Data is the new soil; get your hands dirty

SAS Global ForumWhen was the last time an informational graph or chart caught your eye? I mean, really caught your eye in a way that made you want to emblazon it on a greeting card or frame it for your office?

What’s that…never?

Me neither, until I had the opportunity to see some of the striking visuals and graphics by David McCandless and hear about the thought and passion that goes into his work as a data journalist. McCandless, the author of Knowledge is Beautiful, was a keynote speaker at SAS® Global Forum April 21, an event traditionally focused on the more technical and logistical aspects of analyzing data.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was moved by the informative digital images displayed across the conference venue jumbo screens the way some might be moved by a famous painting or sculpture. They revealed depth of understanding and presented analytical findings in such unexpected ways through story, shape, color and connection.

They were beautiful, indeed. But McCandless was quick to point out that it’s important that data visualization transcends aesthetic beauty and aids comprehension

That’s important when you’re faced with billions of numbers and facts. “Images allow us to see something important in a sea of data,” he said. “They tell a story.”

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Solutions for missing DATA step features within DS2

ProblemSolversThe DS2 programming language gives you the following powerful capabilities:

  • The precision that results from using the new supported data types
  • Access to the new expressions, write methods, and packages available in the DS2 syntax
  • Ability to execute SAS Federated Query Language (FedSQL) from within the DS2 program
  • Ability to execute code outside of a SAS session such as on SAS® High-Performance Analytics Server or the SAS® Federation Server
  • Access to the threaded processing in products such as the SAS® In-Database Code Accelerator, SAS High-Performance Analytics Server, and SAS® Enterprise Miner™

Some DATA step functionality is not available in DS2, at least not how you are used to. However, don’t lose hope, because this article discusses ways to mimic some of the missing DATA step features within DS2.

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Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn

SAS Global ForumWhen you attend SAS® Global Forum - a conference where you’re surrounded by data scientists, programmers and those who grew up as the smartest people in the room – you expect to hear talk about big data and advanced analytics.

What you don’t expect to hear are compelling messages about the importance of art, storytelling…and unicorns.

Advice to data analysts

Emma Warrillow, President of Data Insight Group, Inc., delivering her talk at SAS Global Forum

But Emma Warrillow, President of Data Insight Group, Inc., couldn’t have been more convincing in her April 19 session highlighting the magic formula for becoming a well-sought-after marketing analyst. Her first hint: It requires much more than good programming skills.

She believes in the marriage of art and science. “When you put those two together, that’s where you get the wonder,” she said.

Wonder? Maybe that’s where unicorns come in.

In a sense, perhaps. Actually, unicorns – a rare breed of marketing technologists who understand both marketing and marketing technology (with a nod to John Ellett, contributor to Forbes) – are those who take the time to be curious and recognize that storytelling and imagery are like an analyst’s Trojan horse. Warrillow says they’re the way you get in.

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Highlights from SAS Global Forum: Technology Connection

SAS Global ForumEditor's Note: In addition to the summary included in this blog, you can view videos of the following product demonstrations from the Technology Connection at SAS Global Forum 2016 by clicking on the links below:


Executive VP and CTO Armistead Sapp delivers opening remarks at the Technology Connection

“For over 40 years, we’ve seen it, solved it,” said SAS Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Armistead Sapp in his opening remarks at the SAS® Global Forum Technology Connection. If his explanation of SAS differentiators and the road ahead serve as any indication, SAS is just getting started.

So what does set SAS apart? Sapp believes it’s:

  • 40 years of analytics in action.
  • Technology that meets users’ skill sets.
  • Innovation driven by strategy.
  • Analytics that impact the world.

Since last year’s conference alone, he said, a total of 326 products have released, including 88 deployment tools and utilities. That’s a lot of code, but Sapp reiterated that SAS’ first priority to solve for quality, then performance and then new features remains unchanged.

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Highlights from SAS Global Forum: Opening Session

SAS Global ForumImpressive innovations and exciting announcements took center stage (literally) at Opening Session of SAS Global Forum 2016. Near the end of the session, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight shared news about SAS’ new architecture that had everyone abuzz.

