3月 252009

Members of the media attending SAS Global Forum met a panel of SAS customers from diverse backgrounds but with a unified message: In uncertain economic times, deploying the power of advanced analytics becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. Panelists included:

  • Aaron Cano, Vice President of Customer Knowledge, 1-800-FLOWERS.com
  • Stephan Chase, Vice President of Customer Knowledge, Marriott International
  • William Kahn, former Head of Single Family Credit Analytics at Fannie Mae and former Chief Scoring Officer at Capital One
  • Ming Teng, Director of Analytics, StubHub

Moderator Anne Milley, Director of Technology Product Marketing, led off by asking the panel how analytics are relevant to business in the current climate.

Panelist Ming Teng is Director of Analytics for StubHub, self-described “huge users of data.”

“We don’t have a large shop with lots of statisticians,” Teng said. Using JMP allows them to perform effective data mining around trends and “operationalize” the information.

Stephan Chase, VP of Customer Knowledge for Marriott International, agreed analytics is increasingly relevant. At Marriott they think in terms of “propensity,” or what customers are likely to do. If you put an offer in front of a customer that is more relevant to the customer’s needs, they are more likely to take it. The natural resistance to change and learning is challenged in environments like this one, Chase said, where “survival anxiety” takes over. People are more willing to try new ideas.

He’s noticed a great deal more demand for the services of his department based on its past success, and an increased willingness to experiment.

"We've been at it a while," he said, "showing that predictive modeling is predictive, and if you give customers something more relevant, they will take it."

Aaron Cano is Vice President of Customer Knowledge for 1-800-FLOWERS.com. His group has used analytics to model new sales promotions. They’ve been so successful that all the entities under the 1-800-FLOWERS.com umbrella are approaching him. Cano referred to what he called “trial by fire analytics." The times are changing, he said. If you want to improve and serve customers better you have to try new things, and analytics can make the difference.

Milley asked the panelists to describe the biggest challenges to bringing analytics to bear on fact-based decisions.

StubHub’s business relies on the ability to plan and forecast based on diverse and seemingly unpredictable factors, Teng said, like sports rivalries and matchups, or announcements of major events like a Britney Spears or Jonas Brothers concert. Planning and forecasting requires tracking the rumors for the coming year.

“We can predict seasonal demand,” Teng said, “but we have to take into our forecasting model these somewhat random events.” While it is ultimately rewarding, it can also be challenging. “Analysts are always looking for opportunities among the white noise and adjusting on the fly,” he added.

William Kahn, former Head of Single Family Credit Analytics at Fannie Mae and former Chief Scoring Officer at Capital One, suggested a top-and-bottom approach to explaining the value of analytics within an organization.

People reveal their risk behavior over three to five years, Kahn said, so you can't wait for actual consumer behavior to drive change. You need to influence the “self-actualized layer” in the organization: the kids just coming in who are enthusiastic and open to new ideas, and the senior levels who are able to evaluate proposed changes and act on them swiftly.

The way to change the culture of the organization to be more analytical, according to Cano, is to leverage analytics to change the discussion about what it means to be successful. As more and more evidence points to the value of analytics, he sees it being used in more and more ways at 1-800-FLOWERS.

3月 252009

1.) Where I could find you if you weren’t at a users group conference?
You’d find me outdoors. In winter it’s skiing (x-c and downhill) and in the spring-fall it’s hiking, mountain biking and camping.

2.) How many times have you been to SAS Global Forum, and what was your most memorable experience so far?
2009 will be my 12th conference. Which is interesting since I guess that means my conference in Seattle will be lucky 13!

Memorable experiences – They’re all about the people you meet at SAS Global Forum
(1) Getting an early peek at the next releases of SAS reporting procedures and tools with developers Sandy McNeill, David Kelley, Dan O’Connor, Eric Gebhart, and others.
(2) Hanging out with all of my favorite SAS Press authors (Art Carpenter, Ron Cody, Susan Slaughter, Lora Delwiche, and others)
(3) Bumping into someone who it turns out is doing the same sort of obscure analysis I’m currently working on. I met a woman at lunch one year who was analyzing data from the same medical device as a clinical trial that I was working on, but she was in a completely different field. It was fun to trade notes on how we dealt with data and analytical issues.

3.) What was your “official role” at SAS Global Forum 2009?
I was the chair of the Industry Solutions section. I worked with my team of eight Industry Solution Leaders to find keynote speakers, SAS speakers, customers, and contributed papers to cover the topics of interest to people in the Life Sciences, Financial, Communications, Retail, Education, Government, Customer Intelligence, and Energy industries.

