Shaping support.sas.com with your help

You may have seen the many pleas and reminders for you to take the survey and help improve support.sas.com. You may be wondering why you continue to see them.  Well, the answer is simple:  It is important to us to hear from as many of you as possible before we start making changes.  So far, we have heard from about 75 of you and we are grateful for each and every completed survey. But we're greedy and we want to hear from more of you.

You see, the last major update to support.sas.com was done in 2007. (It's OK to gasp at that.) Sure, we have changed a few section titles, added a few more sections, and updated the look of a few pages, but the general behavior and look of the site hasn't changed.  In those seven years, SAS software and services has changed.  We believe that the Customer Support web site needs to change:

  • to keep up with what you expect from your software vendor
  • to keep up with how you use our software
  • to improve how you use our site
  • to better serve users who do not speak English as their first language.

Your feedback will help us change the site for the better to best serve your needs. If you take this very short survey, you can tell us how we are doing and what you think we should do differently.  The survey offers a couple of open text boxes for free-range thinking. Please take advantage of these opportunities. Nothing is better than the comments that you provide in your own words.

Feel like the survey doesn't address what you want to say? No worries. Here are some options for providing more feedback:

  • Add a comment to this blog post. I'll be watching.
  • Comment in the community post about the survey. We're watching there too.
  • Send a message using the web feedback form on support.sas.com.
  • Don't forget the free-range text box at the end of the survey.

Wait! There's more.  The last question on the survey asks if you are willing to participate in testing and feedback as we start to contemplate the possible changes. We hope that many of you sign up to participate. We promise to be respectful of your time.

I'll share our findings here after the survey closes.  Here's what we know so far:

  • Many of you have been using the site for a long time.
  • You use the site to read documentation.
  • You use the site to research error messages and problems with your installation.
  • You wish the site was a little more user-friendly.
  • Most of you are fairly successful in completing the tasks that you attempt on the site.

We are grateful for those of you who have already completed the survey. Can we double our participation number in the next 4 weeks?  The survey closes on September 22, 2014. Please take the survey and encourage your coworkers and SAS friends to do the same.

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Find your stuff with My SAS

I am forever putting something down and not remembering what I did with it.  I solved this problem for my keys by putting a cute little froggy key hook next to the door. My keys go there as soon as I get home. But at work, I don't have a key hook for all of the things I need to find again later. I've tried all kinds of things from sticky notes to internet docs to bookmarking sites. 

Do you have this problem with your SAS information?  If so, support.sas.com can help.  Last year, we introduced My SAS on support.sas.com. The guiding principle for My SAS is to give you a froggy key hook of your own and to install it on every support.sas.com page.  Let's look at what it offers.

To access My SAS, go to support.sas.com and log in. Once your login is established, the My SAS option will appear at the top of the page.  Select the My SAS link and get started.

What My SAS currently offers

We have provided you with three collections of links that all take you to some place on support.sas.com that can help you to manage or explore your relationship with SAS.  These are handy, but still not quite a key hook.

Below those three groups of links, you may see a list of your most recent open tracks, your active elearning courses, a list of your subscriptions, and our newest feature, the ability to store content links as bookmarks.  The image below is what the bottom half of my My SAS looks like.

What your My SAS may look like.

Custom My SAS items

Each item  contains a link to the right that takes you to the location where you can manage your content.  Note that you will not see My Open Tracks or My Training unless you have active tracks with SAS Technical Support or active eLearning modules from SAS Training.

The list of items under My Subscriptions represents all of the SAS newsletters to which you are subscribed.  Selecting the newsletter title displays the most recent edition so that you can read current content anytime.  If you don't have any current subscriptions, select the Manage Subscriptions link and find a newsletter that interests you. 

My Bookmarks requires a little more work by giving you the opportunity to add bookmarks from any web property that you like.  To start adding bookmarks, select the Manage Bookmarks link.  You will be able to add links and give them names.  You can also create folders to group your bookmarks into logical groups.  Once you have more than five bookmarks, you can select a few favorites. Your favorites will display on the main My SAS page.

