Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HUG-ging It Out

Yes, this blog post is well overdue… a week and a half to be exact. And there are so many things I want to share! To be honest, I’ve been quite busy over the last fortnight with one of my other passions; helping out my alma mater, George Brown College.

I’m a firm believer in the maxim ‘each one, teach one’. Since I graduated four years ago from my post-graduate program I’ve made a point of coming back to help whenever I’ve been asked. Sometimes, that’s meant participating in a question/answer session for students’ sitting in seats I so recently occupied myself…. Sometimes, it’s a more structured session. I recently gave a talk to a very keen, highly-motivated class of marketers-to-be around the importance of online reputation management and development. I hope some of them are peeking in on this blog: guys, you’ll go far! Recently I was accepted as one of the participants in a mentorship program at the school. Alumni who have been out in the wild work world for a while have been paired with students who are excelling in their program and looking for some further guidance, inspiration and direction. I’m really looking forward to getting involved in giving back; I encourage each and every one of you reading this blog to consider doing the same… it feels great, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It really is like a big warm hug!

Hug… that reminds me of something. Oh yes, the HUG user group meeting! It’s truly easy to get distracted by something you’re passionate about. The Toronto Health User Group is another one of those passions of mine.

I’ve previously mentioned how near and dear this group is to my heart. As the first executive committee I worked with on a planning level, I’ll always remember the excitement – and nervousness as well, to be sure! – that accompanied my first ‘solo’ user group endeavour. Would I let down the team? My company? SAS users? As I approach my fourth anniversary with SAS, I smile to think back on those early, tentative days. It’s safe to say that with the help of Ruth Croxford and the rest of the executive committee, my nerves have never been in better shape and all my fears emphatically allayed.

Through evaluation forms, previous meetings had revealed that there was a keen desire to have more of a statistical focus as part of an upcoming meeting, and I think we managed to deliver in spades! The November 18th meeting boasted a bit of a dream-team for statisticians… at least as far as this non-statistician could tell. Good friends and former SAS colleagues Lorne Rothman and John Amrhein provided a potent one-two punch as they led out the meeting. As a SAS Training Specialist and Ph.D (in zoology, not statistics as I was reminded), Lorne is familiar to many SAS users. In fact, more than a few had attended a Bayesian analysis-themed course earlier in the week. Lorne is an incredibly knowledgeable, affable and comfortable speaker – no surprise, considering his profession. His talk centered around the latest and greatest features of SAS/STAT, a component of SAS familiar to many in the room. Not only was he able to speak at length about features that had the crowd ‘ooh’ing and ‘aah’ing, he was able to demonstrate how they ran, and why he saw them as a benefit. John followed with a tremendous talk of his own, dovetailing nicely off of Lorne’s to focus on Bayesian analysis… it’s almost as if they discussed this beforehand! Oh wait, they did. Nevermind.

John’s presentation was especially interesting for an amateur archaeologist such as I. I may have mentioned previously that I worked at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum for 6 years before I started my career at SAS. Those were some of the happiest, most blissful years of my life. It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded by one’s passion, and I had the good fortune to live my dream every day. I hinted earlier that statistics and I were not good friends. We have a healthy respect for each other, but know to stay out of each other’s way, for the most part. The same can be said for chemistry… hence my inability to pursue my dream career of archaeology. At any rate, John’s talk happily married my past and my present by presenting a case study around dental decay which hoped to prove – or disprove – whether the particular feature in question could be used as a reliable dating technique. I was absolutely hooked. Thanks for helping me relive (and to a degree, rekindle) the passion, John.

Next to last, we come to Chris Battiston, the ‘wunderkind’ of the SAS world this past year and my personal SAS hero. Chris has been working with SAS for less than a year, but has established himself as a true force in the SAS Canada Community – you may know him better as the Darth Vader-visaged, blogger extreme in that space – and as of the past meeting, a fledgling member of the Health user group executive committee. Did I mention he’s also a Section Chair for NESUG, the large regional SAS user group? Chris’ energy, enthusiasm and boundless excitement is infectious and inspiring. He was in fine form in delivering what was to be his first SAS Canada user group presentation, ‘Wake Up Your Data with SAS Graph’n Go’. I loved this talk. Simple, accessible and interesting… and delivered with the charm and polish of a veteran public speaker. Methinks we haven’t seen the last of Chris as a presenter (at least, I hope so!).

The final presentation was delivered by Paul Cascagnette of ICES. I’ve been aware of Paul for a while: formerly based in Saskatoon, I’d hoped to have him speak at a meeting there before his relocation to Toronto. Circumstance ensured that we missed each other a few times… I was beginning to think he was the real-life version of Polkaroo from Polka Dot Door. Wow, just dated myself. Suffice it to say, his talk was worth the wait! He offered a great discussion of how to appropriately use simulations in SAS. I joked at the meeting that I was a little nervous as he had close to 50 slides and only 20 minutes to present! He was able to get through just fine, though, and I think we all learned a lot about trial, error and complexity which we hadn’t considered previously. Great to finally meet you Paul!

Lunch afterwards was a relaxed and engaging affair as always. It was a bit of a blast from the past and a foreshadowing of the future as we were joined by Tim Trussell of SAS who helped found the group in his previous role as the User Group Program Manager as well as Issa Guindo also of SAS who will be certainly be contributing more in the near future. A great time was had by all!

My final observation: creativity is a funny thing. I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a while, but hadn’t found the time or the right words. Here I sit in an airplane 25,000 feet above northeastern Ontario en route to Quebec for the last time this year and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s come out. It must be something in the air (other than me). I’ll have more on the two meetings I’m attending – one in Quebec, one in Montreal – over the next few days (fingers crossed).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Club: SAS meets in la ville de Québec

I've said it before and I'll say it again: God, I love Québec. Whether it's having the chance to wander the streets of vieux Québec while feeling transported a continent - and a few centuries - away, enjoying the chance to practice my French once again or wondering just how many attendees would grace us with their presence at the Club d'utilisateurs SAS de Québec this time.... c'est toujours une experience exceptionnelle.

Today proved to be no exception to the rule. Almost 100 SAS users from a wide variety of industries, organizations and backgrounds came together for an afternoon of learning and networking on the campus of the Université de Laval. Once again, SAS Canada showed up in numbers as well! Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa and of course the ville de Québec were all well represented. It was great to see so many of my colleagues take an interest in the growth of the user groups and rekindle relationships with the attendees.

The meeting itself was the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance. As I did last year around this time, I'd like to take a moment to single out M. Jean Hardy for his contribution. Jean has experienced personal challenges around the last two fall meetings; both times, he was heavily involved as a presenter or as a facilitator. As he has done previously, Jean ensured that his contribution went ahead as planned. My respect and admiration for him has growth appreciably given the difficult circumstances of his participation. Jean led an 'éspace participatif': an open discussion forum to share Enteprise Guide-related tips and tricks for editing and creating SAS tables within this environment. Contributions were solicited in advance... and I must say, I was overwhelmed by the response. It's a hallmark of the strength of the community that not only did over 10 individuals volunteer their own tricks - and explained them at the meeting - but the discussion was so robust, this section of the meeting had to end early! It's always gratifying and refreshing for me to see this level of support amongst SAS users in a community, it's what these user group meetings and online efforts like the SAS Canada Community are all about. Merci pour tes efforts, Jean: ils étaient bien reçus.

The agenda also featured Carolyn Cunnison of SAS Canada. I am perpetually in awe of Carolyn's ability to command la langue de Molière easily and with great poise. I'm even more in awe of how accessible she makes very complex topics... and this meeting was no different. Carolyn discussed the rationale behind creating OLAP cubes and demonstrated how to do so... with a hint as to the power and utility of them as well. Truly inspiring stuff: the power of cubes is remarkable for looking at data in multiple dimensions and deriving meaningful, valuable insight. I found myself wanting to know more and more... hey, I think there are some courses around this and other BI-related topics, perhaps my next training path addition when (if) I find some time!

