“Which is the best analytics software to learn?” – I am often asked this question by those aspiring to get into the field of analytics.
The analytics software market has numerous players – from billion dollar corporations to 1-man shops- offering highly sophisticated, even self-learning platforms to niche, custom-made solutions.
SAS is undoubtedly the reigning king in the market. Most large global companies and cash-rich businesses tend to go for this software. In India, most medium and large analytics service providers use SAS for predictive modelling and advanced data mining.
There are many different software available from the SAS institute. Some of them are fairly generic and domain agnostic while some are domain-specific platforms that serve a niche purpose. Of all the packages available, Base SAS is the cheapest and most widely used. The Base SAS package is a code-based tool that uses the SAS language for coding. While some of the tasks like data import can be performed using the GUI, most tasks require a knowledge of the SAS language.
Being a code-based tool, Base SAS is not very easy to learn. However, other than Excel, it is one of the most popular analytics software in the business market and hence, a handy skill to have.
SAS has another tool called “E-miner”. E-miner is a GUI based version of Base SAS where you can perform complex data manipulation and modelling tasks just by clicks and drags. E-miner also has additional advanced analytics capabilities that are not present in the base SAS version. Capabilities to perform market basket analysis, decision trees, neural networks and support vector machines make e-miner a very comprehensive and easy to learn tool.
The biggest drawback of this amazing software is the extremely high price that the SAS institute insists on charging for it. Deployment of this tool in a mid-size organization can run into millions of dollars. In India, apart from the large MNC banks like Citibank, Barclays etc. very few other companies are able to afford this tool.
IBM: With some major acquisitions in the last few years, IBM has suddenly become a major player in the analytics software market. While COGNOS is largely considered as a business intelligence tool, SPSS and IBM modeler (previously SPSS Clementine) are big players in this market. SPSS is more popular in the market research field than the business analytics field. IBM modeler is comparable to SAS e-miner both in terms of features as well as pricing and hence has the same pros and cons.
Software for the future
R - R is the most popular open-source (FREE) analytics software in the world. Within the analytics community, its popularity easily surpasses that of any other tool. And it is easily the tool of choice for most academicians and scientists. Businesses, however, have been slow to adopt R and a lot of this can be because of intellectual property issues arising out of codes and algorithms written on an open source platform.
While R is again a code based package similar to Base SAS, there are GUIs available for it. The Revolution analytics GUI for enterprise R is a very welcome new addition to the analytics software market. The GUI cuts down on the learning time for R and even though it is not free, it still makes for a very cost-effective solution.
In my discussions with various analytics companies in India, many have expressed a desire to move to R. Companies are however unsure about how to go about training their existing resources and building a pipeline of trained resources for the future. As the new generation of analysts starts to move towards building R skills, companies will slowly but surely move to this platform.
With its ever-increasing capability list, and low/no-cost pricing, R is the most exciting analytics software for the future.
WPS: WPS is a tool that has been around for some time but has not been able to gain the popularity it deserves. This tool, now also acquired by IBM, is virtually a clone of Base SAS. It uses the same SAS language, has a similar interface and has identical algorithms. In fact, most of your SAS codes will run as-is on the WPS platform and most SAS users will be able to transition to this tool with a simple, 2-day training.
The software is completely legitimate, by the way, having won numerous cases filed by the SAS institute.
WPS is very attractively priced compared to Base SAS and companies can easily expect to save over 50% in costs if they move from SAS to WPS.
This means that once IBM gets around to marketing this tool effectively, this could seriously dent SAS’s stranglehold on the market. With a pool of SAS trained resources available to them, companies will find moving from SAS to WPS a walk in the park.
With such a short learning and adoption time, WPS is the second most exciting tool for the future.
Which tools do you think will dominate the market in the future?
Edit 1 – 24 Jan 2012
This article has generated a lot of interesting response on LinkedIn., Here is a link to one of such discussions. It is interesting to get varied perspectives on this topic.