4.) Who are the major players that produce SAS Global Forum ?
There are three groups involved in producing each SAS Global Forum:
1. The conference volunteer team: The conference chair and section chairs provide the ideas and the contacts in their industries or areas of expertise. Thanks to them, we can bring attendees the latest information and practical advice that’s relevant to their day-to-day work.
2. SAS: SAS provides a lot of logistical support, and gives us access to top presenters who can teach us about features of upcoming releases of the software.
3. The SAS Global Forum Executive Board is responsible for picking the conference chair, and providing advice and support to the chair. The Executive Board also focuses on projects such as sasCommunity.org that provide benefit to the entire SAS user community, not just those who attend SAS Global Forum.

5.) What new things are you thinking about trying for SAS Global Forum 2010?
Given the economic times, a big focus for me will have to be finding ways we can control our costs without adversely affecting the content of the conference. I will also be working with my team to come up with documentation that potential attendees can use to convince their managers that SAS Global Forum is one of the most cost-effective educational opportunities out there for SAS professionals.

As a manager, another area of interest for me is expanding the content we have available for front-line managers of SAS professionals. This includes management seminars, presentations, panel discussions, and technology briefings.

3月 252009
In hopes of adding to your SAS Global Forum experience, we've kicked off a SAS presenters series. Here, we’ve asked some of the SAS presenters five questions to learn more about what makes them tick, why they chose to present and what they hoped you would take away from the presentation. Take a look at I-kong Fu’s answers.

I-kong Fu, Global Product Manager

I-kong Fu, tell me something about yourself that our readers might not expect.
On occasion, I enjoy trying to make homemade pizzas, and I believe that relates to my SAS Global Forum paper. For toppings and ingredients, off the top of my head, I start with high gluten flour (it lets you make a thinner crust with more air bubbles that still holds up to the weight of the ingredients). A little corn meal keeps it from sticking on the pan - sometimes I use a pizza stone because it transfers more heat. If I’m making more than one pizza, which is usually the case, I'll alternate between the stone and an aluminum pan. I have not bought a pizza peel (one of those large wooden spatulas), but plan to.

For toppings, it varies a lot depending on what we have in the house and what everyone likes. Most of my family likes fresh mozzarella, but one of my kids is allergic to dairy so his pizza has no cheese. My older child loves eggplant and pepperoni, and my wife loves to load up her pizza with fresh veggies. I pretty much like all of the above. Just talking about this, I feel like making pizza now.

Have you been to SAS Global Forum before? If so, what was your most memorable experience so far?
I’ve been to SAS Global Forum four times (including when the conference was called "SUGI"). I don't have a specific best memory. I enjoy meeting everyone to talk about SAS and also having a chance to walk around the area if the conference is in a large city.

What problem or customer pain were you hoping to solve with Ad Hoc Data Preparation for Analysis Using SAS® Enterprise Guide®?
My paper covers a few examples of ad hoc data preparation using SAS Enterprise Guide. Analysts will often comment how much time they spend preparing data: that it takes more time than their actual analyses. To me, that is similar to making a pizza: The value is in the final result, but most of the time is spent on the preparatory work. I try to show how a few different preparation tasks can be done easily using SAS Enterprise Guide's various tasks.

During your presentation, what are the most important highlights or questions that you hoped to cover?
I showed some examples of importing, transposing, binning, recoding, joining, manipulating and creating data, mainly through point and click tasks, with a few simple expressions.
3月 252009
I had the opportunity to sit in on two presentations yesterday that ran back-to-back and seemed to provide a complementary message to SAS users in government and public service. It gave me the idea to post a few comments on both.

Ben Zenick, Doing More with Less
Ben Zenick, the vice president of consulting services and co-founder of Zencos, talked to SAS users about Doing More with Less. He has a deep background in both public sector and technology, so he had a particular commitment to this topic.

”I wanted to provide SAS users in the public sector with innovative options for utilizing technology to increase the level of customer and constituent satisfaction, create jobs and manage and monitor policies, while having access to fewer resources, less money, and more regulation,” Zenick said. “Of course changes to the economy that have occurred since I was invited to present have put more emphasis on the concept of "Doing More with Less."