Finally, the amazingly named Jean-François Ducré-Robitaille offered us a talk around 'l'utilisation de SAS dans un environnement intranet multiplateforme'... which for the non-French speakers reading this blog sums up as 'amazingly cool Flash-based live graphical representations of data using SAS'. What a finish to an outstanding day's worth of talks! JF is a fantastically gifted speaker; you can actually view a video interview I conducted with him in the SAS Canada Community to get a sense of how natural and well-spoken he can be. As an aside, you'll also find an interview I conducted with Jean Hardy and club président Louis-René Rheault in the same space... well worth a view! At any rate, JF has joined the ranks of the 'bravest of the brave' by attempting - successfully! - a live demo in the midst of a presentation. Given the 'oohs' and 'aahs' emenating from the crowd, I'm pretty sure everyone had the same reaction as I. In a word, WOW. Thanks JF for a very enlightening talk!

Although I've enjoyed myself here in Québec, I must confess to being a little annoyed. I haven't been able to satisfy my craving from what is the Worlds. Best. Poutine (no, I'm not telling you where, stop asking!). My delightful dinner this evening was lovely but not the proper time or place... and a 9:00am flight precludes me grabbing some on this trip, I'm afraid. Fortunately I'll be back here in Québec in just a few weeks for the Forum analytique SAS de Québec. I'm looking forward to seeing many friends once again... as I said at the beginning of this post, I just can't get enough of this city!

As I wing my way homewards I have one final meeting to prepare for this week; the Health User Group in Toronto. I'll have more on this meeting late on Friday. Merci, Québec pour votre hospitalité!

À la prochaine...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SAS Leads the Charge in Montréal

I'm sitting at Trudeau Airport, sorry to be leaving the beautiful city of Montréal... yet heartened because I'll be returning here in just a few short weeks' time for the Montréal Business Analytics Forum meeting. I'll be blogging shortly about my expectations around that meeting - as a teaser, a phenomenal agenda is driving HUGE registration - in an upcoming blog post on the SAS Canada Community... but for now, how about I stick on topic and discuss the wonderful experience which was today's MONSUG meeting.

In terms of leadership, Montréal is fortunate to have two very strong individuals working well together to ensure that each MONSUG meeting meets the diverse expectations of the knowledgeable membership. Primarily a group focused on programming topics, Eric Lacombe & Mathieu Gaouette elected to look outside the group's comfort zone for this most recent meeting. No, they didn't wear their Maple Leafs jerseys (come on guys, let the world know your dark secret: it's liberating to love the Leafs! ;)). Rather, they chose to feature an 'all-SAS staff' agenda at the meeting... and not only that, to showcase several topics which had not been as favourably received as programming-heavy topics in meetings past.

First-time MONSUG presenter (and new SAS employee) Seng Tang was the catalyst for this risk... and perhaps didn't realize it at the time, which may have been best for all. With a relaxed, approachable demeanour and wonderful self-deprecating sense of humour, Seng walked the audience through an unfamiliar element of SAS which they embraced with the fervour they tend to reserve for programming-based talks. His presentation focused on data mining: more specifically, decision trees, the rationale behind their use and their strengths and weaknesses. This was done from within the context of the Enterprise Miner environment which was certainly unfamiliar to many attendees. I think it's fair to say that Seng knocked it out of the park. Questions flew fast and furious as he concluded, and the room seemed to really gravitate towards the subject matter. Their questions were relevant and belied a curiosity about the power of data mining which was certainly most pleasant to hear! My colleague Sylvain Tremblay, a data mining expert and SAS instructor, was able to lend his expertise to the conversation which helped ensure that all inquiries were addressed appropriately.

Not to be outdone, SAS' own André Lafreniere stepped up to offer another forward-looking topic: that of the 'strategie mobile BI de SAS'. I've seen André give a version of this talk a few times previously and while I knew the quality of his talk, I was curious to see how - or if - the audience would appreciate a presentation which featured very little in the way of code. André painted a picture of the wave of the future: remote access of SAS business analytics processes, analysis and reports. I'm always amazed to see how dramatically far business has come in terms of this mobile presence. There's an expression which I picked up off of Twitter which I think captures how far mobile technology has come in recent years. In the 1960's, we launched mankind to the moon with less power than can be found in today's mobile phones. Somewhat tongue in cheek, the poster also commented that today, using more computing power, we launch birds at pigs a la Angry Birds. That being as it may, André did a great job of demonstrating how the complexities of an analytical environment can now be found on a tablet or smartphone... and gave us all a small peek as to what's to come. As an unrepentant social media junkie, I was enthralled... especially by the prospect of accessing the power of SAS' social media analytics software over mobile. Drool.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our third of four presenters; leading by example, Mathieu Gaouette of the MONSUG executive 'dynamic duo' offered a succinct - yet revealing - book review. His walkthrough gave just enough information to intrigue the audience about the book. As Mathieu noted, Amazon had actually sold out of the Pocket SAS Reference Guide at the time of his talk, so I suppose the MONSUG audience weren't the only ones! Magnanimously, Mathieu donated a copy for the prize draw at the end of the meeting: truly a hallmark of leadership if I ever saw one. Mathieu, you're a gentleman and a scholar; may your shadow never grow dim.

Finally, we come to the star of the show: Mr. Laki Kourakis, SAS Canada's Education Manager. The MONSUG executive committee and I have been trying for what feels like years to bring Laki to Montréal from Ottawa to present at MONSUG. Scheduling issues, SAS emergencies and life itself have all conspired to get in the way... until now. It was great to see Laki re-connecting with many SAS users who he himself had taught in the Montréal community (including executive members Eric and Mathieu). His talk was truly the glue which bound the meeting together. The hour-long presentation offered a deep dive into efficiencies in SAS particular with respect to macros and stored processes. Using actual resources from SAS courses, Laki was comfortable and relaxed in his talk. He gave off the air of someone who was a true master of the subject. The talk itself was layered in levels of complexity; from the traditional macro to the flexibility offered by the more contemporary stored processes, I believe everyone in the room picked up a trick or two: I know I did! I know have a much better idea of how and when to use 'when' statements, for one thing. I do believe I speak for everyone when I say 'thank-you, Laki'! Though it was years in the making, the material in the talk certainly made it well worth the wait.

Of course, MONSUG isn't MONSUG until I've had a chance to share some good conversation, some great laughs and some serious introspection (OK, maybe not this last one so much) over le fameux MONSUG-burger with the executive committee and guest speakers. It's always a bittersweet moment for me as I generally won't see my colleagues in Montréal for a while... however, as I mentioned, I'm fortunate enough to be returning in a few weeks time!

For those of you wishing to view the presentations to either see what you missed or refresh your memories from earlier today, the talks will all be posted shortly at the MONSUG website. In the meantime, I have positive things to look forward to: Eric and Mathieu broached the subject of taping a video interview such as those found on the SAS Canada Community (which I dearly love producing). Looks like I'll have yet another chance to practice my French, which is great news! I truly do feel as if the Montréal SAS community has embraced (or at least, tolerated) me... and it's great to see such strong support amongst the MONSUG group and beyond.

I'm off to le ville de Québec now for their user group meeting. With over 100 registered, it promises to be a great one as well. I hope to have more on it tomorrow evening...

