Major Systems Integrator calls on SAS expertise for complete redesign of crucial analytics system
Teaming up with solution and technical experts to tackle a specific task can create a strong and productive environment for the delivery of IT projects, as one delivery partner found when they worked with SAS
Many different kinds of IT projects are required across government departments in the UK. Some might involve making tweaks to improve the performance of an existing system, whereas others demand a complete re-design, making use of new technologies and approaches to create systems with innovative and more effective capabilities. This diversity means every project is different, demanding varied skills and experience from suppliers. In many cases, there are specific requirements that the prime supplier needs additional support and expertise to fulfil. The UK government's policy of increasing the variety and breadth of suppliers to government departments means that it is more important than ever that different partners and suppliers can collaborate and work together effectively to achieve a common aim to deliver value for the customer.
SAS worked with a major IT services partner, already working for a large government department, in one such instance. The Systems Integrator (SI) was commissioned to build a new fraud detection system and, in choosing the most appropriate technical solutions, appreciated that delivery of the solution required a blend of SAS skills and expertise beyond those that the current team possessed. Starting from a small initial engagement with SAS® Professional Services, the SI quickly came to understand the mutual value that a collaborative partnership would provide.
Over a two-year period, the SAS team worked with the SI's development team on the project's two phases. The SI's team didn't have sufficient experience and expertise to deliver a SAS® Analytics programme alone: for example, how best to design the solution, how to use SAS® solutions, or how to architect a scalable and high performance environment. Over the course of the project, by working in partnership with SAS Professional Services, the contractor team developed their in-house knowledge to ensure they can support and enhance the solution in the future.
Designing and building a solution – in collaboration
The first phase of the project involved developing the core solution. This focussed on two specific areas of development: building a data warehouse to store data from the 18 source systems feeding the new solution, which came in three different formats; and building a user interface, which is where SAS analytics skills were particularly necessary.
"The initial stages of the project involved a truly collaborative effort, with members from both organisations sharing knowledge and expertise; whilst SAS consultants were explaining how the SAS solution would work and helping the development team get to grips with SAS development, on the SI side, they had a really detailed understanding of the data and the business context around it," says Steve Fleming, Client Services Manager, SAS Professional Services. "This knowledge transfer took place as we developed the solution together: in effect, the development team were assimilating new SAS skills using real project requirements to build on formal SAS classroom training."
The close working relationship that was established between SAS consultants and the development team was particularly important when challenges and differences of opinion arose.
"We were adamant from day one (because we have wide experience of delivering analytics projects) that we needed to have access to data, particularly as we started to test the solution. The SI and the end customer were rightly protective of the department's data, and it could have proved to be a roadblock," explains Fleming. "However, we found a middle ground, with the development team using depersonalised live data. The partner recognised that our expertise of analytics projects meant we knew it was really important to have access to real data, so that we could identify any issues with the solution as early as possible. In fact, using live data did allow us to identify discrepancies in the data, which test data wouldn't have identified. This expertise and experience proved to be of real value to the whole project."
On the job and in the classroom
SAS also worked with the development team to identify SAS Education courses that would be useful for them, not only for the specific project they were working on, but also for the future. As a result, members of the development team took formal training in SAS programming, Structured Query Language, and data integration.
All hands on deck
As the first phase of the project drew to a close and the solution was prepared for live deployment, the SI encountered a number of challenging technical issues and needed further help from the SAS Professional Services team to avoid the risk of the deployment being delayed.
"We had to demonstrate just how strong our partnership was and get resources on-site immediately. The depth of relationship built over an 18-month period meant we were in it together, and it was really important to us to show that we were committed to making the project work and that we were focussed on our joint objective," says Fleming.
The second phase of the project has involved adding more data to the solution, and has seen greater ownership and responsibility progressively transferring to the contractor's development team, once they were better equipped with the skills and experience to manage the project independently. As the project draws to completion, Steve Fleming reflects on the overall success the teams have enjoyed together:
"We had a very close development team," says Fleming. "It was a very strong and productive working environment – one of the best I've worked in; in fact, I would say that we became one unit with the SI's development team. We were seen as a trusted advisor, and we were able to help the contractor engage with some other areas within their own business when the need arose."
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Major Systems Integrator
The lead services partner needed enhanced SAS skills to design and test a new fraud detection system for a government department
SAS Professional Services, SAS Education
Enhanced SAS skills through a combination of knowledge transfer between teams, real project requirements, and SAS Education courses
“"We had a very close development team. It was a very strong and productive working environment - one of the best I’ve worked in."”
Client Services Manager, SAS