SAS goes big in Texas at INFORMS 2013

Folks like to do things "big" in Texas, so when in Texas, do as the Texans do. SAS went big at the 2013 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research, April 7-9 in San Antonio. SAS was a major sponsor, and many of my peers were involved in organizing and participating in different aspects of the conference. At least nine employees gave talks or facilitated sessions, others blogged, staffed the booth, were judges for prize competitions, and all engaged in the several networking opportunities provided by the conference.

Rob Pratt speaking at INFORMS 2013

Advanced Analytics Senior Manager Rob Pratt speaking in a SAS Technology Workshop on using OPTMODEL in SAS/OR.
Photo courtesy of Prof. dr. Dirk van den Poel, Ghent University

SAS conducted workshops in Optimization and High Performance Data Mining. The SAS/OR workshop drew about 50 attendees, while the data mining workshop pulled in over 70—close to 1 in 10 of the conference attendees! SAS/OR is now seen as one of the bigger players in the optimization space. Radhika Kulkarni, Vice President, Advanced Analytics at SAS, said, “I was proud to see our many contributions and was pleased to have a chance to interact with some happy customers.”

One of the highlights of the INFORMS conference is the Edelman Competition, sometimes known as the Super Bowl of Operations Research and Analytics. This is an international competition for projects that show long term business impact of Analytics and OR. After a long elimination process that spans several months prior to the conference event, six finalists are selected to present in hour long sessions in front of a full audience and a panel of expert judges. The finalists were the Netherlands Delta Commission, Chevron, Dell, Kroger, Shanghai Bao Steel and McKesson Corporation. The Netherlands entry won the competition - they used analytics and OR to come up with a plan that represents that best tradeoff between cost and flood control protection for the country, most of which is under sea level.

The entry from Dell Corporation, one of the other finalists, was of special interest to us because SAS Analytics played a critical role in this project. We were delighted to find out that unbeknownst to the SAS folks, the Dell Research team in India had been successfully using several of the SAS/OR tools. The leader of the group had very positive feedback about PROC OPTMODEL, the flagship optimization modeling language in SAS/OR. He said, “I can train an analyst to start using OPTMODEL within two hours!” That is high praise for any modeling language.

As part of a SAS-sponsored competition, my peers met three student winners who all were recognized by SAS and INFORMS for their skill in reading a case study and then applying both analytical understanding and business acumen to propose how they would address the issues for a customer. All three presented posters at the conference. One student winner demonstrated SAS/OR as part of her poster presentation. Links to the case study and rules, as well as the discussion around it, are available on AllAnalytics.com.

Here's a Big Texas Roundup of my SAS peer participants at the INFORMS conference:

  • Jeff Day presented, Senior Operations Research Specialist, presented to the INFORMS Professional Colloquium (for students, by invitation only) on how to prepare a good statement of work.
  • Principal Product Manager Ed Hughes and Senior Operations Research Specialist Aysegul Peker delivered a software tutorial on Building and Solving Optimization Models with SAS.
  • Aysegul Peker also gave a presentation on Win-Win Win in Inventory Management Using Advanced Analytic Techniques
  • Radhika Kulkarni co-lead a Birds of a Feather session on Helping Women Negotiate the ORMS Corporate Ladder.
  • Advanced Analytics Senior Director Manoj Chari co-led a BOF on Soft Skills.
  • Senior Director of Consulting Kathy Lange presented Effective Use of Business Analytics.
  • Analytical Consultant Andre de Waal gave a software tutorial, High-Performance Data Mining with SAS® Enterprise Miner™.
  • Principal Product Marketing Manager Mike Gilliland presented Process Control Approaches in Business Forecasting.
  • Judges for the Poster sessions included Advanced Analytics Director Ivan Oliveira, Industry Strategist Polly Mitchell-Guthrie, and Jeff Day. Posters including three by the winners of the SAS and INFORMS Analytics Section Student Analytical Scholar competition, Alex Akulov (University of British Columbia), Anirudha Kulkarni (Rochester Institute of Technology), and Shin Woong Sung (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology).

This event was another SAS highlight in the International Year of Statistics, which is big for us at SAS—as big as all of Texas.

[ My thanks to Radhika Kulkarni for sharing her detailed trip report with SAS R&D, to Lane Whatley for some additional content, and to Prof. dr. Dirk Van den Poel, Ghent University, for his photograph. ]

A better than median year

SAS is a participating member in 2013 International Year of Statistics

SAS is a participating member in 2013 International Year of Statistics

SAS has had a many good years. But that's old news. In the past. Old hat. This is a new year, and we don't rest on our laurels. We may toot our own horn about our laurels, but we don't rest on 'em.

Peer Revue's job is to inform you of peer-reviewed papers by SAS authors. 2013 being the International Year of Statistics, here is your first taste of what my SAS peers will be presenting or participating in ("statistically speaking", as it were) during 2013.

We begin with the imminent (and eminent!) 2013 American Statistical Association Conference on Statistical Practice, February 21 - 23, 2013 at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel. Some of my peers who'll be there:

  1. Sanjay Matange will speak on Do Your Graphs Speak Clearly?
  2. Patrick Hall presents, Creating Data Visualizations with SAS® and the Processing Graphics Language
  3. David Schlotzhauer is the session chair of the Software and Graphics theme.

A lot of my peers will be presenting at SAS®Global Forum 2013! Here's a tentative list.