Until then...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Full House in the City That Gretzky Helped Build

Perhaps you’ve realized through my blog postings that I’m a little hockey-obsessed. I usually have a reference around this most Canadian of pastimes somewhere in my ramblings. In Edmonton, however, I had a true partner in crime: SAS Global Forum 2012 Chair Andrew Kuligowski, possibly the greatest admirer of the frozen game south of the 49th parallel. Such is our passion that we had attempted a month in advance of our trip to secure tickets to the Oilers/Canucks game fortuitously taking place during our brief time in Edmonton. How stupid of us. The ticket costs were through the roof: as a lifetime Leafs fan, the prices were much more in line with a typical game at the Air Canada Centre in my home city than what I had expected to pay in northern Alberta. I suppose it’s because the Oilers were playing their greatest rivals after the cross-province Calgary Flames in the boys from mainland BC. Nevertheless, Andy and I enjoyed watching the match and chatting over dinner as well as a beer or two. Edmonton’s looking good: their young guns are firing and it surely won’t be long before the city celebrates a dynasty the likes of Gretzky and Co. in the 1980s.

But on to matters of greater interest to those reading this blog; the eSUG SAS users group meeting. Edmonton has quickly established itself as a large, vocal and ever-growing community of SAS users. There is a well-rounded roster of attendees for our meetings in this northern city. Financial institutions, government – especially ministries and agencies with a health focus – as well as consultants and academia form a mélange of types of SAS usage and degrees of expertise. Under the leadership of Doug Dover, the executive committee is extremely engaged and well-respected within the community. Always willing to step up and offer a talk if necessary as individuals, the team is notable for how well they work together as a group as well. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to an important element that they bring to the table: fun. Laughs are plentiful and conversations are punctuated by puns, self-deprecating jabs and humour.

As a SAS employee, I also found this to be a remarkable meeting. The western groups are always well-attended by SAS staff from a variety of departments, but this one was particularly impressive. Teammates of mine from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg were all there. Including myself, we managed to cover 4 time zones worth of SAS offices! I’m always grateful for the support they offer, and the eSUG meeting was no exception. It was nice to see users connecting with people I work with daily and get to see only rarely in person.

In terms of the meeting itself, again, Edmonton distinguished itself as a class above in many respects. As Doug Dover mentioned as meeting’s end, we actually had to turn away a local presenter for the fall meeting! This is a wonderful problem to have and it demonstrates the willingness of the community to support each other through sharing their SAS knowledge with each other. I’m hoping this collaborative nature will carry on until the next meeting, perhaps through the SAS Canada Community.

The meeting agenda was extremely varied as well. Talks around parsing unusual formats, scraping information from the internet using SAS, logistic regression and arrays were all offered for the eSUG attendees consumption. I haven’t had a chance to go through the evaluation forms yet, but judging from the buzz in the room, they were certainly appreciated. I think the variety of topics suited the audience quite well: each presenter had questions asked of them either publicly or offline which is always a good sign that an agenda has been thought-provoking. You can judge for yourself by having a look at the presentations which were offered within the presentation archive on the eSUG website; they'll be posted there shortly. At the end of the day, these meetings are designed to support SAS users and help them to grow in their knowledge; I would say this meeting achieved that goal with ease. I hope that the 70+ attendees feel the same way.

A personal highlight was that almost every single guest speaker and executive member joined us for lunch afterwards. The conversation at the table was certainly stimulating: I learned about acupuncture and that some meats were considered ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ and should be eaten when the opposite temperature was predominant. I chatted about the merits of vacationing in Corsica, the prevalence of live crabs on flights around China, and further cemented the bonds of friendship and collaboration which make this group so special. It was a real pleasure to enjoy the hospitality of Edmonton once again. I'm wistfully aware that I won’t be winging my way westwards for another year: I suppose the anticipation of my next visit will have to hold me over until the spring. I’m glad I was able to renew acquaintances with many people I haven’t seen in a while as well as chat face-to-face with folks I’ve only been able to recently liaise with in an online capacity. This was the final road trip which necessitated changing my watch for the fall/winter user group season, so it’s with bittersweet feelings that I sign off on this particular blog. It's always nice to be home, but I do enjoy connecting with SAS users and experiencing other parts of the country and seeing how SAS is used by friends and strangers alike.

Andy Kuligowski is soldiering on to Halifax for their user group meeting this Friday – Andy, when do you sleep? And I’m sure he’ll have a fabulous time. Next up for me: la belle province, as I visit Montreal and la ville de Quebec in mid-November. I’ll be sure to be back with updates and stories from what promise to be some great meetings.

Until then…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blue Skies in Calgary

Today was a wonderful day in Calgary for many reasons. The air was crisp, cool and clean... wait a minute, that sounds uncomfortably close to a 7Up ad from the 80s. Unlike the ad, my day was certainly full of caffeine: liquid adrenaline fuel for an early morning meeting and greeting SAS users in the first of two Alberta meetings. More on that in a minute.

I arrived Monday afternoon and was very happy to spend some time with Mr. Andrew Kuligowski, the Chair of SAS Global Forum 2012. It's always a pleasure to spend time with such a knowledgeable SAS user... and a hockey fan to boot! I think it's fair to say that perhaps the only thing Andy knows better than SAS is hockey. Coming from the depths of sunny Florida, this is truly impressive... as is the fact that he's a season-ticket holder for his beloved Tampa Bay Lightning. I wish my Leafs were as exciting a team as his boys, but hey: it's a long season, no? I suppose Andy comes by his love and passion honestly as he spent his formative years cheering on the Sabres in chilly Buffalo. Just don't mention Brett Hull or his infamous Twitter picture to him, whatever you do.

Beyond catching up, Andy and I did quite a bit of talking about the SGF conference taking place at the end of April in his home state of Florida. I can't let anything out of the bag, but I can tell you that he's revealing some exciting announcements at the user group meetings this week. He's already divulged the identity of one of the keynote speakers, with more to come. Andy has promised me that he'll be trying to capture all of the sentiments in a blog on the SAS Canada Community shortly, so stay tuned there for more.

Tuesday morning I awoke bright and early - OK, early, at any rate - for a 5:00am wake-up call to prep for CSUG. Personally, I find this to be a wonderful group of folks. I've remarked several times before that I have great relationships through social media channels with a few individuals. Interestingly enough, many of them are in western Canada and 3 of them in particular are in Calgary. It was great to connect face-to-face with some folks who I know through sporadic bursts of 140 characters. The rest of the group is engaged, inquisitive and thoughtful. It was great to see a whole new segment of users attend the meeting; perhaps drawn by the talks to be offered or perhaps the proximity of the meeting. Regardless, it was wonderful to see so many new and familiar faces.

After my own SAS 9.3 and support options talk, Andy Kuligowski was unleashed on the audience. I say unleashed as it's the only word which can adequately describe the massive amount of SAS knowledge which he tries to convey to an unsuspecting group on a regular basis... and this was no exception. I wager that Andy has forgotten more SAS techniques than I've ever learned, and over the years, I've picked up quite a few! The whole room vacillated between grins, guffaws and groans as he led us on a rollercoaster ride through parsing unusual data formats with the help of SAS. I gathered that his talk intrigued or inspired enough folks in the room to want to know more as he was surrounded at the break and peppered with questions from a few CSUG members.

Our second presentation was from CSUG President Malcolm Macrae. Malcolm is a great guy and a fascinating individual. He's a great leader for the Calgary group posessing equal parts dedication, inspiration and vision. Having just returned from a risk management event in Banff, he had plenty to offer in terms of insight and observations not only on the event itself but the SAS world in general. His talk on SVG from SAS prompted a few questions from the audience as well - always a sign that a talk has been well-received. It recalled to mind the talk given by Vicki Tagore in Saskatoon a few weeks ago on PROC GCHART. While the methodology was different, Malcolm's talk offered a practical, SAS code-based method for surfacing dynamic and visual results in an .html environment as a method of sharing insight with the statistically challenged (no need to name names, especially when that name is my own!). I think everyone walked away with a little more insight into how SAS could surface data visually in a way they had not thought of previously. Malcolm was also good enough to provide the code he used, and I'll be posting that Friday on the CSUG website.