According to Zenick, now is a great opportunity to invest in technology. “A lot of the money from the stimulus bill will be appropriated to technology spending projects,” he said. “There are a lot of ways for users of SAS to truly make a difference in what we would all consider trying times. Analytics have opened the door to make very big impacts in the economy and the service you provide. The time to make a difference with technology is now.”

What are public sector pains?
According to Zenick’s research, total budget shortfalls for US states are projected to exceed US$145 billion by 2010. But the states’ remedies – reducing services, increasing taxes, etc. – only reduces demand and worsens the economic picture. Zenick hopes to stem this worsening landscape by offering the idea of using analytics technology to reduce cost and increase revenue opportunities.

Fraud, waste and abuse in healthcare claims: As of 2007, approximately 20 percent of each state’s budget goes to Medicaid program costs. Within that 20 percent is approximately 10 percent that is related to improper payments which could include fraud . Opportunity to use analytics to find potentially suspect claims before you pay.

Increase tax revenue collection through increased efficiencies: Analytics helps identify those who have a propensity to pay after a mistake has been made, identifies more accurate collection methods and forecasts future revenues.

Increase economic development efforts: Analytics reduces time spent collecting, compiling and searching for data. The technology also allows developers to proactively recruit firms by providing workforce demographics and available properties.

Zenick summed it up with a few words: “How do you make sure that you have the resources in the right place at the right time?” he posed. “These are all examples of using analytics for resource allocation – Doing More with Less. Analytics is an extremely important factor in reducing cost and increasing revenue.”

Jonathan Hornby, SAS Response: Doing More with Less.
Jonathan Hornby, Director of Worldwide Marketing at SAS, provided the second presentation in the two-parter - SAS Response: Doing More with Less. He tackled analytics product areas where government and public services could focus their energies: cost, strategy and human capital.

“These are solutions that help an organization understand how value flows and how resources get consumed,” said Hornby.

Strategy: Why is execution so low?
According to Hornby, developing a strategy at the executive level is only a small part of effective execution of a strategy. Today, there is an abundance of data. The problem lies in knowing what to do with it. During his research with some of the world’s sharpest minds, Hornby found that the first step to an effective organizational strategy focusing on Doing More with Less would be a plan for analyzing and using the data.

“It’s all about communication and understanding how metrics, objectives and goals are connected,” Horny said. “Do they correlate? Do they tell the story of how your organization needs to act?”

According to Hornby, too many organizations pick metrics and objectives that don’t move the dials. And often, organizations track far too many metrics, which rob individuals of time as they try to decipher them. All of this comes at great cost, which leads to the next section.

Cost: What is the pain?
The first step is to understand what things cost. SAS® Profitability Management does that, and for commercial organizations, it calculates profit too.

“Less than 50 percent of executives understand what drives cost, profit and value,” said Hornby. “That is the result of a March 2007, Business Week survey. If that’s true, there is much room for improvement, especially now that we are doing more with less.”

Hornby pointed out that there are many ways to cut cost without cutting bone – cuts across the board that have unintended consequences. Analytics can help organizations see waste in productivity and allow companies to get the maximum value moving forward.

Once you can “see” the cost to provide a service – either in aggregate or for a specific transaction – the next step is to understand why. That’s where SAS Activity Based Management comes in. It provides a great environment to model how cost, profit and value flows through an organization. With this knowledge, organizations can identify bottlenecks or areas ripe for improvement, unlocking vast sums of money.

People: Why worry?
According to a 2007 study by Deloitte, 39 percent of those surveyed believe they are hiring the right people for government or public service jobs. That’s even with the rigorous hiring processes in place. Further research shows that 58 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement in 2010 and 71 percent of those are senior executives.

According to Hornby, analytics can help organizations anticipate and map the skills gaps they are facing through attrition from retirement and churn. SAS® Human Capital Intelligence can help manage and alighn your workforce strategically.

Wrapping it up
Finally, Hornby shared a strategy/brainstorming tool. “I am currently working with Joel Barker using his ‘strategic implications wheel’ to help President Obama think through the cascade of consequences for all the regulations and stimulus plans,” said Hornby “It’s much like brainstorming. Set up an idea that you think is going to work and then bring in a crowd. Ask everyone to think of one positive and one negative implication. Then, as a group, repeat the process one more time for each of those ideas. You’ll see that there is a range of possibilities.”

For more ideas on how government and public service can do more with less, www.sas.com/economy.
3月 252009
In hopes of adding to your SAS Global Forum experience, we've kicked off a SAS presenters series. Here, we’ve asked some of the SAS presenters five questions to learn more about what makes them tick, why they chose to present and what they hoped you would take away from the presentation. Take a look at Howard Plemmons’ answers.