Chris Hemedinger Create Your Own Client Apps using SAS Integration Technologies
Dan O'Connor Take home the ODS Crown Jewels - Master the new production features of ODS LAYOUT, and Report Writing Interface techniques
Bruce Nawrocki HTML detail drill-down links: how to add them to your stored process reports on the SAS Portal
Chevell Parker The SAS® Output Delivery System: Boldly Take Your Web Pages Where They Have Never Gone Before!
Michael Hecht Tips and Techniques for Moving SAS® Data to JMP® Graph Builder for iPad
Mickael Bouedo, Steve Beatrous (Presenter) Internationalization 101: Give some international flavor to your SAS applications
Kevin McGowan Big Data, Fast Processing Speeds
Bill McNeill The Ins and Outs of Web Based Data with SAS
Brad Richardson Optimize Your Delete
Rick Langston Submitting SAS Code on the Side
Tim Hunter A First Look at the ODS Destination for PowerPoint®
Bari Lawhorn Renovating Your SAS® 9.3 ODS Output: Tools for Everything from Minor Remodeling to Extreme Makeovers
Scott Sams SAS® BI Dashboard: Interactive, Data-Driven Dashboard Applications Made Easy
Michael Drutar SAS Stored Processes Are Goin' Mobile! – Creating and Delivering Mobile-Enabled Versions of Stored Process Reports
Bharat Trivedi, Lycan Linking Strategy Data in BI Applications
David Shubert Data Entry in SAS Strategy Management – A New, Better User (and Manager) Experience
Anand Chitale, Christopher Redpath Whirlwind tour around SAS Visual Analytics
Murali Nori How Mobile changes the BI experience
Rick Styll Fast Dashboards Anywhere with SAS® Visual Analytics
Keith Myers Popular Tips and Tricks to Help You Use SAS® Web Report Studio More Efficiently
Nascif Abousalh-Neto The Forest and the Trees: See it all with SAS Visual Analytics Explorer
Sam Atassi, Malcolm Alexander Self Service Data Management: Visual Data Builder
Oita Coleman SAS Business Intelligence panel discussion: “What's the right path for me?”
Rick Styll What's New in SAS® EBI for SAS 9.3
Mark Brown, Brian Chick Hot off the Press: SAS Marketing Automation 6.1
Lori Jordan, Shawn Skillman You're Invited! Learn How SAS Uses SAS® Software to Invite You to SAS® Global Forum
Dave Gribbin, Amy Glassman SAS Treatments – How one Casino Came up Aces with a Customized Treatment Process
Nancy Rausch, Malcolm Alexander+C34 Best Practices in SAS Data Management for Big Data
Casper Pedersen How to do a successful MDM project in SAP using SAS/DataFlux qMDM
Charlotte Crain, Mike Frost, Scott Gidley In-Database Data Quality – Performance for Big Data
Nancy Rausch, Malcolm Alexander What's New in SAS Data Management
Jeff Bailey, Tatyana Petrova The SQL Tuning Checklist: Making Slow Database Queries a Thing of the Past
Scott Gidley, Nancy Rausch Best Practices in Enterprise Data Governance
Arila Barnes, Jared Peterson, Saratendu Sethi Unleashing the Power of Unified Text Analytics to Categorize Call Center Data
Russell Albright, Janardhana Punuru, Lane Surratt Relate, Retain, and Remodel: Creating and Using Context-Sensitive Linguistic Features in Text Mining Models
Miguel M. Maldonado, Wendy Czika, Susan Haller, Naeem Siddiqi Creating Interval Target Scorecards with Credit Scoring for SAS® Enterprise Miner™
Taiyeong Lee, Ruiwen Zhang, Xiangxiang Meng, Laura Ryan (presenter) Incremental Response Modeling Using SAS® Enterprise Miner™
Jonathan Wexler, Wayne Thompson Time is precious, so are your models: SAS provides solutions to streamline deployment
Scott Wilkins An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure - How SAS Helps Prevent Fraud and Financial Crimes with an Analytical Approach to Customer Due Diligence (CDD)
Cary Orange, Donald Erdman, Stacey Christian Managing and Analyzing Financial Risk on Big Data with High-Performance Risk and Visual Analytics
Jimmy Skoglund, Wei Chen Integrated Framework for Stress Testing in SAS
Ryan Schmiedl Next Generation Detection Engine for Fraud & Compliance
Andrew Henrick, Stacey Christian; Donald Erdman (presenter) Hashing in Proc FCMP to Enhance Your Productivity
Diane Olson Developer Reveals: Extended Data Set Attributes
Sanjay Matange A Day in the Life of Data: Part 4 Graphics & Reporting
Cynthia Zender Macro Basics for New SAS Users
Sandy Gibbs, Donna Bennett (Presenter) Double-Clicking a SAS® File: What Happens Next?
Kathryn McLawhorn Tips for Generating Percentages Using the TABULATE Procedure
Vincent DelGobbo Some Techniques for Integrating SAS Output with Microsoft Excel Using Base SAS®
Rick Wicklin Getting Started with the SAS/IML® Language
Arnie de Castro, Greg Link Smarter Grid Operations with SAS/OR
Andrew Pease, Ayesgul Peker The Hospital Game: Optimizing Scheduling to Save Resources, and to Save Lives
Ed Hughes, Tao Huang, Yan Xu Parallel Multistart Nonlinear Optimization with PROC OPTMODEL
Sanjay Matange Patient Profile Graphs using SAS
Albert Hopping, Satish Garla, Rick Monaco What do your consumer habits say about your health? Using third-party data to predict individual health risk and costs
Carrie Boorse, Kathy Schaan, Stuart Levine Identifying and Addressing Post-Marketing Pharmaceutical Safety Surveillance and Spontaneous Reported Events
Richard Zink Assessing Drug Safety with Bayesian Hierarchical Modeling Using PROC MCMC and JMP
Shelly Goodin, Kirsten Hamstra, Meg Crawford Branding Yourself Online
Lisa Horwitz The Successful SAS Shop: Ten Ideas, Suggestions, and Radical Notions
Rick Langston A Macro to Verify a Macro Exists
Douglas Liming Don't let the number of columns hold you back!
Sanjay Matange Make a Good Graph
Cynthia Zender, Allison Booth+C68 Turn Your Plain Report into a Painted Report Using ODS Styles
Darrell Massengill “Google-like” maps in SAS
Kevin Smith Cascading Style Sheets - Breaking Out of the Box of ODS Styles
David Kelley, Julianna Langston, Ed Summers+C71 Go Mobile with the ODS EPUB Destination
Lelia McConnell GTL to the Rescue!
Prashant Hebbar, Sanjay Matange Free Expressions and Other GTL Tips
Atul Kachare Analysis and Visualization of Email communication using Graph Template Language
Wanda Shive Applying Customer Analytics to Promotion Decisions
Jennifer Bjurstrom Improving Your Relastionship with SAS Enterprise Guide: Tips from SAS Technical Support
Casey Smith What SAS Administrators Should Know About Security and SAS Enterprise Guide
Lina Clover, Anand Chitale, I-kong Fu+C79 A tour of new features in SAS Enterprise Guide 4.3, 5.1, and 6.1
Chris Hemedinger For All the Hats You Wear: SAS Enterprise Guide Has Got You Covered
Warren Kuhfeld, Ying So Creating and Customizing the Kaplan-Meier Survival Plot in PROC LIFETEST
Yang Yuan Computing Direct and Indirect Standardized Rates and Risks with the STDRATE Procedure
Christian Macaro, Jan Chvosta, Kenneth Sanford Using New Bayesian Techniques in SAS/ETS® to Analyze Data Containing Limited Dependent Variables
Fang K. Chen Missing No More: Using the MCMC Procedure to Model Missing Data
Phil Gibbs, Randy Tobias, Kathleen Kiernan, Jill Tao Having an EFFECT: More General Linear Modeling and Analysis with the New EFFECT Statement in SAS/STAT® Software
Warren Kuhfeld, Weijie Cai Introducing the New ADAPTIVEREG Procedure for Adaptive Regression
John Sall From Big Data to Big Statistics
Bobby Gutierrez Good as New or Bad as Old? Analyzing Recurring Failures with the RELIABILITY Procedure
Guixian Lin, Bob Rodriguez Using the QUANTLIFE Procedure for Survival Analysis
Bob Derr Ordinal Response Modeling with the LOGISTIC Procedure
Maura Stokes Current Directions in SAS/STAT Software Development
Saravana Chandran, Rob Stephens Integrating SAS into your operational environment: SOA a means to an end
Tom Keefer, Rich Pletcher, Daniel Zuniga, Virtualized Environment for SAS High Performance Products
Donna Bennett, Mark Schneider, Gerry Nelson Do I need a Migration Guide or an Upgrade Coach?
Fred Forst A Case Study of Tuning an EBI Application in a Multi-OS Environment
Barbara Walters, Ken Gahagan, Leigh Ihnen, Vicki Jones How to Choose the Best Shared File System For Your Distributed SAS Deployment
Stuart Rogers Kerberos & SAS 9.4: A Three Headed Solution for Authentication
Tony Brown, Margaret Crevar SAS® and the New Virtual Storage Systems
Amy Peters, Bob Bonham, Zhiyong Li Monitoring 101: New Features in SAS 9.4 for Monitoring Your SAS Intelligence Platform
Bryan Wolfe, Amy Peters Enhance Your High Availability Story by Clustering Your SAS Metadata Server in 9.4
Chuck Hunley, Michael King, Casey Thompson, Rob Hamm Tips and Techniques for deploying SAS in an application virtualization environment
Helen (Honglian) Pan Best Practices for Deploying Your SAS Applications in a High-Availability Cluster

