Monday, October 22, 2012

Prairie Winds, Plotting Petrol Points & SAS

I had the good fortune of travelling to Saskatoon last week for the SUCCESS user group meeting.  I absolutely LOVE this community.  To a man and woman they are friendly and welcoming, and exceptionally eager to share their SAS knowledge with each other as well.  In many ways, they perfectly emulate the larger goals of online initiatives such as the SAS Canada Community: to connect SAS users beyond user group meetings for support, camaraderie and collaboration.

I should also point out that Saskatoon is a sentimental place for me when it comes to SAS as it was the first group I visited on the road as a fresh-faced youngster almost 6 years ago now.  6 years: wow. It's hard to wrap my head around just how fortunate I've been to enjoy my work for this time... and though it may sound trite, it really does feel like just yesterday that I was supporting my predecessor Christie Hobley by helping out at registration desks and processing evaluation forms. Between the two of us (albeit with a couple of other amazing maternity leave 'fill ins') we've been involved for the whole program... it's a little stunning, to tell you the truth!  Time certainly does fly when you're having fun.

As I was saying, Saskatoon was the first group I supported and I mentioned this during my 'What's New at SAS' talk during the meeting. We're collecting a variety of stories through our '10 Years of SAS Supported User Groups' initiative in the SAS Canada Community with an eye to sharing these with the greater SAS community through our insights newsletter in 2013.  I reminisced about my first trip to Saskatoon: massive luggage checked in, $400 in cash for customer entertainment... naiveté
personified. Now, I'm a carry-on, credit card warrior! What hasn't changed: many of the faces I see at the meetings.

Some of those individuals were presenting as they have over the last 6 years... and as always, these talks can be found on the SUCCESS website. Brad Zimmer - past-President of SUCCESS and longtime attendee - reprised a talk he gave a few years ago around using SAS as part of a logistics problem, optimally moving gasoline from point to point in western Canada. Given the number of variables being considered in the problem - distances, local costs, reciprocal agreements and more - it was quite the challenge! Brad is a great presenter and easily explained the considerations to a rapt audience.

Another returning presenter was Sabuj Sarker of Saskatchewan Cancer Agency who gave a talk on relative survival and macros. I, for one, am ALWAYS fascinated by survival-themed presentations. The application of this type of work to virtually any line of business - particularly those involving customer churn such as telecommunications and credit card - never ceases to amaze me. I'm fond of saying that SAS users from a health background are some of the most sought after in any industry and Sabuj certainly helped bolster my case with his talk.

Longtime attendee and ardent SAS supporter Dr. Jaswant Singh of the University of Saskatchewan also delivered a great intro-level talk on analyzing complex binary data using SAS. I really enjoyed Dr. Singh's style of presenting. Freely admitting that he was not a statistician nor an expert - but suggesting that he would love to learn from some of those in the room - his talk was a step by step approach to some pretty complex statistical procedures such as logistic regression and just plain old regression. The tidbit which made me smile the most was that Dr. Singh let out that he had tried his talk on his students' beforehand. I hope they were as receptive as our audience!

We also had the 'star' of the show, Ms. Ranger-Lacroix who admirably stepped into the shoes of Laki Kourakis to present on the topic of SAS macros as well as how to ensure system efficiencies. I promised everyone in the room that they would get something out of the talk, and I believe they all did! Josée had many admirers and question-seekers approach her during the break. It was very nice for me to get to know her a little better over the course of our few days together as well; I would certainly welcome the opportunity to travel with her again!

We also had a new presenter from the Health Quality Council. Ying Jiang delivered a talk around statistical process control graphs which I found to be incredibly interesting... I had never given much thought to this particular type of graphing but I immediately saw its utility especially when trying to ensure quality control across a variety of sources. Great job, Ying! As if the talk wasn't enough, she also volunteered to take over as the Program Chair for the SUCCESS Executive Committee.

A word about the Executive Committee if I may. Saskatoon has always been the most organized, orderly and committed group in terms of local leadership.  They have the formula down pat.  With yearly rotation of positions and consistent support from a whole host of individuals, the group is never without guidance and direction from on-the-ground resources in Saskatoon.  I'm exceptionally grateful to all of the individuals who have supported the community.

I'd like to single out Gopinath Narasimhan, the now past-President of the group. Gopi's energy and passion has been infectious in Saskatoon. He has worked furiously hard behind the scenes to ensure that local SAS users were well-represented on the agendas through both delivering topics they wanted to see and getting them up on the stage themselves.  He has been a strong advocate for participation in the group and has become a good friend as well as a colleague. Here's to your leadership Gopi: I can think of few individuals who merit a paid trip down to SAS Global Forum in 2013 more than you!

A special congratulations to the other new members of the Executive Committee. Joining Ying Jiang are Wenbin Li who becomes the Vice President and Eric Wang who steps into the President role. Along with continuing members Alomgir Hossain who retains his Local Arrangements Chair position and incumbent Brent Burlingham who continues as Technical Director, a very strong team has been assembled. I'm looking forward to working with all of them moving forward.

After Saskatoon, I winged my way to Winnipeg for their meeting last Friday.  My thoughts on that and more will be coming up shortly.

Stay tuned...

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