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...

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