Now that we’ve established that it takes more than simple spreadsheets to do analytics, it might be time to think about what some of our software options are to help us perform data analysis. The good news, and bad news, is that there are lots of options out there. The bad news is that there are lots of options out there. Truth be told, when trying to differentiate between analytical software options, things can get very confusing very quickly. Rather than adding to the confusion by going through detailed considerations for those evaluations, we are going to take a quick look at the three most popular analytics software: Business Objects, SPSS, and SAS.
Business Objects, or BOBJ, is a very popular option for analytics, even though it is not so much an analytical tool as it is a data display tool. Once you learn how to use it you can make graphs and charts pretty quickly, and it is great for making dashboards for executive presentations. Many ‘real time’ dashboards that update directly from an ERP (Enterprise resource planning) system are built in Business Objects. While Business Objects can help us see patterns, it lacks the capability to help us perform statistical analysis to understand if those patterns necessitate trends. It also doesn’t have the ability to develop predictive models to help us make better business decisions.
The two most popular tools for helping us make better business decisions are SPSS and SAS. They have both been around longer than competing statistical software packages, and evolved out of the behavioral sciences. And each one also has its very loyal fans. In fact, the debate about which one is better often becomes a kind of Chevy vs. Ford type battle. In my opinion, those debates are somewhat silly because SPSS and SAS have very different strengths, and are strongest when used together.
While both have resident statistical capabilities, they approach analysis differently. SPSS is more of a point and click based solution. It is better for running ad hoc analyses and playing with your data to see what the trends are. SAS, on the other hand, is more of a programming language based solution that can do a lot of the same things as SPSS, but the interface is less intuitive. If you want to save the procedures so that they run over and over again, SAS would be the software of choice.
With all that said, if someone asks you which one is the best you can now simply reply “it all depends.” Then point out how the best thing to do is play with your data in SPSS to figure out what your analytics models look like. Once you know your models, you can set them up to run over and over again in SAS to look at the performance of your organization over time. And then you can present the results in fancy dashboards through Business Objects. That is what I would recommend.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture, and Hewlett-Packard.