Finally, Marc Smith of SAS Canada wrapped up the presentations with a great overview of how an organization could move from data quality to a true master data management environment. Marc was a brave soul as well, actually demo-ing the DataFlux Management Console at the meeting... and flawlessly, I might add! I'm a big fan of clean data (OK, some might say I'm borderline obsessed) so I always enjoy seeing DataFlux-related material. Marc's expertise in this area truly shone through: it was clear to everyone that he was speaking from a perspective punctuated by experience. I for one really enjoyed the talk, and I think the group did as well.

In terms of community, I learned a few new things about the CSUG group and the executive in particular. 2 of the 3 members of the existing team mentioned how they currently or recently volunteered in the Calgary community, and shared some interesting stories around their experiences. I always like to hear about people getting involved to help others: perhaps it has to do with my own outlook, my upbringing... and in no small way, the role I play within SAS Canada. It was also gratifying to me that several of the attendees of the meeting went out of their way to share how they were working to support SAS within their environments and beyond: to me, Calgary boasts a few frontrunners for the SAS Customer Value Award! I heard stories around efforts being made to increase SAS' exposure in academic institutions and beyond, and it wasn't SAS Canada sales representatives doing the talking. It was CSUG members who loved and believed in the power of SAS, which honestly made me swell with happiness and pride.

I also came to appreciate how dedicated the group is to supporting each other outside the confines of a CSUG meeting. Emails were exchanged, LinkedIn contacts shared, and business cards were flying. In fact, some of the most genuine networking I've seen in quite some time took place within the meeting, and I'm thrilled that so many folks found value in connecting with each other. I hope the conversations will continue until the next meeting in the spring and beyond.

As I sit here in Edmonton preparing for tomorrow's user group meeting, I find my thoughts going back to the Executive Committee of CSUG and all the amazing work they've put in. Malcolm, Mussie, Chenchen: thank you all for your wonderful efforts. The real benefactors of your dedication and commitment to the SAS user community are your fellow Calgarians. I can't wait to see you all again and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of your city in the spring of 2012.

Until then...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Data Mining Meeting Sets the Bar High

We're in the midst of a cold streak here in Toronto, with the Fall season undeniably upon us in spades. Yesterday was a drizzly, wet affair... even more reason to be incredibly pleased with the 130-odd SAS users and data miners who braved the elements to attend the Toronto Data Mining Forum. This group has grown rapidly over the past few years. The increase in interest can be attributed both to the increasing importance of analytics and data management within the dynamic business environment and the tireless efforts of the executive committee to fill the needs of the regular attendees. A big thank-you has to go to Dina Duhon and her whole team for their consistent efforts to deliver high-value presentations for the group.

I can honestly say that yesterday's meeting delivered on this goal. We were fortunate to have incredibly strong presenters. In addition to my 'SAS 9.3 and SAS Support Options' overview, there were 3 compelling talks from some well-known members of the data mining community.

Leading off was long-time SAS supporter Daymond Ling of CIBC. Daymond has offered many talks at user groups and conventions. In fact, I learned over lunch that he has worked with our head office to test SAS products and releases while in development! He has a unique set of skills: as a Senior Manager in Marketing, Daymond offers a keen grasp of business processes and requirements. At the same time, he comes out of a risk management background with a strong technical skill-set at his disposal. In addition, he's a wonderful speaker: his words are well-considered and meaningful with a humerous and relaxed feel. In many ways, he's an ideal speaker! Daymond's talk around 'Segmentation Do's & Don'ts' was amazingly well-received. I myself certainly got a lot out of the talk and from conversations I had with attendees, all of whom found something relevant to their own business in the talk. Questions from the audience were so numerous that we had to hold them in order to ensure we were able to enjoy a networking break.

Our next presenter was Alex Salvas of National Bank. Alex's presence speaks to my earlier comment around how the executive committee was always on the lookout for speakers. Dina had heard a presentation by his group at a risk management conference and approached them to speak at our meeting here in Toronto. Fortunately for us, Alex was happy to represent his group and deliver a thorough and thought-provoking talk. Case studies are often compelling as they lend weight to theory. In sharing National Bank's approach to Practical Data Governance, Alex was able to speak with some authority on a complex and common business need. Confident and collected - meme s'il avait parler en anglais - his talk was also a hit with the group. As a self-confessed data nerd, I found the insight into pulling data from numerous sources in timely fashion for analysis and reporting to be absolutely fascinating. Merci, Alex!

Our final talk of the day was delivered by Derek de Montrichard of CIBC. Following the trend established by the two previous presenters, Derek's talk entitled 'The Curious Complications of Confounding Covariates' was humous and enlightening. It made statistics and the many ways of interpreting them accessible to a broad audience in a down-to-earth, practical way. Through examples and anecdotes Derek successfully demonstrated that data can be tricky to interpret. I think it raised enough questions to give pause to many in the room regarding their own data interpretation practices.

As always, I do like to focus on SAS users coming together within this blog. As I've watched the SAS Canada Community continue to grow, it's a real pleasure to observe how SAS users are supporting each other through the user groups and beyond. The data mining group in particular is one of the best at supporting each other outside the semi-annual meetings which bring everyone together. Alex Salvas' talk was particularly demonstrative of this fact. Not only did he reference a talk on KS previously given by Mark An at the 2010 spring data mining forum, but he in fact credited the talk with prompting internal discussion and change within his own organization. Even better: Mark was on hand to receive very public thanks for his talk! It's this kind of support and collaboration which makes the user groups particularly gratifying as both a SAS user and a program manager.

I can also offer up that the networking activities of this group have continued to result in amazing connections. I heard from many attendees that in addition to the great talks, the networking itself proved to be very valuable as former colleagues caught up and new connections were made. I would be remiss if I didn't indicate that we all had a lot of fun as well.

I'll be on the road next week for the Calgary and Edmonton user groups and I'm sure I'll have great stories to tell when I return.

Until then...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Drizzly Day in Downtown Hamilton

That was the scene for the Golden Horseshoe SAS user group meeting (GHSUG) ... or the start of a really poorly written crime novel, one or the other. At the risk of sounding contrived, the only crime taking place in Hamilton last Friday was that the meeting wasn't able to go on longer.

A small but dedicated group of SAS users from a wide variety of backgrounds assembled for a special treat. I've often commented that the Hamilton group has one of the strongest executive committees across the country. Knowledgeable, engaged and friendly, this team of individuals are truly greater than the sum of their parts. Collectively, the group boasts well over 100 years of SAS experience from a wide range of backgrounds: manufacturing, industrial, academic, health, and more. They're also one of the nicest groups of people you'd ever hope to meet: it's a real honest pleasure to spend time with them. Last Friday's meeting agenda was a first - at least in my experience - for the group. The executive committee were offering the bulk of the presentations (save mine). And what a line-up it was.

My own humble talk focused on SAS 9.3 upgrades as well as SAS support options, particularly in the area of community growth and development. Those who know me and have heard me speak can probably testify that I'm not shy speaking in front of a crowd. I actually enjoy it! I can honestly say that this time, I did feel more intimidated than I have in quite some time. While I'm extremely comfortable in the Enterprise Guide/Enterprise Miner world of SAS users (no snickering, programmers), I'm the first to admit that I'm not the 'go-to' for coding issues. Speaking on new developments in this area is both challenging and terrifying at the same time!

The real meat of the meeting was to be found with the executive talks. First up, Barry Hong regaled us with a great overview of the ODS Graphics Designer. In typical Barry fashion, his talk was tempered for easy digestion by all SAS users... and I got a lot out of it as well! It was really neat to see how much can be done with code around processes which my EG sessions happily run in the background.

