to re-skill the talent out there in the market. This is the reason why we impart training on the solution and services that we provide and then certify so that it can help bridging the skill gap. Today, customers want data scientists to be part of their organization. The kind of value these people bring to the organization is pretty much established. If a person brings analytical understanding with the business expertise, then he or she becomes an asset for the organization.” The academy offers both classroom and blended learning programs that certify experts in the field of data science.

Investment Areas
Amongst the new technology areas, SAS is very bullish on Internet of Things (IoT). Looking at the applicability of IoT across verticals, the company is already geared up to address the burgeoning market opportunities. And as IoT gets increasingly more complex with implementations moving from theory to reality, SAS is enhancing collaboration with partners like Cisco and Intel to drive analytics adoption with IoT. In this endeavor, the company has partnered with Cisco to take SAS ESP (Event Stream Processing) to Cisco’s Edge for IoT stack. The companies are calling their combined capability edge-to-enterprise analytics, and it is specifically targeted at IoT use cases. The reference architecture combines Cisco’s networking, edge and datacenter infrastructure with SAS’s capabilities in streaming and advanced analytics.

“The advent of IoT has magnified the focus on real-time data processing and analytics. SAS Event Stream Processing applies the power of analytics to fast-moving high throughput data while it is in motion and the edge,” states Kagalwalla.

He further adds, “IoT is more than just a convenience for consumers. It offers new sources of data and business operating models that can boost productivity in a variety of industries like manufacturing, transportation, retail, healthcare, telecommunications, utilities, etc. SAS Analytics for IoT covers the full IoT analytics life cycle – from data capture and integration to analytics and deployment.”

In the field of artificial intelligence, SAS is combining existing analytical capabilities with modern techniques. SAS has been supporting AI technologies in analytics for decades and is already contributing critical components to the cognitive computing mix. These include unparalleled natural language processing and open, deep learning API (application programming interface) libraries sitting on top of advanced analytics, including the SAS Viya platform.

In order to tap opportunities in the cloud domain, the company has made SAS analytics available as a ‘service’, which will be delivered through SAS cloud. Results-as-a-Service model is another area where the company is going to invest heavily on. It has recently launched SAS Results, a cloud-based results-as-a-service offering, to deliver advanced analytic insights especially to small and medium enterprises. SAS Results is ideal for organizations that have increasing demand for skilled analysts; lack resources, such as a data center or management bandwidth; face significant business problems that need swift resolution; and need to overcome limited budget and opportunities to increase headcount.

Scaling up the partner ecosystem
SAS’s strong partner ecosystem enables the company to give customers even more options and flexibility in terms of how they implement SAS software. The company is putting a strong effort towards scaling up the partners ecosystem in the country. They undergo the training and subsequently the certification.
“We have been investing in partners, not just in India but globally as well,” he added.

With the emergence of technologies like IoT and artificial intelligence, SAS is looking at engaging with the specialized partners. “Yes, we are looking at next-generation partners who are specialized in these areas. Besides, some of our existing partners are setting up special courses to learn these new technologies. Even the partners that we currently work with like TCS, Wipro, KPMG, PWC, Deloitte, and Infosys, are setting up a dedicated team,” concludes Kagalwalla.

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