Howard Plemmons, Manager, Product Development

Is there something interesting about yourself that you could share with us? Perhaps, you could share something that would help bring your personality to life for those who don’t know you well.
I spent several summers on my grandparents’ farm, where I learned quite a bit about farming life. I learned how to milk a cow, chop wood for the stove, tend bees, drive a tractor, can vegetables and chew tobacco. Let's just say the tobacco chewing experience was a single event.

How many times have you been to SAS Global Forum?
If I’ve counted correctly, this will be my 15th SAS Global Forum. One experience that sticks out, is when the volcano display at SUGI Hawaii caught fire during the opening session. Before the guests realized that flames were not part of the session, the volcano had been extinguished.

I understand you have two papers at SAS Global Forum this year. What did you hope to offer the user with these papers?
One focuses on SAS/ACCESS to PC Files and the other focuses on performance initiatives when using SAS/ACCESS to different databases [Top Ten SAS/DBMS Performance Boosters for 2009]. These papers contain usage and performance information that SAS/ACCESS customers can use to improve their experience with SAS/ACCESS. I hope that they will find a couple of items that they can put to use.

During your presentation, what were the most important highlights or questions that you hoped to cover?
The concepts provided in my SAS Global Forum papers can be applied to customer issues. I hope I provided enough detail to enable the SAS customer to solve specific usage and performance issues.
3月 252009
Today’s lunch with Dr. Arthur Benjamin, self-proclaimed mathemagician and Professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, was everything it was hyped to be. Benjamin combines light math puzzling and his lively sense of humor for a show that keeps even an analytical audience entertained.

He opened the show with a classic sleight of hand – a card trick. His twist was using an invisible deck of cards that he made reappear before our very eyes. He picked a random audience volunteer to choose an invisible card from his deck.

“Take a look at your card, but be very careful not to let me see it,” cautioned Benjamin. The hilarity grew when the volunteer dramatized his movements like a mime on the streets of New York City.

Benjamin dramatically shuffled his invisible deck.

“Now carefully place your card upside down in the deck.”

The volunteer took one last look at his invisible card and slid it into the deck – upside down. Magically, Benjamin made the invisible deck of cards reappear from an empty box, which had been stowed in his pocket. He asked his volunteer to name the card that had been placed upside down in the deck.

“You’ll notice that the two of hearts is the only card that has been turned upside down,” said Benjamin, with no further explanation as to how he’d known that the volunteer would choose the two of hearts from his invisible deck. (Magicians are sooo secretive about their hanky panky!)

His next trick: squaring numbers in his head. Mathemagically. He started out squaring two-digit numbers and worked his way up to four-digit numbers. Keep in mind that Benjamin was competing against calculators!

After many more tricks and jokes, Benjamin settled into a quiet moment before his finale. He told the audience that he wanted to discuss his stance on education with them. According to Benjamin, math in the US is based on two fundamentals: mathematics and algebra and at its summit, is calculus.

“If President Obama were to name me the Czar of Mathematics, the first thing I would do is replace that summit with statistics – probability and statistics,” said Benjamin. “Very few people use calculus on a daily basis. They use statistics every day to understand risk and reward, to understand trends. And it’s fun! That’s what got me interested in it, and it would get other kids interested. It teaches people how to think.

Instead of learning the Rules of Calculus, it would be better for everyone to know two standard deviations away from the mean. And, I mean it!”

Drum roll, please
For his finale, Benjamin asked five audience members for a single digit.

He intended to square a five-digit number before our very eyes: 57,083. He began by showing the audience how he breaks the problem into three parts:
• 57,000 squared
• 80 squared
• 3 squared

“Let me recap,” he said. Recapping the marker like a mischievous child, Benjamin drew a deep breath and began to solve the problem aloud.

He sounded like a livestock auctioneer as he solved the problem in less than one minute flat, racing against the calculators and stopwatches in the room: 3,258,468,889! The crowd exploded.

Benjamin’s solving tricks:
Benjamin says he’s learned some quick tricks for himself that perhaps you’ve already learned.