Not all of them are #stats2013 related but many of them do touch on SAS' statistics and analytics. You can go to the SAS Global Forum Agenda Builder and browse around; there is a huge Statistics and Data Analysis section!

Elsewhere, if we're not speaking, we're attending.

Thanks to Maura Stokes, Senior R&D Director of Statistical Applications at SAS and Memsy Price, SAS Product Marketing Manager, for highlighting upcoming conferences and events and SAS® Global Forum talks.

Stay tuned for more highlights and pointers to peer-reviewed papers authored by my SAS peers.

 

Corporate Social Networking: How SAS comes together virtually

First, there was “networking”. I never got into that scene—I was never comfortable “selling myself” and climbing corporate ladders and all. (Hey, I've got real work to do!) Then along came “social networking”, which is a double whammy for someone like me who is not very comfortable in social settings either...

Love The Hub

Comments on why I (and my peers) Love the Hub

But the emergence of what I call “corporate networking” finally presents some compelling reasons to get involved. At SAS, we use the Socialcast platform for our internal social, er, corporate networking collaboration. Introduced in early 2011 and dubbed the Hub, it caught on quickly, ballooning to over 900 separate group/topic sites, with groups ranging from technology such as Java, Scala, Android , REST, Hadoop, Gradle, NoSQL, and HTML5 to SAS product groups to social welfare interests like DonorsChoose.org and STEM mentors (I'm really proud of my SAS peer's community involvement), to personal interests like Cycling, NFL, college alumni associations (NC State, UNC, and Duke are pretty popular here in SAS' North Carolina home), and of course Dog Owners/Lovers and Cat Club. (No, The SNL Reporting group is not related to Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update). Over 9,000 of my peers have opted in to use the Hub in its first 18 months. The chart below shows the Hub's growth—rapid at first, but steady throughout.