All of this information will be waiting for you anytime you log in to the SAS web site using your SAS web profile; just like my keys are always right there on the froggy hook.

What do you think?

Thanks to customer participation in a focus group, we know that we have some work to do, and you gave us a pretty good roadmap for how to get there.  Until we reach our destination, My SAS is available for you to start using. Take a look. Use it. Think about it. Tell us what you think we can do to make this feature more useful. 

 

 

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Your Lucky Day: Getting to Know the SAS 13.1 Analytics Products

You will never find me walking under a ladder, spilling salt without then throwing a pinch over my shoulder, or letting a penny remain on the sidewalk; I'm incredibly superstitious. In general I consider the number 13 to be unlucky. I'm not quite in triskadekaphobia territory, but I'm not too far afield.

This should help you understand why it's such a big deal that I consider the recent release of the SAS Analytics products (the release is numbered 13.1) to be anything but unlucky. The 13.1 releases of these products are included with the first maintenance release of SAS® 9.4.  With this release, you'll get enhancements in statistics, econometrics, forecasting, quality improvement, optimization, and high-performance analytics.

In short, our developers have been hard at work delivering major improvements to the software you've come to know and love: SAS/STAT®, SAS/OR®, SAS/IML®, and  SAS Enterprise Miner, just to name a few.

As luck would have it, we've updated the support site with key documentation, A-Z Product Pages (SAS/STAT, for example), and the Statistics and Operations Research Focus Area, where the folks on that team have done a terrific job of pulling together a comprehensive overview of the release.  We'd encourage you to bookmark that last page and be sure to read through all the highlights. Once you do, you'll be ready to join me in embracing the number 13. Point 1.

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Four things to remember when opening a track with SAS Technical Support

~ Contributed by Pam Schiltz, Technical Support Consultant, SAS

As a Technical Support consultant with 24-years of service, you might expect me to know it all.  But sadly, this is just not the case.  Software has changed so fast in 24 years that I could barely keep up.  So I am always learning, not only new products and features, but also better ways to analyze the facts that you provide in your problem descriptions.  Adding up the clues you reveal is the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of my job, and one of the most rewarding parts for certain.  After a recent critical thinking course taken by many Technical Support staff members, I thought through the questions/answers that I find the most valuable in problem solving SAS issues.  I added these questions to some of the basic information we always need for users and came up with this list for submitting a thorough request to Technical Support.  I hope these practices promote an efficient process for resolving your concerns.

The following are my insights and best practices for you to use when you electronically submit a concern to SAS Technical Support.

Always describe your environment.

All inquiries to Technical Support should include basic information to help us understand your environment. Please include:

  • The SAS products that you use.
  • The versions of the products that you use.
  • The operating system of your computer.
  • The operating system of your SAS server computer (if applicable).
  • The site number that is associated with your software.
  • The order that was used to install your software (if known).

Be as detailed as possible when you describe your concern.

Technical Support defines a "problem" as a "situation in which an expected level of performance is not being achieved". If you have a problem, start by answering the question "What is wrong with what?".  This is a good statement to use as the subject of your submission.  For example:  "New user cannot login to Enterprise Guide" or "PROC SQL generates error message 'xxxx'.

Then, provide details that help us understand the problem's specifics.  Consider providing answers to these questions:

  • What do you see that indicates there is a problem?
  • What were you expecting to happen?
  • When does it happen (what do you do to create the problem)?
  • Did it ever work as expected?
  • How often does it happen? Frequency? 
  • Who is it happening to?
  • When did it begin happening?

Attach supporting documentation.

  • If you are presented with an error, please send the ENTIRE log that includes the error.
  • If you are presented with an error box that directs you to a log file for further details, please send the referenced log.  This is very common during installations.
  • If you are encountering a problem with the behavior of a software product, create a screen capture of the condition.

Describe any steps that you have taken to solve the problem yourself.

