SAS India, the India arm of the largest privately held software company with focus on business analytics and business intelligence, considers dealing with the government as the biggest challenge in the analytics business. Ironically, the government is its biggest customer. Sudipta K Sen, CEO & MD, SAS India, in an interview with Shubham Batra discusses recent projects and future plans of the firm.
What are the projects you are working on with the government?
Globally, the segment which is big for SAS is the business that we get from the government sector. And even in India, in pursuit of that, we are focused appropriately. The area where we contribute to various government projects including in India is of course the financial sector. The finance sector is the hub of activity in the economic growth of any country and therefore it’s imperative that appropriate environment is created in the capital markets so that the FDI flow comes in. If you look at India the reason why a lot of FDI flows in stock exchanges is very strong governance and transparency. And obviously behind transparency is the focused surveillance department of various stock exchanges. We help in surveillance there.
How does business intelligence play a role in these projects?
Let me give you an example from capital markets. To prevent frauds such as circular trades and the scenario of artificial inflating of stock prices, you need to find patterns. A trend gets tracked by the analytics that we provide and software to various clients. We actually find a trend in this humongous pool of data and predict that this is where the things are happening so that appropriate action can be taken. So to amplify it further, primarily the biggest user of SAS analytics in the government is the department of taxation because there again you are dealing with a humongous amount of data. Customs and excise is using SAS with impact, primarily to focus on increasing the revenue.
If you look at any taxation department the data is coming in from multiple sources. One is the source where the taxation is filed and you have the internal data and there are n number of external agencies also supplying data. But to find a trend one has to link up all these. So there comes the first step in the technology stack where we do the integration of data. In a scenario like this it becomes imperative that a data quality engine cleanses such data. That is also part of our product sweep. After doing these two, first is the data integration, which means you are pulling out data from various sources, which may not be in the same technology. One could be technology A, second could be technology B. So here we do the cleansing. Next is the analytics part which does the mining. Once the patterns are found then you prepare reports and send it out to the user who wants to take a decision. These are the core pillars on which SAS sits.
What are the sectors SAS is focusing on in India?
In the government, the department of taxation is one area. Second is the area of health. With the ministry of health, the government of India is using SAS to find patterns on scenarios. For example, when a disease becomes endemic, they can see the pattern and take steps to stop. Third area where SAS is working globally is citizen security and, if I may use the word, ‘homeland security’. In the US, there are many fusion centres that are using SAS. Same is the case with homeland security organisations in the UK. Wherever terrorist activities persist, a lot of linkage of data is required, whether in terms of telecom or travel. There is a need to do a lot of mining and we have solutions for that.
Which are the government departments you are working with?
There is a large number of departments. Regulators like SEBI and RBI are using SAS along with the department of statistics. There are a lot of users using the software along with the ministry of agriculture, where it is used in improving the yield of the agricultural produce in terms of bio-statistics. Then there is the department of fisheries.
How is the demand in India for business analytics?
Essentially, if you look at government as a customer, it is probably the biggest. But the size and complexity being what it is, it is not like one organisation where you go to a headquarters and the job is done. So engagement at various levels is something which is required and that is what we do. In pursuit of that, obviously, we also participate in a lot of government-sponsored events where we get invited as thought leaders and speakers. Such opportunities help us share and showcase how we are adding value in other countries because there is a lot of learning that comes from the developed countries.
How are you helping the government through business intelligence (BI) and business analytics (BA) in optimisation of costs?
Look at any tax selection organisation; it does not have undefined resources. They would rather like to use the defined resource where chances of collection are highest rather than wasting their energy on false positive scenario. So SAS gets used in basically identifying most likely positive cases rather than false positive scenarios. In the ministry of defense, this organisation used the locomotion devices for the tanks. Obviously any such device would need spare parts. Now the spare parts are not really required in the same pattern. If the tank is used in sandy areas as compared to a tank used in the jungles compared to the tanks used in mountains, it will have a different pattern of usage. Therefore the need for the spares could be different. So this is where analytics comes into play with predictions about where and what kind of spares would be required. We play a big role in planning their inventory because the operational readiness is very important for the security of the country.
What are the key challenges for business analytics and intelligence?
The challenge comes in when we engage ourselves with the government organisations. In most organisations the deal is done based on a couple of parameters. First, technical short-listing and the second is what we call the L1 (least quote) scenario. This is what forms the basis of purchase for an organisation. Very often when you have to deal with the L1 syndrome, an organisation has to appreciate that the value it brings has to be seen not just based on what is the cheapest. The appreciation of that value really comes out only when the client gets to see the real-life applications. There are a lot of opportunities where the developed world has been there and done that. To articulate the value to the various decision makers it becomes challenging at times if the implementation is not sitting in India. That’s the real challenge. n