Hub adoption as of July 2012

Hub adoption as of July 2012

When The Hub was rolled out by our Internal Communications team and IT Operations and Infrastructure departments, it was presented as a “virtual water cooler”—a place where folks could gather and share ideas and stimulate conversation. We do have break rooms at SAS, but we long ago outgrew a single building or single campus. There's no practical physical water cooler anymore!

The Hub is much better than the water cooler because it not only provides a place for those conversations to take place, but the conversations linger, and others can stumble upon them later instead of having the discussion evaporate. It's a place where folks can discover domain experts easily by finding relevant groups. We can also hang out near very specific water coolers and not bother others too much with our chit chat about distributed version control systems. Because of SAS culture, the Hub is also an inviting, friendly, non-threatening way to introduce yourself to your peers or ask a question.

The Hub fills a void, but it is not a panacea. It is still ephemeral in a way (posts get deleted after a reasonable amount of time). Thus, my peers and I have the responsibility to gather the golden nuggets that pop up on the Hub and make them more persistent (and findable!) in more permanent collaboration workspaces, such as our internal SAS wiki, saspedia. This is what I called building more enduring and durable “engineering support trusses for long term infrastructure” from the “rope bridges” that we create on the Hub. (I'm going meta here—the screen shot below is an example of using the Hub to talk about the Hub during our "Love The Hub" day.)

The Hub in action at SAS

Screen shot of a post on SAS' Hub, by yours truly

Also, as a platform and product, there are some minor Socialcast flaws that annoy some of my peers. For example, I'm no social animal, so I don't subscribe to many non-technical groups on the Hub, but I can't prevent posts to the Dog Owners/Lovers group from showing up in the Recommended or Company streams I watch—my big pet peeve (Sorry!). Or, if someone “likes” a post, it pops back up to the top of that group's stream. We've grown accustomed to these minor warts, though, because we see the higher value of the Hub and its continual improvement. For example, one of the nice new features of Socialcast is the ability to post a public “Thank you” to people.

Recently, the Socialcast folks released a video (which was featured on their home page at the time of this Peer Revue post) discussing the Hub. Although I'm not in this video directly, some of the things I've written on the Hub do appear (if you look closely), and that is where the above images come from. (I'm not trying to show off; it's just easier to get permission to quote myself!)

SAS on "The HUB" from Socialcast on Vimeo.

The video fails to give credit to my peers at SAS who brought us the Hub—Becky Graebe, Randy Mullis, Joe O'Brien, Lainie Hoverstad, and Karen Lee were all instrumental, but many others also helped. As Karen Lee told me, this video really highlights “the energy behind how SAS employees want to connect and are allowed to connect to better the business, their knowledge” and “the culture of trust by our senior management.” Gotta love it.

Update: See also Frank Leistner's The Hub at SAS: An enterprise social network success story, on the SAS Voices blog (Dec, 2012).

The Demise of the Gansy of Gnomes Gardening Club

This is a tale of woe and misery, but also one of hope.

Woe and misery

dark volcano

Our tale begins more than seven years ago, an age ago in Internet Time. A cloud (nay, another type of cloud than what may come to your mind in this Age) pervaded the halls of SAS' R&D division. Our internal R&D content, not unlike the desolation that lay before Mordor, reeked, "as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails of documentation upon the intranet about." While there was some centralized documentation (lo, over a million scrolls) entombed in a behemoth named Rdweb, each division, many departments, and even individuals ran their own web servers, writ with current reference and lore, interspersed with obsolete and abandoned scrolls, and no one was sage enough to know which was which. Content was locked away in dungeons guarded by wargs, and only a few magicians knew the incantations to unlock the barriers required to cleanse and repair a tattered scroll or burn a scroll beset with lesions of deceit and trickery. When the Plague of Reorg swept across the land, old names were cast asunder, new names were forged, web servers were cleft, and Favorites, Links, and Shortcuts were rendered useless. A fell wind was upon the land.

Hark! for a new wizardry was growing in the land, one born forth in the fifth year of the millennium, sprung forth from the land called MediaWiki, and a new greenness emerged upon the meadows of Research and the vales of Development, and it was called saspedia. Its intendment was to be the common font of knowledge for how SAS R&D masters of wares both soft and firm could record their efforts for generations to come: an enduring and lasting home which would remain long after lordships and kingdoms rose and fell. Under the guiding hand of the WWW—White Wizard of Wiki—scribes could repair the Scars of Typos, the Fever of Incorrectness, and the dreaded Links of Red. In that first year, almost 600 new virtual scrolls were writ; in the next, another 1,200, and saspedia has since increased in girth and growth, from 1 millipedia (0.1% the number of scrolls of Great Wikipedia) to 5 millipedia in the seventh years of the Era.

Alas, the weeds still grew and threaten to choke the fertile grain. Many pages were created, then abandoned. An invasion of Transient Content, culled from the Mireful Messages of Email Exchange, gained purchase in saspedia, though they fit its intendment not well. Some scrolls were tattered on the edges; lacked tendrils connecting them to related scrolls; many had appellations misleading; new and inconsistent terms were as rampant as mice in a moor; few scrolls were added to the Grand Scheme of Content Categorization. A band of weary yet merry folk, unlike Hobbits and unlike Dwarves, and fairer of face, emerged to tend the garden.  Being strong of heart, they banded together and formed the Gansy of Gnomes Gardening Club, and endeavored to teach others the attainable craft Wiki Markup, the lore of Content Categorization, the satisfying magic of Attribution, and the alchemy of turning Links of Red into Links of Blue. Their greencraft established the four pillars of saspedia scribes: Context, Categories, Content, and Contacts, and word spread, though slowly.