Next up: Bill Droogendyk offering his take on the Proc du Jour which was Proc Format. Using multiple examples, Bill stepped us through (pun FULLY intended) effective ways of formatting and grouping data. It was nice to see Bill up and talking in front of the group as he works so hard behind the scenes most of the time. Cheers, Bill!

Finally, Lesley Harschnitz delivered a tour-de-force around gathering requirements for projects. This was a most thorough talk which seemed to generate great buzz throughout the room. While it didn't feature a single shred of SAS code, it still had everyone's undivided attention. The framework Lesley provided was clearly something the assembly could gravitate towards. It was applicable to everyone's workplace no matter what industry. The massive number of requests for copies of the talk immediately after the meeting demonstrated the relevance of it for each and every person in the room.

As I said, one of the highlights of the team is how it really feels like a community and always has. The openness of the executive committee was felt through the open conversation flowing between the members in mid-presentation, the great networking event featuring vacation photos - where HAVEN'T you been, Barry?!?!? - of the team with prizes for identifying them correctly, and of course the traditional delicious lunch afterwards, this group always makes me feel welcome and at home. If I could only bottle that sense of goodwill and togetherness to share with the rest of the SAS Canada Community, I would. I'm already looking forward to the spring meeting. Thanks as always for being such great hosts, guys.

Coming up for me this week: the Toronto Data Mining Forum which is currently climbing over the 200 registration mark with no end in sight. Will I survive? Will the building? I'll let you all know later in the week!

Until then....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Winterpeg? I Think Not!

OK, I acknowledge that I was lucky in terms of the balmy breezes which blew through Winnipeg upon my arrival. Compared to the chilly Saskatoon, it was positively tropical! Nonetheless I think that I would have been warmed to the bone by the amazing sense of togetherness demonstrated at the user group meeting by users and executive committee alike. There’s lots to talk about, so hold on to your hats!

The voyage to Winnipeg started inauspiciously. Tara Holland of SAS Canada and I both sat in Saskatoon energized about the meeting we had just attended, and excited for a good meal, an evening of catching up on work and then a good night’s sleep. How little did we know our energy - while unflagging – would certainly be sorely tested.

Sometimes the world has a way of reminding you that the best laid plans are often foiled by elements outside of one’s control. In this case, Tara and I had managed to dodge the threat of an Air Canada flight attendant strike but were close to being laid low by mechanical issues on our plane. Our 7:00pm flight was pushed back further… and further…. and further. It’s a good think we had so much to talk about! In hindsight the delay was a blessing. It allowed Tara and I to chat about everything under the sun. We talked about SAS, how we could support each other’s goals, how we could better support users, how much I disliked football and she, autoracing (I know, I know: I’m the only one who doesn’t like football in the world. Sheesh.) It was a great chance to learn more about each other personally and professionally and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Tara has been especially supportive of my endeavours with the SAS Canada Community. Her team has been instrumental in providing some of the content that members are enjoying on a consistent basis. I gained a lot of insight into her vision of the site and was thrilled by her continued energy and dynamism around supporting SAS users across the nation. Coming from an influential and highly intelligent member of our SAS Canada family, it was both gratifying and exciting to have her vote of confidence and support. Thanks, Tara!

We finally managed to board our plane and headed to Winnipeg. With the time change and the late check-in, this meant that we were ready to eat our dinner at just after midnight. Wow. But hey, we were absolutely ravenous – I saw Tara looking a bit nervous as I eyed everything in sight that wasn’t nailed down with hunger in my eyes. Through a flurry of knives, forks and Italian food, we managed to satiate ourselves before we put ourselves down for the count…. And it really did feel like a slow 10 count. I think we both climbed off the mat of exhaustion at the sound of ‘8… 9…’ very early the next morning. Duty called and we weren’t about to let down the good folks of Winnipeg!

Tara and I headed to the user group meeting at the University ready for a great gathering of SAS minds. Like Saskatoon the day before, I was well aware of the breadth of SAS knowledge this city contains. A pair of these bright lights of SAS were presenting in addition to Tara and myself. Charles Burchill of the University of Manitoba offered a great technical talk on BY group processing and new executive President Craig Kasper gave a short list of tips and tricks to help optimize the performance of your SAS sessions. Craig has really embraced the concept of community: he blogged a technical article which supported his live talk, and he’s posted it in the SAS Canada Community. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already! Of course, his talk and all of the other presentations will be available shortly on the Winnipeg user group site, so do take advantage and look them up once posted.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tara’s talk as well. As I mentioned, she was reprising a great lecture which she delivered the day before in Saskatoon all around SAS’ use in government. Given that Tara has worked in Ottawa for 18 years – 13 of those with SAS – she was more than well-equipped to speak to how government organizations of all levels and portfolios were leveraging SAS and also offer her observations on the trends of the future. The creation of analytical environments is the key: organic sandboxes which grow naturally to support statisticians, analysts, economists and others who need a place to experiment, play and collaborate to produce great results. I think the whole room was intrigued by the vision she painted… I know I was!

Finally, a word about the new executive committee. One word would suffice to describe their efforts: wow. A strong team of 6 individuals took over from outgoing President Randy Roller and his group… and as I mentioned at the meeting, the high level of dedication and support previously established by the Winnipeg SAS community was certainly met with ease by the new team. Absolutely fantastic work from all! Working together like a veteran group, all elements of the meeting were covered off with flying colors. From set-up to registration to MCing, this team did it all. A huge thanks to Stella, Kevin, Craig and Humaira who all contributed to what I considered an excellent meeting.

As always, I like to focus on some of the local elements of community which I find noteworthy. Winnipeg has so many, it’s hard to select just a few. Like the Saskatoon group, the networking and relationships forged through these meetings are starting to really take hold. One executive committee member remarked to me over lunch that not only were people starting to recognize each other from the user group meetings, they were re-connecting and carrying on conversations they’d left at the last gathering. My hope is that vehicles such as the SAS Canada Community allow them to continue to explore and develop these relationships not only with each other but also with fellow SAS users across the county. I was particularly gratified by tales of sub-user groups forming on a bi-weekly basis to discuss programming techniques and beyond as well as University-led workshops occuring on a consistent basis. In particular, it was great to have a few folks volunteer on the spot to give talks at an upcoming meeting: rest assured, we’ll take you up on your offers, with thanks!

I’m so glad I was able to attend the meeting and re-connect with many colleagues and friends in not-so-wintery Winnipeg. Although I didn’t get to a Jets game – congratulations on the return of your team, by the way! – the same sense of excitement, community and togetherness fostered by their beloved franchises’ long-overdue homecoming was more than mimicked by the members of the user group. Thanks for being such wonderful hosts: I'm look forward to my next trip already.

Next up for me: a really quick turnaround! I’m off in the morning to the GHSUG (Golden Horseshoe) SAS user group in Hamilton. Some true heavyweight of the SAS user world will be presenting and this group never disappoints in content, character and collaboration. I’ll have more on their meeting shortly.

Until then…

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Synergy in Saskatoon

It feels like a while since I last wrote on these pages… probably because I’ve spent quite a bit of time setting up the user group meetings on the SAS Canada Community. I’m enjoying the challenge – and freedom, to be honest – of blogging in two places simultaneously. In some ways, the Community affords more exposure. With close to 400 members (and growing daily), it’s satisfying to think that my confused ramblings are being absorbed by many more eyes. Absorbed, I said: I didn’t mention anything about them being appreciated! ;)

I’m writing this sitting at about 27,000 feet as I fly home to Toronto from Winnipeg – more on that city’s user group meeting in the next few days. I began this great journey on Tuesday evening, winging my way towards Saskatoon. My companion and partner in crime was Tara Holland, the Manger of the Public Sector Solution Specialists. While she and I have had many conversations over the years, this trip afforded us an opportunity to really get to know each other better as people and as colleagues. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-conspirator!
Tuesday evening in Saskatoon was a chance for me to say thank-you to the SUCCESS user group committee and guest speakers for all the hard work they put into organizing the meeting – and let me tell you, this executive is one of the hardest working teams in show (SAS) business. A total of 11 of us gathered at a Mexican restaurant for lively conversation, laughter and final planning around the next day’s meeting. This motley crew of SAS users was about as diverse as it gets. Presenters hailed from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, China, South Korea, and of course, good ol’ Canada as well. Community is always my focus no matter where I go or what I do across this amazing country and it was gratifying to see that the cultural mosaic that drives the beauty of our nation was alive and well in Saskatoon!

