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Build Apps for your Enterprise with SAS and HTML5

May 5, 2015

We’ve been doing it for a while. You should too.


Whenever I’m away from home and want to get some dinner, I almost always rely on an app to tell me which nearby restaurants are worth a visit. Another app gets me a ride there, giving the driver my exact location and letting me know how far away he is. On the way to the restaurant I get a terrible feeling that I left my heating on even though I won’t be home for a few days. There’s another app that assures me that I didn’t, although it does mention that I missed an attempted parcel delivery yesterday morning. I relax and have a nice meal. The next morning I suspect I overindulged as my run seems harder than usual, but apparently both my split times and average heart rate are better than what they were along the same route two days ago. I can’t argue with my running app.

Apps‘ – these often rapidly developed cross-platform applications catering to a specific use case, are everywhere in 2015. Their proliferation is hardly surprising if we consider the enabling technologies available today. If you are a web developer with an idea for an app, a number of excellent HTML5 frameworks compete to make your GUI development as easy as possible. It only takes a few keystrokes to create and configure a private instance of your own fully scalable application back-end – deploying your app to the device of your choice, in most cases, simply involves saving it to your ‘home screen’ as a bookmark.

HTML5 is a proven – arguably mature – standard for building applications, but its adoption among big enterprise has been particularly slow. There have been plenty of discussions on why this has been the case, and the lack of an established enterprise class back-end platform is often cited as a blocker to in-house HTML5 app development. The reality is that the majority of server-side technologies that underpin existing consumer apps are too recent to be taken seriously by big enterprise; they are difficult to integrate with traditional or bespoke authentication solutions, the flexibility they offer is often viewed as a governance nightmare, and crucially, the skills and experience required for their implementation have yet to reach most large-scale organisations.

SAS is an unusual candidate for building modern HTML5-based applications – it’s a language geared primarily towards analytics and data management, and it has been around for longer than the majority of HTML5 developers have been alive. It is, however, perfect for the job. Think about it: SAS can talk to almost any database you can think of, and is probably already connected to all the ones you own. The SAS BI platform has long proven its worthiness to big enterprise. It has a fully fledged metadata security layer that is already integrated with your single sign-on authentication provider; every time a user interacts with the system their credentials are verified, permissions checked against metadata, and the data they requested encrypted at transport level.

SAS ticks all the boxes required by IT, and the skills required to start developing application logic with it already exist inside your current business functions. Furthermore, the approach renders an entire stage of business analysis and interface specification obsolete, as the analysts who would normally be tasked with communicating the business requirements to your IT department are now simply programming the database and application logic themselves. This not only speeds up development considerably, but vastly increases the chances that your requirements are met first time. Deployment is a breeze: the application front-ends run in the browser with zero deployment footprint, the back-end logic can be deployed into production via SAS deployment packages, and access permissions are managed via SAS Management Console. Best of all, the hardware and application infrastructure that would normally take a few months to integrate is already there – practically eliminating barriers to entry and considerably accelerating your time-to-market. This allows you to begin demonstrating the value of the proposed solution to your internal customers almost immediately, with zero up-front investment.

Our HTML5 Data Adapter for SAS is the magic glue that connects your HTML5 application with your SAS environment. As far as interfaces go its power rests on its simplicity: with one function call the HTML5 developer pushes a dataset over to your SAS developer (say, when someone clicks a search button), and with another macro call the SAS developer returns the dataset resulting from that operation to the front-end (the results table). In practice, anything you’ve seen that looks nice on your iPad, whether it’s an application or an interactive data exploration, can now be powered by and secured against your SAS environment. Over the past 3 years we have used this technology to deliver projects for clients ranging from big pharma companies to FTSE100 financial institutions, from simple bespoke dashboards to custom information systems accommodating thousands of concurrent users and delivering tens of millions of pounds in annual savings. Needless to say, using the SAS platform for this purpose has exceeded all of our clients’ expectations.

This week we will be releasing our HTML5 Adapter for SAS as Free Open Source Software. Build anything – just add HTML5 developer.

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