Following a keen marketing exercise that portrayed executive information systems as a way for senior executives to get thoroughly on top of their company’s data, these systems have recently started to get poor publicity. For example, speaking at Comshare’s System W User Group meeting in Brighton, Don MacDonald, managing director of the consultancy Intec International, […]
Following a keen marketing exercise that portrayed executive information systems as a way for senior executives to get thoroughly on top of their company’s data, these systems have recently started to get poor publicity. For example, speaking at Comshare’s System W User Group meeting in Brighton, Don MacDonald, managing director of the consultancy Intec International, predicts that the 50% failure rate of executive information systems projects is likely to continue or grow. He believes that this is because the market for the systems is growing dramatically so that companies are rushing to jump on to the bandwaggon without clear objectives or effective project management. MacDonald also blamed information technology departments for their resistance to executive information systems, which means that users are starting EIS projects independently and not co-ordinading these systems with their organisation’s computer system.
Never stood up
All of which must be music to the ears of Steve Darbyshire, marketing manager of SAS Software Ltd, since he believes that the SAS System constitutes an executive information system already and has done for eight years. Its simply that SAS has never stood up and said that you can develop an executive information system with its software. Now, however, SAS is standing up to be counted so that customers can recognise its software as an EIS option at an early stage. Indeed, the SAS System v.6 has a lot to offer because it is far more than a data delivery mechanism – it offers an executive information system, a decision support system and a management information system all as part of the same environment. Ironically, this is the way Darbyshire believes that executive information systems will be developed, since people sold on delivery at the top will demand more information and will want to go down to the decision support systems level. Consequently, SAS now has a flashy front end so that executives can play with features like hot-spotting and traffic lighting. Executive information systems built using SAS tools comply with IBM’s SAA Common User Access standard so that when an executive decides she wants to add another application she doesn’t have to go through a learning process to be able to use it. For as Darbyshire points out, at present each executive information system vendor appears to be peddling its own user interface without attempting to standardise. This move to capitalise on an information technology trend marks a point of departure for SAS in terms of raising its profile and shouting about its capabilities. –
By Katy Ring
SAS tends to operate as a kind of closed community shrouded in mystique. For a start the very name of the company – SAS Institute Inc – implies some kind of academic fund rather than a private company. Indeed, founder Jim Goodnight was a statistician at North Carolina University and the company headquarters in Cary, North Carolina are built in a campus style and boast the largest creche facility in the US. The company approach is informal, and product development is fuelled by user desires, which are channelled through the SASWare ballot. The ballot is mailed out to every user on SAS’s mailing list – at least one person per site – and offers a list of suggestions covering added functionality and asks them to vote on those suggestions. A good example of this strategy in action, says Darbyshire, was when it was decided that the SAS System was to be moved out onto personal computers as this was what users were demanding. It was put to them that they could have a subset of SAS put on the personal computer pretty quickly, or they could wait for a full implementation – they chose to wait. Darbyshire explains that the money users pay for an annual licence fee is invested in development rather than in flashy new cars for salespeople – 45% of revenues are ploughed back into research and development. Originally the SAS System was written in PL/I and Assembler code, but the decision was taken in 1984 to rewrite the system totally in C. Consequently, Goodnight looked a
round for the best C compiler and chose Lattice C. The two companies merged and built the SAS/C compiler, which was instrumental in developing SAS’s Multiple Vendor Architecture. Darbyshire describes this architecture as SAS’s version of SAA it enables applications to be portable within the SAS softwareenvironment. SAS then used this architecture to rewrite the SAS System – the developers split the SAS code into three layers: the host, the supervisor and the applications layer, which were all rewritten using the SAS/C compiler. Around 90% of the product is now system independent as the applications layer and the supervisor layer is now host independent. The final 10% of the System is the host layer and it is this layer that has to be regritten for each hardware implementation the company supports. This rewriting of the software has also changed the way that the company is structured, since it now has one application development team and some small host development teams so that releases of the SAS System should be consistent across all supported environments.
This new architecture has led to a very impressive generator of portable applications. For example, if an application is developed under OS/2 running with Presentation Manager and is then shifted to a DEC VAX it will run DECwindows. If it is then moved to a Unix workstation that application will then look and feel like Motif. Running under MVS on a 3278 terminal it will use SAS’s own windowing system – in short it adapts to whatever windowing technique is offered by the device driver. When it comes to database management systems Darbyshire says that SAS users can live wih or without them depending on the application. The system offers data sets, which are used by the majority of SAS users at MVS sites. However, SAS does offer application tools to enable users to both abstract and work against data held in DB2, Oracle or Ingres. Another benefit offered by Multiple Vendor Architecture is that applications can be moved with relatively little pain to work against another database management system, so that, for example, an application can be moved from the MVS environment to the VAX environment where it will work against data held in Rdb as long as the table names are first changed in the application. The SAS Institute claims 20,000 sites world-wide of which 8,500 are IBM or plug-compatible mainframe users, 3,500 are DEC VAX or some other propriedary mini site, while the rest are mainly MS-DOS, aside from around 1,000 Unix sites. The personal computer and Unix users can only use version 6, the majority of mini users are in the process of moving across to version 6, but the bulk of MVS sites are holding back and holding on to version 5. Of course, the EIS hook might just change that…