I have to single out one particular individual who really made the dinner experience memorable. Chel Hee Lee – a University of Saskatchewan graduate student – had the table in stiches at all times. Whether it was tales of his dear, beloved and terrifying mother or weighing in with gravitas and measured certainty on a SAS issue, his mannerisms and tales had us all laughing. Cheers, Chel: I think I speak for everyone when I say that you made our night.
There was of course work to be done the following morning at the user group meeting. Tara and I arrived at around 8:00am at the Royal University Hospital on the U of S campus and I think we both had flashbacks to days of undergraduate lectures at our respective alma maters. Perhaps it was the terraced seating, the rows of desks, or maybe even the slide projector at the back (OK, we’re dating ourselves a little with that statement). Regardless of the reason, it was both familiar and terrifying.

The day’s presentations didn’t disappoint at all. Jacqueline Quail conducted her usual masterful job of keeping the crowd energized and entertained. Her last meeting as President of the group has to be considered an unqualified success (pun fully intended). She established a theme of Hallowe’en and fear which she returned to constantly throughout the day. Whether it was showing videos from a reality fear-based TV show, running Hallowe’en Jeopardy (I completely blew my question but managed to redeem myself later) or continuing to keep energy and spirits high, her ability to energize and engage the Saskatoon community was apparent. What an asset for the group! I’m glad she’ll be staying on in a supportive Past-President role. Thanks Jacqueline for all of your hard work, it’s truly paid off.

Indicative of her efforts was the fact that a record 17 individuals had stepped forward with offers to present at this meeting. Let me repeat that: 17 people offered to present! I can honestly say I’ve never seen the like in 4 years of working with user groups across the country. Many of these folks did step up to deliver their talks… some incredibly technical and some extremely entertaining. Most importantly, all of them were insightful! The presenters were too numerous to mention and topics too diverse to cover in this short piece. I encourage you to check out the SUCCESS website in the next few days as all the talks will be posted there for your enjoyment.

I also had the pleasure of seeing some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Saskatoon does hold a special place in my heart as it was the first user group I travelled to independent as a SAS employee. I smiled as I recalled that fresh-faced young lad (OK, not that young) who cut his teeth on the wind-swept prairies just yesterday (or so it feels). I love returning to what can be described with not an iota of irony as one of the friendliest cities I have the privilege of visiting. I’m always a little wistful to leave, especially as the SAS community truly makes me feel right at home. I’m not seen as a SAS employee, or an Ontarian, or a Torontonian: just a person with a smiling face who’s met with nothing but grins in return. I encourage you all to visit Saskatoon if you can, it’s well worth the trip.

In fact, you might be able to – and on SAS’ dime to boot! Within the SAS Canada Community you’ll find a contest currently underway. Entitled ‘What Has Your SAS Done for YOU Lately?’, you can win a trip to any Canadian user group of your choice! That’s right: any group, anywhere, in 2012. Of course, you have the disadvantage of having to travel with me… ;) but hey, some sacrifices must be made, right? I highly encourage you to check out the group and submit your ‘interesting use of SAS’ in 1,000 words or less. The winner will be announced in early 2012… and you could join me again in Saskatoon and see exactly what I’m talking about.

I left Saskatoon feeling very positive about the state of SAS within the community. There’s a clear and present support network which extends beyond the user groups, both through online initiatives like the SAS Canada Community and through the relationships forged at the meeting but carried forward through the year. I headed towards Winnipeg safe in the knowledge that a new, strong executive team had stepped forward to support SAS users in Saskatoon. I can’t wait to go back.

Next up: another new executive team experienced their first user group meeting in Winnipeg. More on that soon!
Until then…

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Great Start to the Fall User Group Season

The Toronto Area SAS Society (TASS) meeting last Friday was the perfect way to kick-off what promises to be a very busy Fall/Winter user group season. As I blogged about on the SAS Canada Community site, I was really looking forward to a tightly-themed meeting. The focus of the event was on SAS macros, stored processes and efficiencies in the Enterprise Guide environment... and given the huge turn-out, it was definitely the right theme to attack!

All in all there were nearly 250 people who attended the day-long meeting. There were a few highlights which I'd like to pick out: some from a SAS perspective, others from a personal perspective. I think they'll highlight why I continue to feel privileged and overjoyed to support the great community of SAS users here in Toronto and across the country.

We were very fortunate to have two SAS Global Forum papers of note on the morning agenda. Mahmoud Azimaee reprised his 2010 'honourable mention' SGF talk on Integrating SAS & Google API to map health care data in his adopted province of Manitoba. This talk provided a level of visual stimulation not often seen at user group meetings. Using SAS and Google Earth, Mahmoud was able to map health-related data of interest on national, provincial and metropolitan levels. The GUI functionality of the program proved to be a real hit with the audience; appreciative murmurs of admiration were heard throughout the crowd as Mahmoud manipulated the maps and data with ease and skill. Truly an amazing talk!

This presentation was immediately followed by an invited paper for the 2012 SAS Global Forum taking place at the end of April in Orlando, Florida. Co-authored and delivered by TASS President Art Tabachneck, this paper highlighted the collaborative nature of SAS users on a across the world. Featuring contributors from the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom, it truly was a talk of global proportions! I was struck by the fact that a good chunk of the collaboration was inspired and conducted through the vehicle of SAS-L, the long-standing SAS online community. I think that many in the room were impressed and perhaps surprised by the benefit of connecting through online communities, a point reinforced by Art during his talk. The sheer scale and complexity of the work itself was inspiring; it was a monumental task and one which continues to scale up larger and larger. I'm anxious to see where Art and his colleagues are able to take it in later interations.

This theme of online collaboration continued with the afternoon session. SAS Canada's own Chris Sammut and Pauline Lee not only presented a macro which they had developed internally here at SAS, they posted it to the SAS Canada Community for everyone to use at will. In addition, they also provided a supplemental paper on how to deploy a similar macro as a stored process in Enterprise Guide. Fantastic stuff, and even more remarkable considering that they were first time presenters at TASS!

Rupinder Dhillon's talk on the built-in macros which exist in Enterprise Guide was her usual stand-up work and led perfectly into the final award-winning talk of the day. Harsha Kotian delivered her SAS Global Forum 2011 'best submitted paper' on SAS Enterprise Guide options, which was charming, witty and best of all well-received by the almost 90-strong attendees who remained late in the day.

I remarked at the meeting how a good portion of the agendas were driven through social media. Whether it was finding presenters through LinkedIn, building a crowd-sourced invited paper or connecting with others through the SAS Canada Community, this meeting featured many stories of social media showing its worth.... and for someone as engaged (read:obsessed) with this space as I am, that's a very good thing.

I'd also like to acknowledge some of the other elements around TASS which impressed, elated and humbled. I have to make special note of Rahman Sarker who took time out of his busy schedule to come in to SAS Canada a few days in advance of TASS in order to test out his talk... and then modified it happily and cheerfully. I think it paid off as his was one of the most discussed presentations of the day. I'd also like to thank Rupinder Dhillon who ran one of the break-out sessions before running back to work and Noemi Toiber Temin and Hiten Patel for their help at the registration desk. It's this sense of true, genuine collaboration which helps make the TASS meetings so successful and enjoyable. I hope those of you who weren't able to attend will be able to make it out for the December 9th meeting and experience the cameraderie yourselves in person. In the meantime, you'll certainly be able to access all the presentations here.