Woe, for the readership and writership of saspedia was small, unlike the millions who sustain and fertilize Great Wikipedia Still, they continued, and christened journals to record their work, both completed and enqueued, and sought more to join their Gansy. Soon, the great Eye of Doc was consulted, and form and structure came to saspedia in the form and substance of Semantic Wiki, and with the blessings of kings and lords. Some joined the Gansy of Gnomes Gardening Club, but their tenure was short, and the gnomes were overcome by a raging Flood of Content. The Gansy sensed that their fellowship was breaking, and with time, they sought separate quests.

Hope

Tulips: a sign of new growth

saspedia continues to grow. Individual gnomes contribute where they can. Some 20,000 scrolls have been penned by this twelfth year of the millennium, the seventh in the Era of saspedia. The original canons still apply, for saspedia is firm and immune to the Plague of Reorg, which has returned several o'er and o'er to scour the land and make way for rebirth of Improved Processes. Some lordships and kingdoms remain, for the Kingdom of SharePoint also arose in the land at the same time, and the threat of Opaqueness of Word of Redmond remains to this day.

But the White Wizard of Wiki is wise, and more and more adherents adopt that Wiki Way, for it indeed is exemplary in its Ease of Use: the  Gansy of Gnomes left behind Guide Books and Templates to make the work light and quick. saspedia serves all, whether they wield of Sword of Windows, the Hammer of MacOS, or the Lance of Linux. The White Wizard of Wiki continues to ride forth on his inspiring steed, Collaboration. Though the Gansy no longer flourishes and is more memory than flesh, their legacy lives, and hope remains where heart is true.

 


Epilogue

An award (including a real plaster gardening gnome) given to saspedia Wiki Gnomes of note

The author created saspedia, SAS' internal wiki, in 2005 to address the problems of R&D's internal documentation.  saspedia found executive sponsors and now is the official medium for authoring and collaboration on internal documentation, including internal development standards, processes, tools, products, infrastructure, teams and individuals, and much more. A project named iDoc formalized and facilitated cross-divisional collaboration on saspedia, using Semantic MediaWiki to classify content types (reference, How-to, requirements, plans, project logs, samples, FAQs, etc.), architectural tiers, status, ownership and when the content was last reviewed.

There are over 5,000 registered peers, 20,000 main namespace articles, over 52,000 total pages, 585,000 page edits (averaging 11+ crowdsourcing edits per page), and 17+ million page views as of the date of this article's publication. saspedia's scope has since grown beyond just R&D. The Gansy of Gnomes Gardening Club is real; the author founded it as a non-threatening way to entice others to adopt the Wiki Way. The award at the right (including a real plaster gardening gnome) was given to saspedia Wiki Gnomes of note. But the idea never caught on and the Club has fallen into demise. Although the infrastructure (servers, database, etc.) is supported by our outstanding intranet support team, saspedia is still maintained and tended by volunteer gnomes, not a dedicated staff. It could benefit from dedicated staff who could create training material, assist new users acquire wiki markup skills, develop domain-specific templates, remove duplication, enhance connectedness, etc. Such is life in a large R&D organization where innovation and inventiveness is prized. Yet saspedia flourishes and the author's peers find new ways to use it all the time.

The author speaks on the use of saspedia and continues to serve as advocate and, with a small number of others, as wiki gnome.


 

Photo credits:
Volcano derived from Volcan Popocatepetl by M. Klüber Fotografie under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license;
Good morning, tulips  by the author

Rock stars

“They are a group of SAS rock stars and I'm darn proud of them!”

That comes from Meg Pounds, manager of the Customer Experience Testing (CET) team. (Go on, Meg - use some stronger language; Peer Revue needs some juicier content.)

birthday cake

CET celebrates its 10th anniversary on 02/01/2011. (Photo by Meg Pounds)

Meg's remark comes on the occasion of the team's tenth anniversary of testing SAS software. CET's motto is “Act Like a Customer” (ALAC). These folks install and use SAS the way our customers do, but do so while the software is still under development.

Not part of any R&D development division, they can maintain impartiality and loyalty to the customers they represent.

This team of a baker's dozen focuses on finding defects that customers would otherwise encounter. This often involves using SAS in ways not originally envisioned by the development teams, or working with different combinations of products in non-standard, non-default deployment scenarios, and seeing how well they integrate. When it comes to SAS product installation and deployment wizards, these folks never click Next, Next, Next. Instead, they tweak all the options, put things in non-default locations, etc. Just like a customer.

Typical comments about CET and the staff from development managers run like this (paraphrased):


CET found an error in the updateConfigure code for the OpRisk Monitor middle tier that would have
impacted a lot of customers. Both CET members are very good at identifying and giving me feedback
how to best resolve the errors.

This type of “experience with experience” should not be surprising: CET staff members have from 12 to 24 years with SAS, averaging over 18. (That kind of tenure is not an outlier at SAS, but is one of the "benefits of benefits".) Many CETers are veterans of SAS' awesome Technical Support division and SAS field teams.

Customer experience testing is a great model for testing which complements other forms of testing we do at SAS. Deep down, there is simply a lot of joy and satisfaction in finding a problem early and seeing the positive impact it makes on product quality. In addition to finding software problems. For example, Meg attributes CET use and review of SAS documentation as a contributing to the multiple quality awards that SAS documentation has received in recent years. Keep up the good work, CET. I'm looking forward to a few more decades of success.

Perks are epic

When I started Peer Revue, I tried to point out it's the work we do that makes SAS such a cool place to be, not just the fancy-schmancy benefits that get all the headlines. But FORTUNE magazine apparently has another agenda; they've gone and named SAS the Best Company to Work For in America again (we had the same honor last year), stating “perks are epic”. I thought, Oh, no! Yet another story about SAS' great benefits!

