SAS unveils new marketing automation program

SAS Institute may well have designed a useful new iteration of its customer intelligence software, but only time will tell if it's as much of a pain for IT managers as it is a boon for the enterprise, according to one industry observer.

SAS on Monday unveiled Marketing Automation (MA) 4, a software package meant to make marketing initiatives simple for the enterprise to achieve.

MA 4 is the first product built to operate on the firm's latest business intelligence platform, SAS 9, which was released at the end of March. SAS announced MA 4 at the 29th SAS Users Group International (SUGI) conference, held in Montreal.

According to company representatives, MA 4 provides data management and marketing campaign creation capabilities, as well as predictive analysis that allows businesses to go beyond rudimentary customer segmentation based on household incomes and age groups.

"A good example would be in the wireless telecommunications arena," said Cameron Dow, SAS Canada's vice-president of marketing. "It's great to be able to execute marketing campaigns, but it's even better to be able to identify segments within your customer base that are more likely to cancel their subscriptions with you and go to a competitor. It's more effective to have that predictive capability and then build a campaign to go after those potentially lost customers, than it is to get a report saying, 'Here's how many customers you lost last month' (or) 'Here's how many contracts were cancelled.' There's not much you can do about that."

Eric Schmitt, a senior industry analyst at Forrester Research, said MA 4 provides a better user interface than did its predecessor, so people who are not well versed in data analysis can garner useful enterprise info from the program. He also said SAS has done well to base MA 4 on SAS 9. Strong ties between the marketing software and the new SAS platform make MA 4 a front-runner for current SAS customers seeking marketing automation.

However, asked if SAS has done anything to mitigate the burden of implementing and managing MA 4, Schmitt said that remains to be seen.

"The question of what level of commitment it takes, what IT's experience is, I want to talk to customers about that," he said, explaining that he viewed an MA 4 demo a few months ago, but he hasn't talked to any companies that have installed the technology yet. "A piece of software isn't like a record album. You can't listen to it and pass judgment on it."

Peter Clemente, senior vice-president of customer-relationship management at Sony Pictures Digital Networks, said his company is bringing MA 4 into production these days. It may be too soon to assess how Sony's IT department is handling the new software, but Clemente did say his company expects MA 4 to help Sony devise new marketing campaigns in the coming years.

Dow from SAS said SAS 9 provides an easy-to-use management console that gives IT a view of an enterprise's entire SAS infrastructure, including MA 4.

He said SAS kept four "pillars" in mind when developing the underlying SAS 9: ease of management, scalability, usability and interoperability. To those ends the platform can handle more data than its predecessor, SAS 8, could; it connects with data warehouse programs built by other software vendors, and it provides a dashboard view for business managers who seek business info, but would rather not need a PhD in statistics to understand it.

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