SAS® Viya™ - There’s a new headliner in Vegas

“We are unveiling a quantum leap forward in making analytics easier to use and accessible to everyone,” Goodnight said. “It’s a major breakthrough and it’s called SAS Viya.”

Goodnight was also quick to point out that SAS Viya will work with customers’ existing SAS 9 software.

Goodnight invited Vice President of Analytic Server Research and Development Oliver Schabenberger, who led the development work for SAS Viya, to join him on stage to discuss the new cloud-based analytic and data management architecture.

Jim Goodnight makes some exciting announcements at SAS Global Forum 2016 Opening Session

Jim Goodnight shares exciting announcements at SAS Global Forum 2016 Opening Session

“We see great diversity in the ways our customers approach and consume analytics,” Schabenberger explained. “From small data to big data. From simple analytics to the toughest machine learning problems. Data in motion and data at rest. Structured and unstructured data. Single users and hundreds of concurrent users. In the cloud and on premises. Data scientists and business users.”

SAS has developed a truly unified and integrated modern environment that everyone can use, whether you are a data scientist or a business analyst. “The beauty of SAS Viya is that it’s unified, open, simple and powerful, and built for the cloud,” said Schabenberger. “Today we are moving to a multi-cloud architecture.”

Goodnight encouraged customers to be “sure to try it out. I think you will enjoy the new SAS Viya.”

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Highlights from SAS Global Forum: Cybersecurity, analytic failure and getting arrested

SAS Global ForumEditor's Note: There are hundreds of breakout sessions happening at SAS Global Forum in both the Users and Executive programs. Since we couldn’t just pick one to highlight, we decided to put together a SAS Global Forum day 2 session roundup, highlighting some of our very favorites!

Don’t overlook data management when it comes to cybersecurity analytics

There’s a constant buzz in the market around analytics and its role in the cybersecurity space, but often the conversation overlooks the important role data management plays. Data management is a fundamental component SAS cyber experts want to be sure organizations understand – just because the investment is being made in cyber analytics doesn’t mean companies can ignore data quality and data management.

“There are countless solutions and dollars spent to protect organizations,” said SAS’ Director of Cybersecurity Christopher Smith. “All of those pieces – firewalls, endpoints and email gateways – play a vital role, but those systems don’t communicate with each other.” Even with all the investment organizations are making to protect themselves, there is still no greater insight being gained into what’s actually happening inside company walls.

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Highlights from SAS Global Forum: Fantasy football, the data science talent gap and data storytelling

Highlights from SAS Global ForumEditor's Note: There are hundreds of breakout sessions happening at SAS Global Forum in both the Users and Executive programs. Since we couldn’t just pick one to highlight from opening day, we decided to put together a SAS Global Forum day 1 session roundup, highlighting some of our very favorites!

The big data behind fantasy football

With millions of users, peak traffic seasons and thousands of requests a second for complex user-specific data, fantasy football offers many challenges for even the most talented analytical minds. Clint Carpenter, one of the principal architects of the NFL fantasy football program, shared strategies and lessons learned behind football fanatics’ favorite application.

Fantasy football combines a high volume of users with detailed personalized data; multiple data sources; various data consumers; and high peak volumes of request. The challenge is to process the data from the stadium playing field and user devices, and make it easily accessible to a variety of different services. If there’s something to learn from developing and analyzing fantasy football over the years, Carpenter said it’s these three things: don’t blindly trust data or specifications; spend time planning upfront to avoid problems in the end; and test for data integrity, performance and for the whole system. “If you test well, you will have happy stakeholders,” said Carpenter. “If you don’t, you are asking for unhappy users and sleepless nights.”

More from this presentation.

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Accessing SPD Engine Data using Hive

Copy Data to Hadoop using SASWith the release of SAS® 9.4 M3, you can now access SAS Scalable Performance Data Engine (SPD Engine) data using Hive. SAS provides a custom Hive SerDe for reading SAS SPD Engine data stored on HDFS, enabling users to access the SPD Engine table from other applications.