1+1=1, or The True Meaning of SAS' RETAIN Statement

#1 last year plus #1 this year equals #1


The latest news comes down to this: SAS is a seriously epic great place to work. My peers and I know this very well. Personally, all the perks and policies do exactly what they are designed for: keeping employees happy, motivated, and productive. We like coming to work each day, and we have far fewer distractions when we're here.

Example #1.
I went to SAS' on-site Health Care Center for my annual physical on Tuesday. This curmudgeon is approaching a half century on this mortal coil, and I should be getting
regular physicals. At SAS, it's easy to do. I left the office at 8:20 for an 8:30 appointment; I was in with the nurse by 8:32 and back to work faster than you can snap your latex glove. Elsewhere, I can see that it would be easy to not go in for poking and probing each year. Here's another cool thing you probably have not heard
in the press: the perks result in high retention, and not just for folks like me, but for everyone at SAS, including for the health care staff. I've been seeing the same doctor and nurse practitioner on-site for years.

Example #1 ('cuz everything feels like #1 today)
My peer, Caroline Brickley, also has a compelling story about how SAS' benefits greatly reduced her anxieties about an expensive and potentially stressful child adoption. I hope you'll <a title="Caroline's story of support she got from SAS during an adoption" read it.

Here's a final Example #1, another adoption story.
This month, I got a desktop PC upgrade—I've had my more “mature” PC long enough to meet the upgrade eligibility requirements. One of my peers on the SAS IT staff configured a new PC with all the default installed software, and with literally a push of a button, it restored my personal settings, documents, and data from automatic backups. I had all the time I needed to install the additional development software (Eclipse, Java 6, GNU Emacs, etc.) that I use. It was easy to adopt this new PC because the IT staff has the resources and skills to make this process fast and easy. (Fear not; IT will find a suitable green pasture where the obsolete PC can spend the rest of its mortal coil).

All that, and more, adds up to a work environment that lets me and my peers get our jobs done with fewer distractions, less time away, and less stress. That means we can remain more focused on delivering better software to our customers.

#1 last year, #1 this year. Add 'em up; it does not change: we're still #1.

Spirits in the virtual world

As the holiday season approaches, one is tempted to use a Dickensian reference
about spirits past, present and future.
But instead of a holiday classic from 1843, I'm going to haunt you with an earworm from 1981.
Having matriculated in the same year that The Police recorded Spirits in the Material World on their Ghosts in the Machine album, the song is deeply embedded in my brain.
It has begun popping up in my mind more and more, for I consider it a theme song for the material world counter-cultural phenomenon,
virtualization. This leads us to RACE, the epitome of virtual worlds here at SAS.

Like iTunes for SAS applications

RACE is SAS' Remote Access Computing Environment—a growing collection of virtual machines in a cloud computing environment.
Whoa, OK, lots of buzzwords there, so I'll break it down. A few years ago, the friendly folks going on the road for SAS needed to demonstrate
complex SAS solutions which ran on multiple tiers: desktops running browsers, SAS workspace servers running SAS jobs, a SAS Metadata server, SAS/Share server, an application server running SAS the middle-tier platform, etc. This did not all fit well in a road warrior's laptop.

To help these folks, SAS' information technology teams assembled a remote access system that these weary travelers could connect to. But there were lots of different configured systems, not all of which were needed each day, and not enough servers to keep
hundreds of different but infrequently deployed environments sitting around mostly unused. Rather than installing and configuring new systems each time someone needed to do a new demo, the IT folks chose virtual machine technology to host these SAS deployments. Someone could start with a clean system running on top of a virtual machine hosting environment, install and configure some SAS applications, load demo data, then click a button to take a "snapshot" of that system. Then, to save the time and effort to repeat that configuration, they could put that snapshot in a repository. When needed, the road warriors could pick up that demo image and run it, or they could run a different image with a different set of products or demo data. These deployments became reusable components in a library, not unlike various Police MP3 files in your digital audio library. Feel like listening to Spirits in the Material World or another classic Police earworm, Don't Stand So Close to Me? Simply search for it, load it up, and listen. Feel like running SAS with SAS Campaign Studio, SAS Web Analytics, and a SAS Business Intelligence server stack all rolled together? Locate the configured SAS software image from the RACE virtual machine library, reserve a server for it from the pool of RACE machines, and run it.

Breakdown of different SAS division's use of RACE images on December 9, 2010.

Davy Rowland, IT Manager,
describes RACE: "At the heart of the RACE Cloud is an internally developed software application that manages CPU, memory, network and data storage resources and provides self-service IAAS (infrastructure as a service)... functionality to 11,500 employees globally. The Scheduling and Image Management System (SIMS) orchestrates the construction and deployment of servers within the cloud. The cloud architecture uses Network Appliance storage accessible via SAN as the foundation of the cloud for near-instantaneous cloning of disk images."
Naturally, this idea caught on at SAS and in 2009, R&D joined RACE, using RACE images for testing.
Davy wrote, "IT and R&D recognized that product testing groups could benefit from the repeatable and reusable capabilities of the RACE Cloud image library. A small group of developers build library images that are shared and used by all the testers, resulting in faster and more robust testing cycles. Software testers spend more time testing SAS products rather than configuring the latest version of the products on their machines". The project became known as RACE 4R&D.

Test more, Test more often

Clearly, RACE is a boon to testers. Says Edie Jeffreys, Development Tester,
"What I love about RACE is the ability to quickly start with a bank of 'clean machines' to host my deployments and the ability to put up multiple similar multi-tier deployments and compare differences when I introduce different circumstances in each of them. I can easily build out multi-tier configurations including distributed web tiers". Sharon Stanners, Senior Manager, Software Development, was part of the team that worked with Davy on Race 4R&D. Sharon says "We formed a very close virtual team [Ha! Good one, Sharon!] and we extended the team to include some senior developers in R&D. We fixed a few things to make RACE more useful for Ramp;D including larger default images, more default RAM, access to [our network], extended default reservation times, and NetBIOS and DNS names that match".

