Dr Jim Goodnight talks the business of analytics

By Georgina Swan, CIO Australia |  Storage, Analytics, SAS

CIO: What was the impetus for starting SAS?

Goodnight: SAS itself started at NC [North Carolina] State University. Tony Barr and I began work back in 1966, 1967. At the time I was putting myself through my masters in statistics, but I had been programming for about four years and the Department of Statistics was paying me to program software to help analyse all the data on campus. NC State is what's called a land-grant university; one university in every state receives money from the federal government to establish a college of agriculture and engineering. The mission of these universities is to improve crops, improve livestock, and that's where almost all the major breakthroughs in crop science come from. Every student they graduate, every PhD, has to come up with something new. The group that I worked for was in charge of helping design the experiments and I helped analyse all of the data.

So we released our very first version of SAS in 1968. After that it was just continuous improvement, continuous refinement up until 1976 when we had grown and there was no more room for us in the building. We felt we had enough users and enough customers that we could actually live off campus. As part of the deal with the university, we had to be across the street. So we just moved straight across the street and found an office over there.

You have seen many changes throughout your tenure at SAS. How have you maintained the level of innovation?

We generally try to plan out about two years. That's the window of time that we can get something fully developed, fully tested and ready to work with customers. It allows us to be more proactive for things like the iPad. Finally, we have a mobile device that's big enough to do something useful. I always felt like most of our bar charts and graphs and all of our analytical stuff just doesn't look very good on a phone; there's not enough real estate. But all of a sudden, we were excited about making sure we had some apps out there that allow a user to download data from a server and display it on their own iPad.

Organisations sometime struggle with business analytics. What do they do well and what can they improve on?

To really effectively use these packages, you need somebody in your organisation that has thorough knowledge of what they should be doing with them. And right now there's a little bit of a shortage in the world of analytics experts.

That's one of the reasons we helped fund and develop a masters program at NC State University, as a Masters of Advanced Analytics. It's a 12-month course that covers some time series, some modeling, some optimisation, and all the combinations of things that we're using these days.

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