If you have taken steps already to solve your own problem, please let us know the results.  It is often very beneficial to know what testing you have already performed so that we can compare your results to the problem as well as avoid asking you to repeat steps.  Let us know if you have tested on other machines, tested with other code or data, applied hotfixes, or followed instructions from a SAS Note, for example.

When submitting a request to SAS Technical Support, be sure to use the above guidelines to help us serve you better.

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Welcome to Happenings - Your Place for All the Support Buzz

~ Contributed by Judi Rourke, R&D Web Developer, SAS

Take a minute to swing by our newly named Happenings page on the support.sas.com web site! Dedicated to our SAS users – it’s your one stop for information about everything from the latest technical blog posting to where the next gathering for SAS users will be held to the most recent RSS feeds. It's information that will help you find ways to make SAS software work best for you.

Interested in learning more about how to use SAS Enterprise Miner or getting  programming tips about sub-setting data with a WHERE statement? Happenings is your link to all the educational and free webinars from SAS Talks. Find out what’s coming next or watch an archived webcast now.

Want to learn about the newest course from SAS Training? Hot off the press books from SAS Publishing? Tried and true techniques from SAS Tech Support? Tips and work-arounds from experts here at SAS? Happenings has links to all your favorite newsletters and blogs. We will highlight articles every month that will peak your interest. You can even leave your own comments at the end of a blog - let us know what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Written  a technical SAS paper you would love to share with other users? Or maybe you want to find a group of local SAS users to connect with? The Users Groups section in Happenings provides all that information in one location.

Each month we will put the spotlight on someone or something that represents the best of SAS. It might be an interesting blogger or a special event or someone who is a key contributor to SAS - it could be someone like you.

Happenings will be constantly updated with the most current events, webinars, technical information and more. So be sure to stop by often and let us know what you think!

Happenings screen shot

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A day in the Life of a SAS/STAT developer

~ Contributed by Warren F. Kuhfeld, Sr Manager, R&D,  SAS ~

I love the classic Beatles song, A Day in the Life, and the line: “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” I am a member of the SAS/STAT development team, and this is a day in my life. After I wake up and fall out of bed, my typical day begins in the state park a few hundred yards from SAS where I go for a run or bike ride before heading to the SAS onsite gym and fitness center to shower, drag a comb across my head, and get ready for work. I will spend time today working on one of the over a dozen SAS procedures that I support in whole or in part. My areas include linear and multivariate models, principal components, marketing research, and many others. I produce software that automatically fits curves to data (see Figure 1) and produces heat maps (see Figure 2). I make it easy to customize the Kaplan-Meier plot used in survival analysis (see Figure 3). I develop new output styles that control the appearance of tables and graphs in SAS output (see Figure 4). I sometimes travel to meet with customers and present a tutorial on ODS Graphics and other topics. Look for me this year at SAS Global Forum, PharmaSUG, and the Joint Statistical Meetings.

Figure 1: Penalized B-Splines with PROC SGPLOT

Figure 2: Heat Map with PROC REG

Figure 3: Kaplan-Meier Plot with PROC LIFETEST

Figure 4: Finite Mixture Model with HtmlBlue Style

I develop SAS macros for the design of experiments and marketing research and the world’s largest orthogonal array catalog.  These tools enable researchers in areas like marketing, medicine, agriculture, transportation, and the environment to answer questions like how consumers choose products and services and how patients choose medical treatment options.

As a senior developer and manager with over a quarter century of experience, I evaluate and ensure accuracy and consistency in our tabular output, graphs, and documentation and assist our younger team members.  We recently made part of our documentation system available to enable our users to create PDF documents with reproducible results. This process is detailed in a SAS Global Forum paper.  My team members have produced two new procedures for the SAS 12.1 release including PROC ADAPTIVEREG, which fits models with multivariate adaptive regression splines and PROC QUANTSELECT,  which fits quantile regression models with variable selection.

