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Executive Spotlight: Karen Knowles of SAS

Executive Spotlight: Karen Knowles of SAS - top government contractors - best government contracting event

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ExecutiveBiz recently interviewed Karen Knowles, head of SAS’s Federal Government  business unit.  She has shored up SAS’s market share in analytics and business intelligence, and the US’s largest privately-held software company is helping to strengthen cybersecurity at the Naval Cyber Defense Operations Command through intelligent analytics.  Read on to learn how analytics turns mountains of raw data into action items.


Frankly the world is waking up to the use of analytics to make better decisions.  When I say the world I mean things like professional baseball, if you've ever heard of the book by Michael Lewis called Money Ball it is about the use of advanced analytics to choose the best players for a team…  Also other books like Super Crunchers that are taking a look at the use of advanced analytics in decision making in the federal government as well. -Karen Knowles


ExecutiveBiz:  What are SAS' core competencies?

Karen Knowles:  SAS is a business analytics company.  In the past similar technologies have been referred to as business intelligence, which is just really taking raw data and making intelligence from it so that people can make better decisions.  But business intelligence was just about seeing their current and past data,  our real core competency is in business analytics, which helps organizations make forecasts  based on their data.

ExecutiveBiz:  SAS in general.

Karen Knowles:  SAS in general has a large customer base in the financial services, health and life sciences, retail manufacturing and of course, federal, state & local governments.  It really runs the gamut.  All of the large banks are or have been clients of SAS' as well as, in my neck of the woods all of the executive agencies and the military services.

ExecutiveBiz:  How are you adjusting to being the General Manager of US Federal Government Business Unit at SAS?

Karen Knowles:  I'm adjusting just fine.  I've been here in this business unit for five years last November.    Two and a half years ago I became the Director of Sales for Federal so I have had responsibility for all sales except our National Security Group. .  In my new role I have a larger responsibility to include other parts of our operation like our pre-sales technical resources and much more of a guidance position for marketing and the other support services that SAS has.  It's going great so far.  I'm still in a transition phase right now  but thank goodness I have a relatively rich history here at SAS and know what I'm doing for the most part.

ExecutiveBiz:  What would you say is your biggest challenge in business is today?

Karen Knowles:  I think for us at SAS, because we have such a breadth and depth of technology and the problems that we can help the federal government solve are so vast, that probably the biggest problem that I have with my team and our go to market strategy is focusing on where we are going to get the most bang for the buck.   It's tough to focus because there are so many things that we could do; figuring out our priorities is probably our biggest challenge.

ExecutiveBiz:  How do you recruit and retain the top talent in the industry?

Karen Knowles:  SAS is the largest privately held software company in the world with 2009 revenues of $2.31 billion.  We've had thirty-four years of consecutive profitability and growth, including 2009, which was a pretty tough year, as you know. That is a record that almost no other independent company, certainly in the software industry, can point to so it is pretty phenomenal.  And just last month, SAS was named the best company in America to work for by Fortune Magazine.  We've consistently been on that list because the company has extraordinary benefits and really treats their employees very, very well.  The same is true for our sales people.  We also have best of breed technology in the business intelligence and the business analytics market so that we are able to provide employees and sales executives with not only extraordinary technology to sell but also a fantastic company to back them up and to go into the future with.

ExecutiveBiz:  What will SAS look like three years from now?

Karen Knowles:  SAS will continue to dominate the business analytics market.  .  Frankly, I think  the world is waking up to the use of analytics to make better decisions.  Even areas like professional baseball. If you've ever heard of the book by Michael Lewis called Money Ball it is about the use of advanced analytics to choose the best players for a team…  Also other books like Super Crunchers that are taking a look at the use of advanced analytics in decision making.. As the use of analytics increases in the commercial world to look forward and to understand what the future holds for people“¦more and more, SAS is uniquely suited to take advantage of that trend because we already own or manage a large portion of that market.  We will just continue to grow and serve it, I believe.

ExecutiveBiz:  How can advanced analytics help cyber security?

Karen Knowles:  We actually have a customer at the Navy, the Naval Cyber Defense Operations Command or NCDOC that happens to be down in the Virginia Beach area and they use SAS to analyze masses of real time and stored data that are coming from a variety of sources to stop attacks in progress or even predict and prevent future attacks on their networks.

ExecutiveBiz:  How would you describe your management style?

Karen Knowles:  I think that my first goal is to create an environment where people are excited to come to work every day and I've got an advantage because SAS does a lot of that work for me.  Beyond that, in terms of running primarily a sales focused organization, I'm interested in removing barriers to success so that my team doesn't have a harder time getting stuff internally than they do externally. Thus, working with the federal government and serving the federal government and their business problems can be their sole focus.  I try to be an additional mind to help them solve the problems they are facing with our customers in the federal government.

ExecutiveBiz:  What are your goals for your new position as head of government services at SAS?

Karen Knowles:  My greatest challenge as I mentioned is giving focus to the team.  Having been here for five years I have a unique perspective on how challenging it can be to focus our teams on certain aspects of what we can do and deliver.  My primary objective right now is to figure out what my management team and the entire team believes are the things that we need to focus on. Specifically, I mentioned a few such as solving the fraud problem in the federal government that runs everywhere from Medicare and Medicaid to Food Stamps to you name it. Cyber security is another one where we are going to be focusing in 2010.

ExecutiveBiz:  What is something that most people don't know about you or would be surprised to learn about you?

Karen Knowles:  That I am an avid motorcycle rider.  Most people are surprised when they hear that come out of my mouth or they see me with my motorcycle helmet.

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