On average, the RACE system delivers a fully operational, server-grade computing resource in less than 10 minutes.
In December 9, 2010 alone, there were 919 active system reservations from R&D, more than half of the RACE reservations that day.
This has increased our ability to test more often, because testers spend far less time setting up systems. It's trivial to reset a test system to a known state because testers just have to restart the virtual machine image. There is no delay to uninstall or reinstall and reconfigure products.

Community-based testing

Recently, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars (@annmariastat on Twitter) wondered why "SAS doesn't rely on their user community more" for testing new releases. Dr. De Mars wrote in Hybrid Open-Source SAS � or what are friends for?:

You would think that somewhere in those million users you would have people who would be happy to dive in and break things (also known as testing).

With a large enough user base, SAS could make copies of work in progress available for testing which would allow identification of problems. I can see many reasons that users would be happy to do this:

  • Consultants would see this as an opportunity to get ahead of the curve, using the newest software before it was available to the general public.
  • Students could use this chance to learn more about the latest software.
  • Just for the hell of it. (This is my motivation for most things.)

I like to call this community-based testing; others might classify this as crowdsourcing.
Certainly, SAS loves its customers. Perhaps we love them too much to let them
serve as testers!
Seriously, though, SAS already does work with some customers as early adopters
and development partners. But is there room for more?

Cookie cutters

One of the obstacles to supporting such community-based testing is the complexity of a
typical SAS installation.
Of course, the type of community-based testing that RACE could support initially might be limited to
functional and performance testing: Does this SAS procedure do what I expect?
Does it perform as fast on my data as the previous release?
Testing different deployment scenarios—a tougher testing problem; imagine all the different permutations—might
be beyond the scope of preconfigured RACE images.
Meg Pounds, who runs our Customer Experience Testing (CET) team,
knows this all too well, stating. "I encourage my team to use 'real' machines whenever possible."
That is, our customer's typically do not run SAS on preconfigured, nicely boxed systems, or as Meg calls
them, "'cookie cutter' images."
Meg's CET team ("a very fine group of highly skilled testers...! Wish we had more!")
has a mission to "Act-Like-A-Customer." (I am fairly certain that CET's mascot is not a duck shouting
"ALAC! ALAC!" in a series of television commercials.)
Who better to act like a customer than a real customer?
However, the many difficulties of making public test images of SAS products and solutions available for our customer
base are beyond the scope of this post (read: "it's too much work for me").
So, while this blogger cannot say that SAS will act on Dr. De Mar's suggestion (and Peer Revue is definitely
not announcing any such plans!), the idea is getting some review.
Whether implemented as suggested or not, it may alter our development and testing processes for the better.

Steal this idea

SAS' RACE technology has been a watershed for R&D.
My peers in testing have found great productivity gains.
Perhaps we will find a good way of using something like RACE to let our great customers provide more early feedback
on SAS products and solutions—a sort of special preview concert event for loyal listeners.

Information Week recognized RACE as one of "20 Great Ideas To Steal" in 2010. But don't steal a Police MP3; it will haunt your mind.

SAS usability gets peer review

Like a car loan officer hot on the heels of usability car salesmen, and
in commemoration of World Usability Day,
I'd like to list some of the papers and posters which my peers have presented at recent usability conferences.
This will give Peer Revue readers a sense of the type of peer reviewed work my SAS peers have done to advance just one of the many fields related to SAS product development.

  1. Leslie Tudor, SAS,
    Transforming the Role of Usability in a Corporate Environment: Case Study for Usability Innovators
    Usability Professionals' Association 2011 (submitted)
  2. Leslie Tudor, Rajiv Ramarajan, Huifang Wang, SAS,
    Usability Group Management Methods: How to Create a Cohesive, Innovative, and HighPerforming Team
    Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference, 2010
  3. Paulo Santos, Alcatel-Lucent, Cheryl L. Coyle, SAS,
    Investigating Query Schemes with Mobile Users Across the Globe (Paper and Poster),
    International Association for Development of the Information Society 2010
  4. Excerpt from the Orthographic TreeMap poster by Benson et. al. for InfoVis 2010. Click to view the entire poster.
    Excerpt from the Orthographic TreeMap poster by Benson et. al. for InfoVis 2010. Click to view the entire poster.

    Jordan Riley Benson, Lee Sullvan, Rajiv Ramarajan, Frank Wimmer, Paul Hankey, SAS,
    Using Orthographic Projection and Animation to Convey Treemap Structure (Poster),
    IEEE Information Visualization Conference (IEEE InfoVis) 2010

  5. Lisa Whitman, NCSU (now at SAS),
    Behavior and Common Mistakes of Novice Computer Users: An Evaluation of Errors Committed by Students Learning Windows
    Proceedings of HCI International 2009 International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction 2009
  6. Lisa Whitman, NCSU (now at SAS),
    The Effectiveness of Interactivity in Computer-Based Instructional Diagrams,
    Proceedings of HCI International 2009 International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction 2009
  7. Michele Vanvolkom, Monmouth University,
    Janice Stapley, Monmouth University,
    Heather Vaughn, Alcatel Lucent,
    Cheryl L. Coyle, Alcatel Lucent, SAS;
    Age and Gender Differences in Communication Technology Use,
    Eastern Psychological Association 2009
  8. Paulo Santos, Alcatel Lucent
    Cheryl Coyle, Alcatel Lucent, SAS
    Heather Vaughn, Alcatel Lucent
    How�to�Run�a�Global�Study�with�Mobile�Users;
    Proceedings of HCI International 2009 International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction 2009

Show me

Let's look under the hood at one of these papers, chosen after painstaking research and some weighted fuzzy dice:
Using Orthographic Projection and Animation to Convey Treemap Structure by Benson et. al.