When you are a statistician at SAS, each day brings new challenges.  I have been able to work in many distinct areas over the years, and that has been rewarding.  I am one of dozens of statisticians and thousands of developers who contribute to the hundreds of products that SAS provides.  Each of us provides a unique set of talents to our work on SAS software.  It is great to work with such a talented and diverse group of people.  Since SAS is always providing you with new tools and solutions, no two days in the life are the same for any of us.

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Never lose track

The SAS Online Customer Support Home page is like O'Hare International Airport -- once you get there, you can go almost anywhere else. If you have a layover before you leave the airport, you have lots of opportunities for a good meal, some great shopping, and fantastic people watching.  They also make it easy to track the next leg of your flight.  In comparison, if you plan a short layover as you are passing through the Customer Support Home page, you can find lots of opportunities to explore a great SAS technical paper, sample, or video. You can watch other SAS users as they participate in the Support Communities, or find a fast link to your favorite site area. Login to the site as part of your Home page layover and you'll discover our latest Home page feature: My Open Tracks. This feature is our first offering that helps you track your activity with SAS or the SAS web site.

Breaking News [updated February 14, 2013] SAS just added another destination to the Online Customer Support Home page.  Not only can you view your open tracks right on the Home page, but you can now also access your active eLearning and extended learning courses from SAS Training.  You'll find My Training in the same location and with the same look as described below for My Open Tracks.  Let us know if you find these tools handy.

Who sees the My Open Tracks feature?
This feature is available to everyone who has an active conversation with SAS Technical Support and who is logged in to the web site while visiting the Customer Support Home page.

How will I know if I see it?
Each time the Home page loads while you are logged in, your open tracks will slide in from the left and show you a maximum of three open tracks that have the most recent activity.  The image below is a sample of what you might see.  Your tracks are displayed just above the Recent Discussions and Next Step boxes at the bottom of the page.

Shows a page with My Open Tracks loaded

How does it work?
You have several ways to initiate a conversation with SAS Technical Support: using the online problem submission form, calling your local Technical Support office, or submitting an email question.  When your conversation is started, a track is opened and you are given a tracking number.  All further conversations about your question or issue are associated with that number and a valid email address.

If you have a web profile that uses the same email address and you are logged in to the Online Customer Support web site (support.sas.com), you can review the history of that track and any other open or closed track.  All of this is available to you via the Tracks application.  (Learn about the latest updates to the Tracks application.)

Until the addition of My Open Tracks to the Home page, you had to visit the Tracks application or keep up with your conversation using your email system.  Now, when you visit support.sas.com, be sure to go to the Home page, login, slow down, and check on your open tracks right there.  We will securely deliver a list of the latest updates to your Home page.  If you do not have an open track at the time of the visit, nothing will be displayed and you and read the content on the Home page as you have always done.

If you have more than three tracks (maybe you are responsible for monitoring all of the open tracks for your organization) or you want to review a closed track, simply select View all tracks from the gray header bar to access your Tracks application.

What's next?
We have a few ideas that we can develop to help you track your SAS interactions. What we would love to know is this:  what would you like to see to make your life easier as you navigate the SAS site, conduct interactions with difference divisions of SAS, and manage your SAS license?  We hope to show you some of our ideas, get your feedback and release additional features this year.  Until then, let us know what you think and never lose track of an open track again.

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Getting to Know You: New Text and Content Analytics Community

We know that many of you are active users of the Support Communities on the site and are pleased to tell you there's a new community in town: Text and Content Analytics.

This community is a centralized resource for discussing ideas, asking questions, seeking help from your peers and sharing topics and/or events of interest. If you're working with Text Miner, Enterprise/Content Categorization, Sentiment Analysis or Ontology Management, head right on over and check it out. We launched this community due to the enthusiasm and support of two SAS customers: Julia Marshall, of USAID and Heather Edwards, Associated Press. They're active in the community and are looking forward to hearing from you.

One other change to note: the community formerly known as SAS Data Mining and Text Mining will now focus on Data Mining.

