Sunday, November 22, 2009

SAS and Evidence-based Decision-Making and Analytics in the New York Times

Today's NY Times has a feature article on the software powerhouse, SAS, which is based in Cary, North Carolina. The article traces its history and founding by Mr. Goodnight and three colleagues from North Carolina State University in 1976 and highlights how, even today, SAS allocates 22% of the company's substantial revenue to research and development. The article has links to SAS's gorgeous campus, which includes a pool, a daycare and preschool for employees' children, on-site medical care, and more! Of the 100 largest companies in the world, 92 use SAS software.

However, SAS is now being threatened by such major corporations as IBM, which is investing billions of dollars in what is being called business intelligence software, for predictive modeling and analytics, which enhances evidence-based decision-making. With the tremendous increase in data availability through the Internet and sensors, companies are now increasingly understanding the huge untapped potential of operations research tools and statistical models and methods.

The environment at SAS has fostered creativity but the competition is growing and SAS will be having to readjust to significant outside competitive pressures. The article discusses how SAS's leadership is planning on handling these new challenges.

One of my former doctoral students, Dr. Padma Ramanujam, whose dissertation that I chaired, entitled, Transportation Network Policy Modeling for Congestion and Pollution Control: A Variational Inequality Approach, which received the 1999 dissertation prize of the (then-called) Transportation Science Section of INFORMS, is an employee of SAS. Dr. Ramanujam is also a Center Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks that I am the Founding Director of. Dr. Ramanujam, after receiving her PhD with a concentration in Management Science from the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst, joined I2 Technologies in Richardson, Texas, and then moved on to SAS.

SAS has had a very supportive environment for females and I would like to single out the work of Dr. Radhika Kulkarni of SAS, who received the 2006 WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award of INFORMS. A year later, she chaired the same award committee when I was the recipient of the 2007 WORMS Award. We had a chance to reflect on the careers of females in technical industries and to also reflect on the nurturance of female doctorates. Some photos from the award ceremonies and festivities can be found here.

In conversations with Dr. Kulkarni of SAS, so many wonderful memories came flooding back, including those surrounding the writing of the Environmental Networks book with two of my female PhD students, Padma Ramanujam and Kanwalroop "Kathy" Dhanda. How many technical books are there out there authored by three (or more females) I wonder?!

Looking at the photo of the pool on the New York Times website that accompanied the article on SAS, I was reminded of the corporate positions that I held after receiving my two undergrad degrees from Brown University (and while pursuing my Master's degree from Brown). The positions were in high tech, defense consulting and I was based on Aquidneck Island (Newport and Middletown) in Rhode Island. The intensity of the software research and development work was balanced by runs and marathon training with views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Congrats to companies that realize that simply sitting at a computer is not where the best ideas come from!