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SAS tries to get smart by dumbing down tools

Known for its high-end tools for data mining, SAS tries to expand its audience by making its business-intelligence software easier to use.

SAS Institute is trying to dumb down its business intelligence software in hopes of expanding its customer base.

The company said Monday that it is shipping an update to its SAS Enterprise BI Server software suite, which lets companies query back-end data sources to analyze historical information and create reports.

SAS focused on making the updated product easier to use, according to company executives. The update includes visual tools designed for people without extensive technical training.

"We were tired of being 'niched' as a high-end statistics company," company founder and CEO James Goodnight said. "Now we can win a beauty contest with (competitors) Cognos or Business Objects."

The company's business intelligence products traditionally have been used for highly sophisticated tasks, such as statistical analysis to predict future outcomes. Telecommunications companies, for example, can use SAS products to analyze historical data to determine which current customers are likely to drop their service.

Last year, the company released SAS Enterprise BI Server, which is a more general-purpose business intelligence server suite. With the latest changes, the company intends to compete more directly with other business-intelligence software sellers.

Business intelligence is one of the fastest-growing areas in the business software industry, according to analysts. Corporate customers are spending money on data analytics and reporting in order to comply with industry regulations and to get more useful information out of transactional systems.

Privately held SAS earned $1.5 billion last year and expects to see its revenue grow at a double-digit rate this year, Goodnight said.