Say you are trying to multiply 22 times 5. In this case, he does math from left to right. (Backwards from the way we were taught, right.)
• 5 times 20 = 100
• 5 times 2 = 10
• Add the two totals
• 22 times 5 = 110
Here’s an easier one: 398 times 7
• You could multiply left to right – but it is easier to add 2 and multiply 400 times 7
• 400 times 7 = 2800
• Now, 7 times 2 = 14
• 2800 minus 14 = 2786
So how does he square in his head? Let's use the example of 37 squared
• Add 3 to make 40, and take away 3 to make 34.
• Remove the 0 in your mind and multiply 4 times 34 =136, add the 0, 1360
• Remember the 3 that still needs to be squared = 9, add it to 1360 =1369
• 37 squared = 1369
3月 252009
In hopes of adding to your SAS Global Forum experience, we've kicked off a SAS presenters series. Here, we’ve asked some of the SAS presenters five questions to learn more about what makes them tick, why they chose to present and what they hoped you would take away from the presentation. Take a look at Chris Hemedinger’s answers.

Chris Hemedinger, Senior Software Manager in SAS Research and Development

Chris, most users and SAS employees know you from your blog, The SAS Dummy, and your book, SAS for Dummies. Tell me something about you that others might not know.
My first job was with the Buffalo Courier Express as a news carrier (OK, paperboy). It was a great gig, delivering the news each morning while most people were still in bed. The job ended abruptly when the newspaper closed. I was 14 years old and laid off. I didn't miss a day of work though, because I took a "second shift" job delivering the Buffalo Evening News. Since then, I've appreciated stability in my workplace and here I am, at SAS.

How many times have you been to SAS Global Forum? What was your most memorable experience so far?
This is my 7th SAS Global Forum (née SUGI). At SUGI 29, in Montréal, a bunch of us SAS folk got stuck for an extra night when our flights were cancelled due to bad weather along the flight path. The next morning in the airport we were easy to spot. We were all wearing bright red long-sleeved conference t-shirts, the only clean clothes that we had left.

I follow your blog posts, and I follow you on Twitter, so I know that you often talk and write to our customers about SAS® Enterprise Guide®. What made you decide to write What's New in SAS Enterprise Guide 4.2?
Every year we try to present a "what's new" talk to promote the new features in our software. Our primary goal is to inform our customers, of course, but we also want them to see how we've improved the software according to their feedback, to help them to be more productive.

During your presentation, were you able to cover all of the most important highlights and information that you hoped to cover?
This major revision of SAS Enterprise Guide has been 3 years in the making, and there is no way that I could cover all of the new features in a short 50-minute talk. But we'll be on the demo floor during the conference to drill into the details that customers want to know. We also have a great support structure on support.sas.com to provide a continuous flow of information for those who need additional information or for those weren’t able to make it to the conference.

Were there unexpected user questions that will send you back to the drawing board?
As more of our customers adopt use of SAS Enterprise Guide, the expectations and requests keep growing as well. We are already hard at work on the next versions of our software, and the questions that we receive provide us with great validation (and the occasional course correction) for our product roadmap. Looking for a SAS program editor with syntax autocompletion? That's coming. Need a version of these features for use on the Web? That's underway as well. And SAS Global Forum attendees will get the first glimpse of these exciting projects.
3月 252009
SAS Global Forum is aptly named: SAS users are spread throughout the world, and many of those users are here this week. Nearly 25 percent of SAS Global Forum 2009 attendees are from outside the US.

Monday evening’s International Forum and Reception was hosted by the SAS Global Users Group Executive Board, and was attended by more than 40 users from around the globe who are either current or past SAS Users Group (SUG) leaders or were interested in establishing a SUG in their region.

The attendees were from nearby Canada and from distant locations including Brazil, Australia, France, Mexico and even Finland.

“It’s very rare for these groups to be able to get together in one place, so we wanted to provide a place where they could network, discuss best practices, and learn ideas about promoting member participation,” said board member Tony Ona.

The forum included a panel of eight guests (listed below) who spoke of best practices they’d learned and told of their users clubs and groups.

“Friends invited me to come to this reception because I’m interested in finding new ideas for the SAS Users Group in Finland (SUGIF) and giving the Finnish SAS Users more information about solving SAS related problems,” said Marja-Leena Sihvonen, President of SUGIF.

Panel speakers:
USA – Gerry Hobbs
Brazil – Carlos Andre Reis Pinheiro
Canada – Matthew Gaouette www.monsug.ca
France – Gilles Fontanini, Pascal Maurice
Mexico – Ramon Santoyo
UK – Phil Holland
SAS EMEA – Quentene Finnegan