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Issue Date: June 2007

Stats SA crunching numbers with Qinfo and SAS Institute

14 June 2007

Statistics giant turns to enterprise intelligence to meet its business needs.
When the official statistical body of South Africa, Statistics SA (Stats SA), needed to implement the new SAS 9 Enterprise Intelligence Platform (EIP), the organisation turned to SAS Institute who assigned one of their partners, Qinfo, to assist.
Statistics SA aims to provide the South African public, businesses and government with relevant and accurate statistics to inform them about the dynamics of the economy, the population and society at large.
Says Ronelle Brandt, from Stats SA: “We have multiple data sources which need to be accessible to calculate statistics and indicators and produce the required reports. Due to the confidentiality of the data, security is of critical importance in our environment.”
The process and solution
Stats SA took a strategic decision to move its business from PC-based processing and analysis to an enterprise-based solution.
A project team consisting of resources from Stats SA and Qinfo was established to do the SAS 9 EIP installation, a pilot migration project from version 8 to version 9 and user training on the new environment and tools.
With metadata management, connectivity is established to various data sources, access is controlled, processing is made easier with Enterprise Guide and reporting is revolutionised with the integration of Microsoft Office and SAS9.
“I have personally been using SAS for many years and it has been great to work with the technology as it has evolved. I believe in the product and would not keep using it, if I did not think it met with our business requirements,” states Brandt. “We are currently using it for data processing, analysis and reporting. It is a great integrator for a business like ours.”
The project was not without teething pains, and Brandt says initially there was a lack of experienced resources to assist with the implementation in the 64-bit environment. “There just were not enough skilled resources available at the time to assist us, and we had to undergo a relatively steep learning curve. What impressed me the most was that as soon as this was identified as a project inhibitor and the problems were escalated, they were dealt with instantly and resources were made available on very short notice to assist us.”
Training was an integral part of the change management of the project, and partner Qinfo combined generic training material with specialised needs. “The feedback received from trainees has been very positive, a true credit to the company. It helped immensely that the trainer from Qinfo is a certified SAS trainer with many years training experience and that he was involved in the implementation process as well.”
Brandt adds that technical support and availability are some of the fundamental requirements it needs from any partner.
The main benefits of the new system according to Brandt include connectivity to various data sources, security and ease of use, version control, as well as integration with Microsoft Office. Working with very sensitive information, the organisation is, with effective security built in, able to ensure more easily that only specific and allowed users are able to access data sets.
“We produce indicators which are important to the economy; there is simply no room for error, and no room for a security breach. We are very happy with the security built into the system as it allows us to stringently control various data sets and user permissions associated with these,” stresses Brandt.
In addition to the above she adds that reporting is also a big part of what the organisation does, and the more intuitive and professional means by which reports can be produced by the new system has reduced time to final product dramatically for staff that needs to present reports within short time frames.
“What people do not realise is the pressure that our people work under, and the limited time they have available to get the information, clean it, analyse it and then present it. Being able to automate these processes and save time is critical to us – the new system buys us time, ensures good quality,” adds Brandt.
Other notable benefits include the ability to centralise information across the enterprise, and the option to be able to work within and from the various Microsoft product sets including Excel, PowerPoint and Word.
The road ahead
With a fair amount still planned for the new system, Brandt says she is keen to explore the additional use of the business intelligence side of the enterprise system and the automation of processes. She is also looking at increasing the number of users of the new system and ensuring that it becomes a standard in the organisation.
“For people who have never worked on SAS before the new solution is a lot less challenging as it is more intuitive and there is very little programming required, as was the case with the older technology. Some of the people who are used to the old system seem to have a couple of headaches with the new metadata driven environment, but with the necessary support and training this seems to clear up,” adds Brandt.
“When working on a project of this magnitude it is important to identify partners who view your relationship with them as a long term one. To us this is critical; we look for partners to go the distance with us and ensure that we deliver good quality solutions within the expected time frames. We all know that vendors are in business to make a profit, but Qinfo and SAS have proved that they want us to succeed as much as we do, which ultimately has been the differentiator,” ends Brandt.

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