No typical SAS user: how three professionals prep data using SAS


Did you know that 80 percent of an analytics life cycle is time spent on data preparation? For many SAS users and administrators, data preparation is what you live and breathe day in and day out.

Your analysis is only as good as your data, and that's why we wanted to shine a light on the importance of data preparation. I reached out to some of our superstar SAS users in the Friends of SAS community (for Canadian SAS customers and partners) for the inside scoop on different kinds of data preparation tasks they deal with on a daily basis.

Meet Kirby Wu, Actuarial Analyst for TD Insurance

At TD Insurance, SAS is used by many different teams for many different functions.

Kirby uses SAS mainly for its data preparation capabilities. This includes joining tables, cleaning the data, summarizations, segmentation and then sharing this ready-to-use data with the appropriate departments. A day in the life of Kirby includes tackling massive data sets containing billions of claim records. He needs powerful software to perform ETL (extract, transform and load) tasks and manage this data, and that’s where SAS comes in.

"SAS is the first step in our job to access good quality data," says Kirby. "Being an actuary, we use SAS to not only pick up data, but to do profiling, tech inquires and, most importantly, for data quality control purposes. Then we present the data to various teams to take advantage of the findings to improve the business."

Many actuaries have some basic SAS skills to understand the data set. Once they output the data, it is shared across departments and teams for others to make use of.

Prior to his work at TD Insurance, Kirby also used SAS for analytics. He ran GLM analysis where he encountered huge data sets. "When data comes out, we want to understand it, as well as performing statistical analysis on it," says Kirby. "SAS largely influences what direction to go in, and what variable we think is good to use."

Kirby left us with four reasons why he prefers SAS for data preparation.

  1. SAS is an enterprise solution, and the application itself is tried and proven.
  2. Working in insurance, there are many security concerns dealing with sensitive data. SAS provides reassurance in terms of data security.
  3. SAS has been serving the market for many years, and its capabilities and reputation are timeless.
  4. SAS offers a drag-and-drop GUI, as well as programming interfaces for users of varying skill levels.

Meet John Lam of CIBC

Since John joined the bank 15 years ago, he has been using SAS for ETL processes. John saves both time and money using Base SAS when he solves complex ETL tasks in his day-to-day work, and is mainly responsible for data preparation.

John accesses data from multiple source systems and transforms it for business consumption. He works on the technical side and passes on the transformed data within the same organization to the business side. The source data typically comes in at the beginning of each month, but the number of files varies month to month.

"SAS is a great tool," shares John. "The development time is a lot less and helps us save a lot of time on many projects."

John also shared with us some past experiences with complex issues where SAS would have come in handy. He once encountered a situation where he needed to calculate the length of time it would take for someone to receive benefits. However, this calculation method is very complicated and varies greatly depending on how the gap is structured.

"When I look back, the process that took us two to three weeks would have only taken us two to three days if we had used SAS," says John. "SAS would have provided a less complex way of figuring out the problem using date functions!"

Meet Horst Wolter, Manager at TD Bank

"My bread and butter is SAS," explains Horst. "The bank has data all over the place in multiple platforms and in multiple forms. We encounter a lot of data – from mainframe to Unix to PC, and flat files or mainframe SAS data sets."

Regardless of the platform or data he is dealing with, users always request slices and dices of the data. Horst takes all available data and finds ways of matching and merging different pieces together to create something that is relevant and easy to understand.

The majority of work Horst does is with credit card data. "I check database views that has millions of rows, which includes historical data."

The bank deals with millions of customers over many years, resulting in many records. Needless to say, the sizes of data he deals with are quite large! Accessing, processing and managing this data for business insight is a battle SAS helps Horst fight every day.

Sharing Is Caring!

How are you using SAS? Share in a few sentences in the comments!

About Friends of SAS

If you’re not familiar with Friends of SAS, it is an exclusive online community available only to our Canadian SAS customers and partners to recognize and show our appreciation for their affinity to SAS. Members complete activities called "challenges" and earn points that can be redeemed for rewards. There are opportunities to build powerful connections, gain privileged access to SAS resources and events, and boost your learning and development of SAS, all in a fun environment.

Interested in learning more about Friends of SAS? Feel free to email or with any questions or to get more details.


About Author

Natasha Ulanowski

Advocacy Marketing Specialist

Natasha Ulanowski works for SAS Canada as an Advocacy Marketing and Communications Specialist. In her role Natasha supports Friends of SAS, an online advocacy platform for Canadian SAS customers that serves to create a better customer experience by rewarding our loyal customers for their affinity to SAS. Natasha also supports SAS Canada communications; contributing to internal communications and administering the news bureau.


  1. Richard Bemile on

    There's nothing much to add to what the others have said. I started using SAS end of 2015, and realized how much I had missed without it. But it wasn't too late picking up from that point and just forging ahead. I've not looked back since. Makes me deliver on all that is required of me as a Business Intelligence Analyst, to the extend that, when I'm looking at job postings, I'm more interested in those requiring SAS.

  2. Bruce Densmore on

    I spent (yes, past tense) most of my career working with SAS ... from computer performance & capacity data collection, analysis, reporting and forcasting ... to end user SAS support for clients of various skill levels and project complexity across various computing platforms. I never found a file that I could not read and process with SAS software. Today, I take simple pleasure in tackling the weekly Friends of SAS posed problems ... using the SAS University Edition platform.

  3. SAS has been the principal software for most of my career. It was used both for transformation, cleaning, validity testing, predictive modelling, data mining, analytics and reporting.

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