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Getting Started in the Year of Statistics

~ Contributed by Maura Stokes, Sr Director, R&D,  SAS ~

If you’ve been on the SAS campus lately, you would have noticed banners  on the streets announcing 2013 as the International Year of Statistics.  The major statistical societies designed this campaign to  increase the visability of statistics, educate the public about its importance, and encourage students to consider statistics as a career.  Statistics is one of those disciplines in which the demand for practitioners will be greater than the supply for years to come.  While the movie Moneyball and the FiveThirtyEight blog have served to illuminate the value of statistics in baseball and politics,  the spotlight needs to shine on the hundreds of other endeavors in which statistics also play a critical role.  Without statistics, our data-driven society would have no direction.     

As a company that lives and breathes statistical software and all of its analytical cousins, and thus includes hundreds of employees with statistical training,  SAS is proud to celebrate the International Year of Statistics along with the rest of the statistical world.

SAS has created a video for this campaign called  Improving Human Welfare in 2013 Year of Statistics that discusses how statistics affects our lives.  It’s the perfect response to friends and family who’d like to understand a bit more about what we  statisticians actually do. You can find the video on the SAS web page dedicated to the International Year of Statistics, it will feature articles, postings, and resources related to statistics all year long.

In addition, if you have a young friend or relative you’d love to consider statistics as a career, nudge them along with this link to the official International Year of Statistics web site,  which includes a wealth of information on statistics as a profession.

Of course, SAS and the Customer Support web site celebrates statistics everyday with its numerous resources for SAS statistical users. Some of the more recent additions include:

Wh;at resources do you need? Leave a comment with other ideas for resources that would support your use of SAS/STAT software.

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Stay logged in longer

Tis the season of repeating holiday specials. Each brings its own message of hope, love, and personal growth. If you get sucked into these shows -- like I often do -- you realize that they really do mimic life. Take Fred Claus. In this holiday special, a misguided efficiency expert named Clyde comes to the North Pole to evaluate "the workshop". His goal isn't really to help the elves be more efficient; his evil intent is to shut them down.  By the end of the movie, he has had a change of heart and uses his skills of evaluation, organization, and motivation to help the workshop be more efficient and therefore help more people find success and happiness.  I'm not sure that Hollywood would describe the plot of the movie just like that, but that's the way I see it.

Being efficient at the work you do is really important.  We are all asked to do so much professionally and personally that wasted effort and unnecessary steps are simply unacceptable. Those of us who work on the SAS web sites (www.sas.com, support.sas.com and communities.sas.com strive everyday to help you be more efficient SAS customers. On Friday, December 8, 2012, we pushed a new feature to our Login process that is designed to save you a few keystrokes and an extra step here and there.  The update: we extended how long you can be logged in to any of the SAS web properties before you are prompted to log in again.

The details of extended login
We added a "Keep me logged in" option to the Login windows on our web sites.  If you do not select this option when you log in, nothing will be different with the way login works for you.  But, if you do select the Keep me logged in option, you will be more efficient in the way you work with support.sas.com and communities.sas.com.

Selecting this option means that you will stay logged in to the SAS web sites for seven days as long as you are active or up to five days when you are idle. The most exciting feature of this upgrade is that your login will persist across browser sessions during the seven or five day period.  This is great news for those of you who follow community activity via email or RSS feed.  Now, when you complete a task in the community then close your browser, you are not logged out.  When you follow a link back to the community from an email or RSS feed link, you will still be logged in (within the active days period, of course).

What you need to do
When we started the upgrade on Friday night, everyone who was logged in was logged out.  The next time you visit the web site, you will be asked to login again.  Take a minute to notice the new checkbox on the login screen (see the image below).  To take advantage of the longer login periods, be sure to select the checkbox next to Keep me logged in before completing the login process.

If you want to cancel your login, just select Logout from any location at the top of the web site.

One last note.  In this case, you were our (good) Clyde.  You pointed out how the login was inefficient and asked us to change it.  We now have that change in place.  I hope it saves you some time and relieves a little frustration.  We look forward to hearing from you on the next web site improvement.  (Hint:  we are working on a few more efficiency updates for you and I can't wait to tell you about them and get your feedback.)

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