A few years ago, Lee Sullivan started experimenting with the idea of overcoming some of the usability problems
of a treemap view of hierarchical data and developed a proof of concept animation prototype using 3D orthographic projections.
More recently, Riley Benson moved that work forward and implemented those and other ideas in Flex,
sharing the prototypes in an iterative development/rapid prototyping methodology with the team
and later with a wider internal audience. Those peers included developers who used a traditional
two-dimensional tree map in their product. Their review helped close the feature gaps between what was
expected and what Riley's new implementation provided. Testing also included run in
SAS' usability lab, with the assistance of Paul Hankey.


Take a look at the demonstration video on YouTube:

Riley says of the process,
the potentially interesting part of our method for developing the orthographic tree map is that we didn't start from a problem and work toward a solution tailored to solve it. We started with an idea, filled it in until we felt that it was well defined, and then began to experiment with the application of the idea to find what types of problems it was best suited to solving. I think this greatly contributed to the creative environment that has surrounded this project since it began.

While the new Orthographic TreeMap is not yet a component in SAS products,
it does demonstrate the spirit of innovation and moving forward that I find so rewarding at SAS.

Follow this bit.ly bundle link for a breakdown of the links included in this blog and a preview of each cited article or web site.

Usability car salesmen

Hot on the wake of World Statistics Day, when there were close to 7,012 blogs from SAS about it,
World Usability Day almost passed unnoticed. But the keen-eyed noted that at SAS, we celebrated World Usability Day
with an internal showcase event.

Between 11:00am and 2:00pm, my peers showed off the all the work that they've been
doing to make SAS products easier to use—you know, "making life easier."
There were numerous demo stations, some games demonstrating how usability
analysts use "task analysis" to learn how people perform work, or how
eye trackers tell us how people really perceive a user interface.
Some of us submitted usability stories to get in a drawing to win an Amazon Kindle.
(My odds were good, but I don't think I won...)

BumbleFly

One of my favorite demo stations at our usability fair was manned by my peers,
Jeff Diamond and Rajendra Singh, who work in the
Component Design and Development (CDD) department,
creating enhanced Adobe Flex
user interface components. In order to promote reuse and consistency
across SAS web applications, it's important to get everyone on the same
page, and in this case, that page is a sample application
called BumbleFly.

BumbleFly brilliantly showcases all of the Flex UI controls.
It lists them alphabetically or by category, or you can search by component name or keyword
like "list" or "chart" or "box".
When you select a component,
BumbleFly presents a working sample in the main panel, where
you can interact with the component and try its features.
Tabs at the bottom
contain sample MXML source used to embed the control,
API reference documentation, internal usage and support documentation (on saspedia—I'll blog about saspedia soon), SAS usability guidelines related
to the component, and/or any open defects.

Here is what BumbleFly looks like when viewing the DecompTreeChart.
(Click on the image to view a full-resolution version.)

BumbleFly demonstrating the DecompTreeChart component

Of course, the BumbleFly application is a Flex application implemented with
all the CDD controls. But the implementation is only half the story.
I don't call Jeff and Raj "usability car salesmen" in a negative sense.
Rather, when you need a new car, they are like the salesmen who help you find exactly what you need
because they are also the guys who built the cars.
What's way cool about BumbleFly is that it bundles (rather than bumbles!) everything
together in one place, making it fast and easy to find and assemble what you need into
an application. It solves a classic reuse dilemma—how to you document
and classify the components that are available for reuse? It capitalizes
on our visual sense and recognition skills, and thus is highly usable.
Not a bad way to celebrate World Usability Day.

I <3 STATISTICS

Like John Sall, I'm wearing my "I <3 STATISTICS" pin today... and I'm not even a statistician.

When I tell new acquaintances that I work at SAS, I usually get one of these responses:

  • “Oh that's nice. I've never heard of them.”
  • “Oh that's nice. I hear they have great benefits. So, what does SAS do?”
  • “Oh that's nice. I used SAS in college. So, you're a statistician, right?

Nope, I'm not a statistician. I don't even play one on TV. I did take statistics class in college. One class. In 1984. To me, box and whiskers is a cute picture my daughter took of one of the family felines.

Quite a few of my peers develop SAS products but don't do statistics, either. One product development manager says "Approximately 6% of our code involves statistical/analytical calls" while another claims of his team, "I count 15/40 or 37.5% of the [...] developers who write SAS-based analytics code." (I think the margin of error on that is +/- 5%, but don't quote me on that—I'm not a statistician.) But this low rate of statistical prowess should not be a surprise when one looks at the complexities of today's enterprise solutions, which need sophisticated user interfaces, security, data and metadata management, workflow, scalability, etc.

This does not mean that statistics and analytics are not crucially important to SAS products such as SAS Web Analytics and SAS Social Media Analytics and many, many more. I don't know how a disk controller works, how a relational data base and SQL processor works, how to render a 3D shaded surface map... and I don't know how SAS statistics and analytics work. (Instead, I know how a Java virtual machine works, how to design APIs, how to write (and how not to write) a concurrent program, how an LL(1) parser works, and how map and fold and reduce (and a little bit of monads) work in functional languages.) We all have our areas of expertise and clean separation of concerns, and that is what enables SAS to develop such a wide variety of products and solutions. More crucially, we know how to reuse rather than reinvent the features we need—including statistics—when assembling a software solution.

Luckily, my peers know how statistics work, and the strength of those methods is what sets our solutions apart.  Thus, even though we may not all understand how they work, WE <3 STATISTICS. So, thanks for the pin, John, and let's all celebrate World Statistics Day.