Thursday, September 23, 2010

Quebec City Analytics Forum: What A Launch!

I'm sitting here at Lesage airport in beautiful Quebec City, as Lady Gaga's 'Pokerface' - the Muzak version - wafts gently out of the Duty Free store. And as I look around, I see a few others with raised eyebrows as they recognize the tune and the STRANGENESS of this version! I mean, a harp: really?

I truly do have magpie-like tendencies sometimes. Easily distracted by the music, I've now wandered off on a tangent. Where was I? Oh yes...

I sit here in the beautiful sunshine a mere 90 minutes after one of the most successful SAS user forum launches that I've seen. What a meeting! There were just over 30 attendees for the new 'ville de Quebec forum analytique de SAS'. Building on the incredible success of the existing 'club d'utilisateurs SAS de Quebec', the creation of this group represents a commitment to supporting and celebrating the wide diversity of SAS users. The 'club' has done a phenomenal job of supporting base SAS coders and programmers for many years now: yet as SAS has continued to develop and new solutions have hit the market, new types of users have also emerged. Data miners are using Enterprise Miner to plumb the depths of their information. Analysts are using Enterprise Guide to leverage powerful analytics in a visual setting and report on it with confidence. DataFlux users are up to their elbows in dirty data, trying to make sense of it all.

The meeting I just attended featured legendary SAS instructor Sylvain Tremblay (OK, a legend to his students, and to me). Sylvain showcased JMP for a very intrigued audience. He was followed by Sylvain Haince of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, who connected to his environment and demonstrated how SAS was being used at the Ministry to slice data, analyze and report. Powerful stuff! The audience was very engaged, asking many questions of the presenters and validating the importance of this new forum. No further proof is needed than the fact that 2 indivduals immediately stepped forward as volunteers for the new group's executive committee! Amazing!

I have to take a moment to comment on QC itself. What an unbelievable city. An opportunity to practice my French skills in the Paris of North America? Sign me up, anyday. In fact, why don't you join me? If you're in QC or Quebec in general, the next opportunity to engage with the SAS user community will come on November 1st with the semi-annual 'club d'utilisateurs' meeting. Also coming up in Quebec: MONSUG on November 8th and the Montreal Business Analytics Forum on December 1st. I hope to see you at one, if not all, of the meetings!

So what's next on the list? Well, you may see a surprise celebrity blogger shortly! One of my colleagues is going to the Saskatoon and Winnipeg groups in a few weeks time, and I'm curious to get his feelings. As for me? I'm looking forward to the Golden Horseshoe SAS Users Group meeting on October 15th in Hamilton...

I'll have more coming your way soon, SAS users! Until my next post, I hope all is well with you and yours, and hope to see you at a meeting in your area..

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye, Summer!

Well, SAS Users, I continue to recover from what can only be described as a roller-coaster of a week! 2 major user group meetings, a SAS-sponsored charity soccer tournament and a wedding: all in the span of 6 days.

The Toronto Management Exchange meeting took place last Tuesday. This invite-only event has become a real incubator for frank, open discussion by executives around SAS enterprise-wide solutions and services. The most recent meeting featured Aiman Zeid who works for SAS Global Practices in the Business Intelligence space. Aiman's particular gift is quite remarkable. He and his team will assess an organization's BI strengths, assets, shortcomings and requirements and suggest insititutional changes which might help realize an improvement in overall business processes. A small but engaged group of individuals from the financial services industry were able to learn through Aiman thanks to a Business Analytics Competency Centre mini-workshop. It was extremely exciting to listen to the robust discussion which took place!

The first TASS meeting of the year was held last Friday. I must admit, this event is a little more up my alley than the Management Exchange. I have personal relationships with many of the users in the greater Toronto area, and TASS is always a wonderful opportunity for me to get together with all of them. This meeting was no exception! Around 150 people attended over the course of the day, enjoying incredible presentations from a variety of presenters. Some were quite technical, like Dragos Capans' talk on 'Using the Descriptor Portion of a SAS Data File'. Others were incredibly in-depth examinations of front-to-back processes, such as Debbie Weisensee's amazing talk on how they used stored processes to make life easier at McMaster University. This was a truly amazing presentation. Debbie spoke about the business reasons behind building their environment, as well as acknowledging some of the roadblocks they had to overcome. Both technical and business-oreinted, this was really fascinating stuff!

Finally, the hit of the morning TASS session had to be Wayne Levin's presention entitled 'JMP & SAS: 1+1= ∞'. I've been fortunate enough to see Wayne present a few times, and I'm always floored. He's a naturally gifted speaker and is without question the greatest authority on JMP (in my mind) here in Canada. Wayne's breakout session was absolutely overflowing, a testament to the audience's interest. Wayne was also good enough to leave behind some information which might benefit you as well! If you're curious about JMP, Wayne has offered - for a very limited time! - free JMP e-learning. I can tell you that more than a few people wrote down the information Wayne provided, and I'm happy to pass it on to you as well. Simply go to and click on the 'buy now' link. At this point, enter the following coupon code: 4A49E0D7D4. That's it! I hope you enjoy it as much as the good folks at TASS...

On a related note, I'd like to take this opportunity to single out a member of the TASS executive committee for recognition: Shan Ali Rasul. Shan has been an enthusiastic and indispensible member of the TASS Interfaces Executive Committee, and has also taken on the role of webmaster for the entire TASS group: no small task! Shan has earned my undying respect. With little java and .html background, Shan has created a fantastic website for the TASS group. You can see his handywork here at In building this site, Shan has taken time out of his evenings and weekends - in a volunteer capacity - to try and help out the SAS community in Toronto and beyond. It's this kind of selfless action that characterizes the SAS users in my world. You'll find all the presentations from the most recent TASS meeting and an archive of past presentations here.

