Should SAS Visual Analytics Replace MS PowerPoint?

11/07/2014 by Tricia Aanderud Data Communication, Modernization - Analytics

When I first heard a customer say their main reason for purchasing SAS Visual Analytics was to replace Microsoft PowerPoint, it raised my eyebrows. Wow someone must have had a budget surplus because that seems like an expensive replacement. By the time I heard a third customer say it, I realized it was more than someone having too much money. As I was thinking about the customers, I realized they had some things in common.

Is PowerPoint a de Facto Standard for Reporting?

These customer had different industries and use cases, but they did have a few things in common that had lead them down this path.

  • Size They were either a small business or an entity within a larger company that had a separate database.  Basically – their data is isolated.
  • Data Management Their data is in a relational database, but the reporting had not progressed much further than a MS Office tools.  There was no formal business intelligence implementation or a thought of a data warehouse.These companies are likely to have multiple spreadsheets and Access databases to manage their information – sometimes referred to as spreadmarts.
  • Growing Reporting Needs Each day or week, someone was responsible for putting together at least one extensive report shared across the organization or with customers that is becoming time-consuming.  Some were experiencing data quality issues.   All were using PowerPoint distributed by email as the reporting delivery method.

When you combine these factors you might find many small businesses in this situation.  It is different from larger corporation who may have a more mature business intelligence process. SAS Visual Analytics makes it easy for small business to get started on the BI path.

Is MS Office Really the Best Small Business Reporting Tool?

In my first official reporting job, I was responsible for disturbing a weekly report package about the customer trouble tickets. The prior person distributed an Excel based report to management . At that time BASE SAS was used to extract the data and output as a CSV file, which could then be saved as Excel. After we purchased the SAS BI tools (a super early version!) I discovered how easy stored processes and the Add-In for MS Office could make my life. We tried using Web Report Studio for this report but management preferred the Excel “look” and the PowerPoint “layout”. Based on the SAS batch process that pulled data from several different databases, I created a monster PowerPoint slide package using stored processes and some charts that we could update based on Excel data. The chart package contained the same data presentation but broken out in some unique ways. First there was the overall department view that the vice president wanted to see, then the same chart layout by each product for the line managers, and last the same layout with the top 5 new or active customers that was reviewed endlessly.

Once created, it was emailed to 30+ people.  My monster slide package contained 60 slides at one point. Yes, IT did contact me to suggest that I stored it in a central location.   But that never worked because many receivers were road warriors and wanted it from Outlook.  No one had heard of an iPad then and a smartphone was a Blackberry.

The management team huddled weekly to review the slide package. As a result, I would receive questions they had or what I dubbed the “Go Find Out Why” list. No matter how much information the monster slide package contained, they always needed more details.  Turns out MS Office was not the best reporting solution. Some weeks it took a few minutes to find the answer but other weeks I would spend hours researching.  The worse part? I was never completely sure why they were asking the question.  Thus, one of two things would happen with my “Go Find Out Why”  answers. Either they would forget the original question or after a week the information did not seem that vital. It was often a waste of time.

How SAS Visual Analytics Solves the Issue

Imagine how much more efficient SAS Visual Analytics would have been.  I was using stored processes to extract and present data that SAS VA could easily do more directly. SAS VA would have overcome the management “requirement” for looks nice and has a presentation layout. I think the package would have reduced to 5-7 sections.  Since SAS Visual Analytics can easily filter, I would have built the charts and then added buttons, drop-down lists and sliders to allow the team to see the information they wanted.

There would have been no need to email chart packages. The data would have been available each morning and on their mobile devices. [Read more about mobile BI: Get Your Mobile BI Design Going ]

Since I could have provided more information at once (like all customers instead of top 5 active or data for past 3 years instead of 12 months) I think there are a lot of questions they would have explored and answered themselves during the meeting  (buh-bye Go-Find-Out-Why list!)

My process would have been more similar to this graphic:

What Are the Takeaways?

One manager (who asked to remain anonymous) said his team was now fielding more requests to get data into SAS Visual Analytics than running down the questions.  The tool makes it so easy to interact with the data and the managers are really exploring the data and asking for more.  The organization is moving down the BI Maturity path. The same manager said the organization’s prior process was quite broken when he thinks about it now. Each department manager created a weekly PowerPoint package that would take at least an entire day to prepare and review. After they centralized  their data with SAS Visual Analytics, the time dropped to an hour a week.  The better outcome is that the vice president now trusts the data and thus the managers more.

I can relate to the situation since I used to spend that much time preparing chart packages and still have the “Go Find Out Why” list. Maybe just having me preparing the slide package overcame some of the trust issues since I didn’t own the data, I just reported on it.  Plus SAS VA makes it easier to make changes to charts which I would have welcomed over having to code everything. A single non-distributed SAS Visual Analytics system would be a great starting point for small businesses and offer a price point that would be attractive.