I reserve a special note for Mr. Carl Clutton. As the longest-serving member of TASS, it meant an awful lot that he presented me with a card and a gift in celebration of my recent engagement. It's this exact type of relationship that keeps me energized to support the SAS community. In many ways, my colleagues in the SAS user group world have transcended the customer-level: I consider them friends as well. A truly touching and well-received gesture: thanks again for your generosity and thoughfulness, Carl!

Next up in the user group world: I'm making a long-overdue visit to Saskatoon and Winnipeg in early October with my colleague Tara Holland. I can't wait to meet up with my friends there as well, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it here! Of course, you can find me blogging about the meetings in advance on the SAS Canada Community site as well.

Until then...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Catching Up & Looking Ahead

It's been a long, long while since I've updated this blog. I'm the first to admit that I've been wracked with guilt about not posting in quite some time. It does seem that sometime life - and work too! - get in the way.

We've had an exciting and strange summer here in Toronto. It began with the infamous 'heat dome' settling over much of Ontario and the north east... I guess they called it a heat dome because it felt as if we were all passengers in Darth Vader's helmet as he went through extreme cardio training on the desert planet of Tatooine (wow, too much inner nerd coming out to play? Methinks so). We had almost a month of solid 40 degree celcius temperatures almost daily. For our friends in Cary, this might seem like a walk in the park: but for we of the frozen tundra it was a little much to bear.... especially those of us who lacked air conditioning!

Mother Nature threw us another curveball with a brief, mild 10 second earthquake. Originating far south in the state of Virginia, Toronto seems to have been the extreme edge of the tremor zone. We don't get earthquakes often (read, EVER) in Ontario so it was became quite the event around the office. I couldn't help but think that this would be a good lead-in to the VanSUG user group meeting taking place on November 2nd in Vancouver, featuring Jim Metcalf (Director of Analytics) discussing his geological work around measuring the impact of the earlier Japanese earthquake/tsunami on British Columbia. I myself have experienced the earth move once or twice in my visits to San Diego, so it didn't particularly perturb me... but it was a strange feeling on my home soil, to be sure.

Speaking of San Diego, the final massive seismic shift - at least in my life - was that I proposed to my longtime girlfriend... and she happily accepted! I suppose this has been one of the major reasons I haven't been as active blogging as I would like to be: the planning, the nervousness and finally, the release of emotion was truly an emotional rollercoaster. But I'm back in the saddle and highly motivated to share my expectations, my experiences and most of all, my adventures on the road as I continue to support SAS users from coast to coast through the user group program. You can find a full list of the dates of the upcoming meetings here, and I do hope to connect with you in person at one or more!

Another cause for my long-time disappearance from blogging has been the emergence of the SAS Canada Community. This is a great initiative to be involved in for me, as it marries two of my greater passions: the SAS user community and the online world of social media. Over a few years I've been slowly but steadily trying to build support engines for SAS users in as many online places as possible. There's a whole host of user groups on LinkedIn as well as Facebook, and I've had quite the active Twitter stream for quite some time. My feeling around engaging in these spaces is that while it certainly isn't for everyone, there's definitely something for everyone. Confusing? It sure is.

What I mean is that there's so much more than simply exposing your personal and private details to friends, strangers, employers and prospective business partners. If you know how (or are willing to learn) and have the patience and drive to do so, you can actually help create business, grow your own reputation and credibility, and create value for friends and customers alike. The SAS Canada Community certainly helps to address most of these issues. While a work in progress, it's already grown quicker than my expectations. We've had great success in needling, begging and cajoling domestic SAS staff and supporters to share their knowledge with the greater Canadian SAS community. There's a hunger for on-demand, Canadian-centric SAS knowledge out there... and we're quickly growing to support it.

While we still have a ways to go, early signs are that we're on to a good thing here. Social media guru Katie Paine - AKA The Queen of Measurement - recently mentioned to a group of SAS Canada employees that Canadians are almost MORE hungry than our American cousins for the knowledge and networking opportunities which exist through social media: we're just a lot more reluctant to stand up and shout about it online. We're more content to sit back, learn, absorb, and connect when the time is right. I firmly believe that the steady growth of the SAS Canada Community puts the proof to the pudding, so to speak... and I'm excited to see where it takes us next.

But enough rambling for now. I wanted to get back into the swing of blogging, and as these words have flown out of my fingertips I've realized how much I've missed it. Tomorrow, I'll be writing more about the upcoming TASS user group meeting: what to expect, what to anticipate... and a few of my own thoughts as well.

Thanks to those of you who have been patient during this sabbatical from writing... and thanks for obliging me as I've meandered my way through this return to the written page. Look forward to writing more soon.

Until then...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the 2011 User Group Season Begin!

The 2011 user group season is upon us, and boy oh boy, what a start!!! Tomorrow's TASS meeting at the SAS offices in Toronto is pushing 300 registrants. Perhaps it's the (very) early promise of spring that's motivating people to brave the chilly early March air in search of camaraderie, coding and of course, coffee with friends and colleagues.

Tomorrow's agenda is a great one. The morning session features Tim Trussell demonstrating how text analytics can be leveraged for sentiment analysis, forecasting and other business applications. And on his birthday, no less! If you have a chance, do wish him all the best... I won't reveal how old (young) you are, Tim, have no fear. Also featured on the agenda is SAS legend Art Tabachneck who will be expanding his extremely popular 'coders corner' series to a full length presentation entitled Enough Really Good SAS Tips To Fill A Book... Art, maybe you SHOULD write a book! I'm sure the good folks at SAS Publishing would be interested.

The afternoon session promises to deliver even more value. Wayne Levin returns to dazzle us once again with his amazing presentation skills and command of the JMP data visualization software and SAS Global Forum 2012 Section Co-Chair Harry Droogendyk will speak at length about creating stored processes through cascading prompts. I don't know how this agenda could have been improved, to tell you the truth... but YOU may, and I'm always eager to hear your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment or email me directly with suggestions for future meetings.

I've been sharing a few stories lately about how social media has connected and benefitted SAS users across the country. I'd like to share another, if I may... and this is a really neat one! Many of you will know the name of Art Carpenter. Art is a true SAS heavyweight; published by SAS, a former Chair of Global Forum, a regular featured speaker, an all-around gentleman and a fantastic human being to boot. Well, a SAS user reached out to me with an interesting observation. In reading Art's book entitled Carpenter's Complete Guide to the SAS Macro Language, 2nd Edition, one of the resource links for further information was discovered to be inactive. Would I be able to help locate it? A quick email to Art resulted in a completely un-surprising exchange. Art reached out directly to the individual with a personal email urging him to contact another author directly and suggesting a few other resources with words of encouragement. Needless to say, the inquiring party was stunned... and thrilled!

These little points of connection are what help make the SAS world such a wonderful place to be. The support, courtesy and sense of collaboration all stem out of a feeling of 'belonging' to a global community: a community which may speak different dialects and be scattered all over the globe, but who naturally gravitate towards helping each other through our common language of SAS. I'll be seeing Art in Las Vegas in about a month and I'll be sure to take him out for a bite to eat in thanks.

I'll be having a very hectic day tomorrow but I do hope to update you on how the meeting went over the weekend. In the meantime, I hope I'll see you tomorrow or at another user group meeting in the near future...

Until then...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Like Ripples In A Pond

... OK, it's a bit of a cheesy title, but I think it accurately captures how my friends and colleagues in the SAS user world have been escalating their desire to understand and engage in the world of social media. I've been fighting the good fight in terms of spreading this message both internally and externally for close to a year now and it's great to see so many people listening and diving right in! I’m not so arrogant as to think it’s because of me, but it sure is nice to think I may have contributed in some small way. Consequently, those ripples just keep spreading further and further.