The SPD Engine Hive SerDe is delivered in the form of two JAR files. Users need to deploy the SerDe JAR files under “../hadoop-mapreduce/lib” and “../hive/lib” on all nodes of a Hadoop cluster to enable the environment. To access the SPD Engine table from Hive, you need to register the SPD Engine table under Hive metadata using the metastore registration utility provided by SAS.

The Hive SerDe is read-only and cannot serialize data for storage in HDFS. The Hive SerDe does not support creating, altering, or updating SPD Engine data in HDFS using HiveQL or other languages. For those functions, you would use the SPD Engine with SAS applications.


Before you can access an SPD Engine table using Hive SerDe you have to perform the following:

  • Deploy the SAS Foundation software using SAS Deployment Wizard.
  • Select the product name “SAS Hive SerDe for SPDE Data”

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How to participate in SAS Global Forum 2016...even if you're not going

SAS Global ForumIs it just me, or does it feel a little bit like Christmas Eve? I think it's because SAS Global Forum 2016 is right around the corner, and for many SAS users, it's the most wonderful time of the year. If you're heading to Las Vegas, get ready for three days of learning from SAS peers, exchanging ideas, discovering new techniques for using SAS, and maybe, if you play your cards right (see what I did there?), a dash of fun as well. If only there was something exciting to do in Las Vegas...

All this sounds great if you're one of the 5,000 SAS users who will be at the event (April 18-21 @ The Venetian), right? But what if you can't make the trip to Las Vegas? Is there another way to experience some of the great content that will be shared there? I'm happy to say the answer is yes!

This year, SAS will provide dozens of hours of live video streaming from the event, so you can watch select sessions from the Users and Executive Programs from wherever you are. Live coverage will include Opening Session, all the keynote talks, select breakouts, Tech Talks, updates from The Quad, interviews with SAS executives and developers, and more. Additional videos will be available on the SAS Global Forum Video Portal. Here you'll find featured, most popular, and how-to videos, as well as episodes of Inside SAS Global Forum. You can even view videos from past events. Coverage will be available for on-demand viewing after the conference as well.

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Automatic data suppression in SAS reports

protecting-personal-identityHave you ever used SAS to produce reports for publishing? Have you ever thought of or been told about suppressing data in such reports? Why do we need to suppress (in the sense of withholding, concealing, obscuring or hiding) data in published reports?

The reason is simple - in order to protect privacy of individuals - personally identifiable information (PII) - data that could potentially identify specific individuals and their sensitive or confidential information. Such sensitive data can include health insurance and medical records, age, ethnicity, race, gender, education, political or religious believes, financial and credit information, geographical location, criminal history, student education records, etc.

In the U.S., such information is considered confidential and protected by Federal Law, e.g. HIPAA - Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and FERPA - Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Many other countries have similar laws and regulations.

When SAS is used to process surveys, generate and publish reports, we need to be on a lookout in order not to break the law since demographic component of any survey or report has a potential of breaching privacy protection, especially when we deal with a small group of people. For small reporting samples, even when we publish aggregated reports, there is still a risk of possible deducing or disaggregating personal data.

Grouping for data suppression

One way of obscuring small count numbers to protect people privacy is to lump them up into a larger group, call it “Others” and leave it there. However, while protecting PII this method distorts composition of the report group as it can put different demographic characteristics into “Other” category for different report groups thus making it impossible to compare them side by side.

Using custom formats for data suppression

Another way to suppress or mask small numbers is to use SAS custom formats. Let’s say we want to suppress all numbers in the range of 1 through 6, but show all other numbers as comma-formatted. We can create the following SAS user-defined custom numeric format to suppress small numbers:

proc format;
	value suppress

This works just fine for a single variable (list) frequency or cross-tabulation frequency numbers as long as there are no Total column or Total row presented. If Totals by row or column are reported then the suppressed small number cell can be easily derived from those totals and the values of the other unsuppressed numbers.

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