Finally, on a cheery note, the annual King St. Kicks soccer tournament was held last week. Featuring 8 teams, a rainstorm of biblical proportions and starring Carl Farrell playing goal to rave reviews - if not stiff joints afterwards - the tournament was a great success, raising over $5000 for a local school. Carl was definitely the surprise of the tourney: he can really move!!! Watching him dive for well-struck soccer balls - and getting to them in time - is an image I won't soon forget.

That's all for this quick update. I'll have LOTS more to write a little later in the week, as I prepare to fly to Quebec City for the first meeting of a brand-new initiative in the city: the QC Analyics Forum! I'll be sure to have an update on that and other upcoming events shortly...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Serendipity In the SAS World

I think I've been fairly transparent in my unabashed love for my role here at SAS. For those who know me, I'm a pretty loud person in general: I'm not shy in the least, and one of my favourite things is meeting new and interesting people. And in the SAS world, there's no shortage of interesting people!

I wanted to share two stories which really drive home the amazing reach and reputation of SAS, and to highlight how a fortuitous encounter between strangers can sometimes lead to bigger and better things.

My personal computer recently imploded, necessitating a trip to my phenomenal PC guru. I recalled that about 6 months ago, I had visited the same shop to upgrade my machine. That day, I ended up chatting with the owner as he completed his work. Within the course of our conversation, a wonderful moment of serendipity took place. As I chatted about my career and role at SAS, his eyes lit up. It turned out that his fiancé had recently became SAS certified and was looking for an employment opportunity... and I happened to have a TASS user group meeting the following week! There are few places which are more conducive to making great connections in the SAS world than a user group meeting, particularly TASS, the oldest and largest of them all. Long story short, I was put in touch with the young lady and I met up with her at the user group meeting. After a great conversation, I introduced her to a few people. It was great to hear from my computer guru that less than 6 months later, she was able to connect with someone at the TASS meeting and is now working at a major bank, predicated by an innocent conversation between strangers!

Along a similar vein, last Friday I was braving end-of-week rush hour traffic on our subway system here in Toronto. For those who ride it often, I don't have to describe what an exercise in patience, tolerance and restraint this can be! Rudeness and selfishness seem to be personnified by the average rush hour commuter on the TTC. I happened to have a set of SAS course notes that I was reviewing in my lap: SAS Programming for Experienced EG Users, as I recall. A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder: in rush hour traffic, I instantly put up my conversational defences preparing for a pointed, tense exchange. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the gentleman only wanted to ask about the book I was reading. Within the context of a wonderful 30 minute conversation, I came to connect with him in terms of his skills set, his curiosity around SAS, and his personality. Once again, I was fortunate enough to make a new friend and a possible SAS advocate, just because of my clear public association with the company.

I bring forward these stories not to pat myself on the back: the take-away is not that I'm a gifted conversationalist or an unnaturally charming individual. Rather, it's that the SAS community is larger and more prevalent than we can imagine. It's amazing to see where SAS users can pop up! In this case, I think that the 'The Power to Know' refers to the willingness to take a chance, start a conversation and let nature take its course. It's the promise of relationship-building and being given the opportunity to assist and support SAS users that really motivates me to get out of bed everyday.

This Friday, the TASS meeting is taking place once again. I wonder who I might meet this time? What interesting conversations will I have? What will the ultimate outcome of this be down the road? I'll be sure to update you all in the coming weeks.

I encourage all of you in the Toronto area to come by the SAS offices for the TASS meetings on Friday. As always, it's free to attend, and the agendas are very solid. I hope to see you there: perhaps it's you and I who will be connecting this time!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The SAS World - A Two Week Snapshot

Hello Everyone;

As I indicated in my last post, this is truly the calm before the storm. Next week marks the official launch of the fall SAS user group season! Two Toronto-specific groups will be kicking off the end of 2010, and they couldn't be more different. The first, the Toronto Management Exchange, is an invite-only event for a small number of Directors and Executives from a select group of customers. Leveraging SAS' global thought leadership capabilities, the group will be joining Aiman Zeid, SAS Global Business Practice Leader in the Business Intelligence Competency Centre space. With a tight attendee list, the conversation promises to be pointed and robust!

The following day, I'm helping to run our annual King St. Kicks soccer tournament. Benefitting Market Lane Public School, this fun-filled day features co-ed amateur soccer teams from a variety of SAS customers and local businesses. In addition to supporting a great school, the event itself is something I look forward to each year. The school often turns up with African drums to cheer on their favourite team (ahem, SAS, ahem) and the comraderie which develops between the teams is lots of fun to watch. But wait: no rest of the wicked!

The following day, Friday, September 17th, the TASS meeting officially kicks off the general, open-invite event schedule. We currently have over 200 individuals registered for the day, and the numbers keep climbing! You can find a detailed agenda of the full slate of presentations and breakout sessions here. I'm very much looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues and catching up on the details of everyone's summer vacations.

Speaking of TASS, I wanted to make mention of one individual in particular. Adrian Boldan has been a long-time SAS user and TASS attendee, thoroughly engaged with the group and his fellow SAS users. He could always be counted on to spur discussion in the Statistics Breakout groups, and always had a pleasant word for myself and the other SAS users. It has recently come to my attention the Adrian's life was cut short by a speeding car in recent months. I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to a good person, and a member of our community.

While this may seem like a sombre note to end this blog, I prefer to think of it as a celebration of our growing community. We mourn the loss of one of our own, to be sure, but it also warms the heart to see the outreach of support and sympathy. We're all SAS users, but we're also all human beings possessing compassion and morality. I think I speak for all of us when I extend our best wishes to his family at this difficult time.