Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A New Venue, A New Attendance Record, A Brave New World for GHSUG

OK, I’m well overdue to write this blog. The GoldenHorseshoe SAS User Group (GHSUG) meeting was a little over two weeks ago, but in my defense, a lot has happened between then and now. I’ve criss-crossed the country with trips to Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg and I'm currently in British Columbia. In some ways I’ve felt like a hamster on a wheel: trying my best to keep the darn thing spinning but all too aware that my energy has been fading. It can be a real challenge to try and keep all of one’s balls in the air during these hectic trips. Having said that, I really can’t offer any excuses: only apologies.

On to the matter at hand, the user group in question. For the first time in recent memory –at least in my capacity as the user group manager – the GHSUG group was meeting in a new location. For over five years we’ve been gathering at the ArcelorMittal-Dofasco offices in Hamilton… I think I could manage the drive in my sleep (and given the early hour of my usual departure to the meeting from Toronto, I think I may have actually done this a time or two). Under the leadership of Ron Kaine, the group has taken some interesting new directions. Ron is a driven man who truly has the best interests of the greater SAS community at heart. Not to say the rest of the executive committee doesn’t, as they certainly do. However, it does need to be pointed out that Ron has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to refine email lists, brainstorm around reaching out to new members, investigate new presenter options and really led by example. One of his suggestions was to change the venue in order to try and attract a greater audience: and boy, did this ever help! Moving our meeting a little closer to the GTA in Burlington in a great space built for hosting meetings paid off in spades with registration climbing over 100 and actual attendance approaching 60. I think the organizing committee – and myself included – were all a little agog at this tremendous increase!

Of course, the agenda itself certainly had a role to play here. In my opinion, the meeting found a great balance between business-level talks and technical tips. The meeting led off with Kirby Sinclair of the Clearcell Group offering a data value management primer. Kirby can drawn on many years of experience and it was all on display during his presentation.  No matter what industry or role, data management is key to successful business best practice. Understanding your data and merging your knowledge with business objectives is a key driver to achieving great results, a maxim which Kirby knows all too well. His thorough and thought-provoking talk certainly had the heads of the attendees nodding in acknowledgement and understanding. It was interesting to note that both SAS users and business professionals peppered Kirby with questions after his talk was finished; it clearly resonated with the audience.

Next up was Divya Joshi of McMaster University. Divya was offering a book review on GLM and NGLM for correlated data. I must admit, I’m often a little skeptical of book reviews. I’ve seen some great ones and some not-so-great ones over the years, and it can very challenging to translate your own interpretation of a work into something which can be easily digested and appreciated by the whole audience. I’m very pleased to share that Divya absolutely knocked it out of the park. Her review was thorough and included what I believe is the magic formula for success with this type of talk. She consistently brought the topic around to her own work in medicine and how she was applying the knowledge she gained through the book in the day-to-day life. This level of detail really helped bring the subject into focus for the entire audience. The only thing better than her book review was the fact that also agreed to join the Executive Committee to help plan future meetings. We’re very glad to have you, Divya!

After a productive networking break we returned with a GHSUG standard: the ‘Proc du Jour’ feature. This is a great element to the meeting which has been mimicked at other user groups and is really a great way to get under the hood of a particular SAS procedure. It’s typically delivered by one of the Executive Committee which virtually guarantees a thorough exploration of the topic. In this case, Barry Hong of US Steel jumped into Proc Transpose. I love when Barry presents as he really knows how to build up a deck from very simple to much more complex knowledge. He’s a seasoned presenter as well, and his relaxed, comfortable demeanor always puts the group at ease. The great thing about  this talk was not only that he showed Proc Transpose from a traditional programming standpoint but also demonstrated how to make use of the same procedure in Enterprise Guide. Everyone in the room – from seasoned SAS coders to new Enterprise Guide users – took something out of the talk.

Finally, it was up to me to bring up the rear with a talk around SAS’ Visual Analytics. Having delivered four demonstrations of this in Calgary and Edmonton earlier in the week, I was certainly comfortable with the topic… if not with the time zone change! I was very pleased that the demonstration went smoothly enough and I certainly did receive quite a few questions following the talk – always a good sign! I will say this, VA is certainly causing a buzz amongst the SAS user community.

Of course, one of the greatest things about the user groups is the networking component. With such a huge turnout for the meeting we definitely had the occasion to meet some new people. I’m very pleased that I was able to connect with four new individuals who are certainly keen on SAS and who have some great questions; I’m hoping that others in the room were able to connect as well! I certainly found Lesley Harschnitz’s networking exercise a great way to connect, a little bit of mystery and guessing games always brings a group together. Here’s hoping we’ve set a great trend for future GHSUG get-togethers. If you weren’t able to attend, I do hope you’ll join us on October 25th, 2013 for our Fall edition of the meeting… and of course, you can always pick up all the talks on the GHSUG website.

I only had a few days of rest before heading back out on the road again to Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I wasn’t kidding when I said that May was a hectic, hectic month for me! However this particular trip was very special as I was helping to launch a brand new user group in Regina…. but more on that soon.

Until then…

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