This week, I thought I would share a few stories which unambiguously wave the flag of utilitarian social media usage in a SAS context high in the sky. These are some of the ways in which we can all benefit from engaging and networking in these spaces, especially as SAS users and supporters.

Many of you are aware that we have LinkedIn and Facebook groups which serve as rallying points for city-based SAS users. Whether you're from Halifax or Victoria, a data mining practitioner or a health-based SAS user, there's a group for you! These are fantastic resources for connecting with other SAS users with similar interests and aptitudes in your area. In recent weeks I've had a couple of interesting exchanges in the LinkedIn groups.

The Health User Group is one which is near and dear to my heart. When I started working at SAS Canada over 3 years ago, it was the first user group which I completely 'owned': I worked with an executive committee of our customers to craft a thematic agenda, identified likely attendees and presented at the event. Little did I know then how fortunate I was: that particular user group is still one of the easiest to work with and one of the most engaged. At any rate, I posed a question: was there any specific topic or theme that the LinkedIn group wanted to explore at the April 1st meeting? Much to my delight, not only was there a response, but an offer to present as well! I couldn't be more thrilled; it's exactly this type of support, dialogue and engagement which really puts the proof in the pudding in terms of the value of these spaces. It’s all about giving SAS users what they want and what they need, and the easiest way is to simply ask them. Although I haven't yet met the guest speaker in person, I’m thrilled that I now have a new enthusiastic contact willing to share with the SAS user community.

I was also fortunate enough to travel to the home of SAS in Cary, North Carolina last week. I always return extremely energized and focused on my work and this time would prove no different. I was there to meet with development teams on the topic of the burgeoning SAS Canada Community Site, the development of which I've alluded to previously in other posts. The conversation was more than stimulating, and I even managed to wriggle onto a panel discussion at this year's SAS Global Forum. The topic: leveraging social media within the user group community. Right in my sweet spot, methinks! I do hope some of you will be there to help stimulate the discussion or at the very least, point and heckle. There's still lots of time to register and to take advantage of some pretty amazing discounts... and to prepare yourselves for the (in)famous Canada Night Out. I recommend plenty of rest, lots of fluids, and visualization techniques: focus on your glass being full, and it will be, courtesy of yours truly.

Finally, allow me to share the story of a brand new SAS user who was unsure what to do with his newfound SAS Certification (by the way, there's no better time to write your certification exam then at SAS Global Forum at a 15% discount). This individual reached out to me through a private LinkedIn message and I was able to connect him with two very generous, long-time SAS users who promptly offered to mentor him in how to best leverage his certification. This is nothing short of amazing post-graduation care, and offered by members of the greater SAS community no less!

It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that Valentine's Day falls on this upcoming Monday. If you're like me, you've already taken care of your cards, flowers, chocolates, rings, and gifts... and you're praying it's enough to please. What did I miss? What did I forget? How did I screw this up? I'm grateful to Dave Thomas of New Marketing Labs for reminding me of one of my gaps through this video. Thanks, Dave, you’ve saved Valentine’s Day.

In the coming weeks: I'll take a closer look at some of the amazing presentations and activities that I'll be attending at SAS Global Forum and I'll also shine a spotlight on the upcoming user group season: who's been secured to speak? Where? When? All in good time, my friends, all in good time.

Until then...

Monday, January 24, 2011

That's the LAST Time I Hit Snooze On My Alarm Clock

Hello, SAS-ites everywhere! Allow me to be the first to wish you a very happy 2011... wait, you say that would've been appropriate a month ago? Where the heck was I, you ask? Now settle down, no need to get all worked up! The holiday season is a time for family, friends and food... and I certainly enjoyed all three of those, in spades, as I hope you did as well. Let's just say my 2011 'snooze' button was engaged more than a few times in early January... Still a long face? Sigh, okay...

Allow my first real words in 2011 to be a heartfelt apology; as the incomparable Nina Simone sang, I've 'been gone too long'... although I sure hope it ends up better for me than it did for her poor fella in the song! You guys are a forgiving, accomodating audience, aren't you?

To tell you the truth, part of my silence can be easily explained. I've been extremely focused on some potentially exciting news out of SAS Canada, especially for Canadian SAS users. Details are currently being finalized around a dynamic new forum for SAS support: the (still-to-be-named) SAS Canada Community Site!

What the heck is this, you might ask? Truthfully I'd be glad if you did ask (I'm not sure how I'd introduce the concept otherwise) as it gives me the opportunity to start talking about it in a lot more detail. The Community Site grew out of the ever-increasing primacy of social media as a delivery method for pertinent, useful information. Whether it's catching up on news, tweeting out an intriguing white paper, networking with other business professionals or developing our online persona through blogs and discussion forums, the number of SAS users who are helping to provide valuable, useful content to the world through this channel continues to grow. News and other information is now instantly accessible to all: for example, by the time I finish this blog post, my RSS feed will have populated with another 50-75 articles to read... and over the course of the evening I'll try to finish all of them!

Our first steps in social media were tentative and small: slowly but surely, SAS Canada has been increasing our presence in a few of the more popular networking spaces. If you search for your local user group in LinkedIn or Facebook, you'll find a community of SAS users ready and willing to connect and collaborate. You'll also find us all over Twitter: I myself tweet quite actively as do many other SAS staff members. We're comfortable in these spaces, we're motivated to share with you and we have something valuable to say. We're ready to take it to the next level and that's what the Community Site is all about. Canadian SAS users and SAS Canada staff will be posting original thought-leadership, collaborating in order to get the best out of their SAS applications, networking to business advantage and leveraging their knowledge in order to increase their online profiles. Blogs, discussion forums, instructor videos, course follow-ups: all this and much, much more will be headed your way over the next year.

You may be saying to yourself, "I've avoided social media and not noticed that I'm missing anything up until this point: why bother now"? A much more common question - and one that I've heard quite often over these last 6 months - is "who has the time to get involved"? It's this second question I'd like to address ; hopefully, I'll be able to quell your reservations and perhaps encourage you to consider joining us in the near future.

I myself do find the amount of information out there to be overwhelming at times. After all, we all have careers, commitments and concerns outside of work which rightly occupy much of our time. However I see this as a challenge, not a limitation. I can recall that 16 years ago during my undergraduate work at U of T (whoops, just dated myself!), I obtained my first email address (which is still active today: and yes, it's embarassing, so no, I'm not telling!). Getting in the habit of checking this new networking/information source took some time, but today - like most of you, I would wager - it almost feels like I check it in my sleep! Just as we all adapted to using email as a new, quicker and broader form of communication, so too is social media impacting the way we interact with each other today. I hope you'll take the same plunge with the SAS Canada Community Site that I did with email all those years ago. I think you'll find that you not only do have the time to get involved, you'll want to contribute to the community. Ultimately, you'll benefit greatly benefit from the information you gather and the connections that you make.

I'm being a little careful with exactly how much information I give out: I'm really excited about this, but I've learned to temper my big mouth with a little patience. The site will be shaping up over the next few months - I'll have updates for you, have no fear - and I hope to have it up and running by early spring. We'll need some beta-testers as well: a few people have already stepped forward, but I'm always interested in more opinions... so if you'd like to be a tester, just let me know in the comments or send me an email.

I'm glad to have found my online voice once again. I must admit I did miss writing, even if it's just to hear myself 'speak'. I'm very much looking forward to what 2011 will bring, in particular, I anticipate getting to know many of you much better and that prospect makes me grin from ear to ear.

Coming up soon: the spring 2011 user group schedule has been (almost) finalized: curious about when the next meeting is happening in your area? What about the agenda? I'll have details to come... plus, a few stories of my recent experiences with SAS users in the field and LOTS of info around SAS Global Forum.

Until then...