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...

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