SAS Institute is successfully differentiating itself from tech giants like IBM and Google when it comes to the development of artificial intelligence, according to IDC.

The analytics vendor has invested heavily in its AI business and research and development in the past year, and IDC data suggests the investment is paying off. SAS’s AI business has seen year-over-year growth at a rate nearly four times that of the overall market, which saw a growth rate of roughly 27 per cent.

While a couple of other companies listed in the study had slightly higher growth rates than SAS’s 104.6 per cent, none of those companies had higher revenues overall.

Warren Shiau, who serves as a research vice-president at IDC Canada, spoke with IT World Canada about the topic and said he believes SAS’s big customers, which includes Lockheed Martin, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Honda, have been demonstrated how practical its AI capabilities can be for day-to-day business operations. Shiau specifically cited manufacturing as an example, where AI can be used in conjunction with cognitive capabilities for such procedures such as production lines monitoring and quality control.

Warren Shiau, research vice president at IDC Canada. Credit: IDC Canada

“It’s really practical use cases. And practical in the sense that if you are operating a line of business, you can almost immediately grasp what you can implement it for,” said Shiau. “You see stuff like them using visual input to augment an analytic system. So for example, you have got a visual recognition of manufacturing defects and that’ll go into analytics system, which works with certain algorithms to spit out recommendations for what to do to address the defector.”

While SAS seems to be leveraging practical use cases, which Shiau said is especially important to Canadian customers who have historically been more focused on practicality than other regions of the world, other tech giants like Google and IBM are not seeing leaving the same impact. Those companies’ focus is aimed more heavily towards deep learning, technology that’s much more difficult to educate potential customers about, he said.

“IBM went in the direction of making very, very big bets on deep learning. While SAS is concentrating on very, very practical implementations of AI. And I think that’s really what the market is more prepared for,” said Shiau. “If we talk about a specific market, like Canada, we’ve always been very, very operational efficiency-focused in our business spending. That’s the way our spending tends to go; towards things like cost reduction and operational efficiency. So I think of the market like that. Are you going to spend on the deep learning AI system or are you going to spend on something that’s very practical, like increasing your production line efficiency?”

This data displays the total revenue in the AI market for each company along with its year-over-year growth. Credit: IDC Canada

No slowdown in spending

SAS has said it will continue to invest heavily in AI, with US$1 billion committed to the field over the next three years. This will include a focus on three main areas: research and development (which SAS spends 26 per cent of its overall revenue on already), education initiatives to help customers and partners better understand the benefits of AI, and expert services to help customers optimize the benefits of AI projects.

“AI has been an integral part of SAS software for years,” said Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS. “Today we continue to move beyond the hype to make AI real for our customers, building on our strong foundation in advanced analytics.”

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