Monday 29 April 2013

NOTE: SGF Technology Connection #sasgf13

Now that this morning's Technology Connection plenary session is over (see it yourself at, I have a much clearer picture of the range of new developments that SAS are introducing with v9.4 across 2013 (yes, not all of the following will be available in June when v9.4 launches).

With regard to cloud, SAS supports all but two of the characteristics, service models and deployment models categorised by the National Institute of Standards and Technology ( SAS have done a lot of work to create itegration and simplification of administration in this area. The new SAS App Centra web interface offers users and administrators a single start point for their daily activities. For users, they see alerts from administrators, buttons to launch their apps, news and useful links. When launching an app, users will be grateful for the new single signon capability that SAS have incorporated.

For administrators, SAS App Central provides the ability to define alerts (down time, upgrades, etc.), manage users, and manage environments & instances. With regard to instances, we're talking about internally hosted VMs plus off-premise hosted options including the likes of Amazon and Rachspace. The ability to keep different instances in sync with each others' software versioning, etc is incorporated. SAS recently acquired Rpath ( to bolster their ability to deliver in this area.

SAS App Works provides the ability to define and deploy apps to SAS App Central. Creation of  apps with relative paths is fully supported in order to ease migration and promotion through separate environments.

In the area of business visualisation, Visual Analytics is the poster child for SAS. Now at version 6.2,  SAS are maintaining a fast pace of development, incorporating more and more statistics and analytics techniques and presentation techniques.

For decision management, SAS have the new Decision Manager which provides the ability to create and then analyse decision flows. The Business Rule Manager is also new, introduced in December 2012.

In Data Management, we saw demonsration of capabilities for creating and workflowing a data remediation queue and the management of the lifecycle of data. As with administration, the Data Management Console unifies and integrates capability (some new, some old).

Finally, high performance analytics procedures (PROC HPxxxx) will be shipped as stadard components of SAS/STAT, SAS/ETS, Enterprise Miner, etc. As their names suggest, these PROCs offer high performnce tht is calable and requires no code change as your SAS architecture chnages and introduces new capabilities that the PROCs can make use of and thereby increase performmance and reduce run times.

So, the Technology Connection offered plenty of headlines that interested me, are of relevance to my clients and that I shall be investigating further. Plus, I'll be trawling the demo and sponsor area to see what's new with 3rd party suppliers such as Futrix and Metacoda. So much to do, so little in which to do it! SAS Global Forum 2013 is looking terrific already.

NOTE: SAS Global Forum Day #1 #sasgf13

It's Monday morning at SAS Global Forum; the conference gets into gear today. Yesterday evening the 4,000 attendees in San Fancisco attended the Opening Session and heard SAS senior staff describe the key topics for the event. All were centred around the phrase: strength in numbers.

It was the first Opening Session I've seen in many years that featured so much statistical capability of SAS software. Clearly, SAS see their strength as being able to take "big data" and not just do pretty graphs and animated pie charts but to do real industrial strength statistical analysis and predictive analytics and to help their customers influence their own future rather than simple draw graphs of the past.

There wasn't a great deal of novel technical content yesterday evening but Jim Goodnight did mention that v9.4 will be available n June 2013 and its architecture is geared towards the cloud (whether it be internal virtual machines, or true off-premise hosting). And, SAS will soon be making a web-based version of Display Manager available. The whole Opening Session was broadcast live on the internet and is now available to watch at

On a personal note, I enjoyed a cycle ride with friends yesterday. We hired bikes from Blazing Saddles near Fishermans' Wharf, cycled across the Golden Gate bridge , had a fantastic lunch in Salito's in Sausalito (, and got the ferry back to Fishermans' Wharf. It was a terrific way to get to see San Francisco from may angles, and  a terrific way to overcome any jet lag!

This morning, right now, I'm enjoying the keynote session with Billy Beane (ref: Moneyball, Oakland A's baseball team) and looking forward to the following Technology Connection that will reveal technical details that will influence my clients' decisions over the next year.

Friday 26 April 2013

NOTE: Catching the SGF Agenda #sasgf13

I've never paid much attention to the SAS Global Forum (SGF) online agenda builder before. I've preferred the pen on paper approach, using the pull-out printed agenda in the conference programme. However, with the introduction of an Android version of the conference app this year, I can see the benefit of doing some planning and making life easier whilst at the conference.

So, I've just been through the whole agenda (yes, all 633 paper descriptions) and made a first cut of what I'd like to see or do. As a result I've filled my Twitter timeline with scores of tweets about my sessions choices - the agenda builder tweets every time you add a session to your agenda!

Inevitably I've double and triple booked myself, but I can iterate over my plans and make final decisions on the day. As always, there are some excellent topics and speakers. I won't be able to see all of them so I'll have to apply a degree of discipline to my choices. And I need to make sure I take time to make a good trawl of the demo area, speaking to the developers and product managers, and thereby getting information from the horses' mouths re: directions and futures for SAS products that are key to my clients.

This year I shall have a heightened interest in life sciences and clinical products, so SAS Drug Development (SDD), SAS Clinical Data Integration (CDI), and JMP Clinical are on my hit list.

So much to do, so little time in which to do it!

The good news is that I've already packed and so I'm ready to catch my flight tomorrow morning.

NOTE: In The Picture #sasgf13

While I'm packing for my trip to SAS Global Forum, I thought I'd share some San Francisco pictures with you.

There's a link at the end of this article.

They're by Trey Ratcliff, who almost shares a surname with me, and they cover a mixture of San Francisco scenes plus visits to tech companies in the region. The shot of "Alcatraz in the Dusk" (on page 3 of the San Francisco collection) is one of my favourites but I've chosen a classic view of the Golden Gate bridge to illustrate this article. Scoll down the page of Trey's shots and blog articles to see some wonderful work - including the Alcatraz shot.

They won't help you with SAS or software development, but I hope you like them.

Nice shots of London, my home city, too:

Thursday 25 April 2013

NOTE: Fast Facts From SAS Global Forum #sasgf13

SAS Global Forum (SGF) kicks off Sunday evening, but if you can't make it to the conference there are several ways to avoid missing out.

Many of the individual papers plus all of the key sessions will be streamed live to the web; this includes the opening session and the Technology Connection (where SAS R&D staff talk about what's coming in future versions of SAS - including, this year, 9.4). Details of timing and how to connect to the live streams are on the Livestream page of the SGF web site.

A small selection of presentations for individual papers have been packaged in advance on the SGF page on the Brainshark web site. I'm honoured that mine is one of them. Head on over to Brainshark to sample some of the "sights and sounds" of SGF before you even leave home. Frustratingly, my presentation is at the bottom of the list because it's ordered by date and I was first to submit my completed Brainshark package!

Finally, all papers are available in the Proceedings. You can even download them as a single zip and then peruse them offline. There's some fantastic material presented at SGF every year and the Proceedings are a great source of knowledge that remains available for years to come.

You can find my two papers in this year's Proceedings (just search for "Ratcliffe") but I hope you take the opportunity to come along next week in person and say "hi".

NOTE: Android at SAS Global Forum! #sasgf13

Who knew?! There's been an iPod app for SAS Global Forum (SGF) for the last couple of years but now there's an Android equivalent. Hurrah!

I didn't see any publicity about its availability; I just discovered it today. It's fab. I can see all the sessions; build an agenda; make contact with other conference goers; use maps of the venue (slightly cumbersone because I have to break-out to a browser and then download independant PDFs).

You can find it on the conference's mobile page (surprise!).

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Beware the Data Shadow

I wrote yesterday about democratisation of analytics and data. I believe getting information into the hands of business users is a "good thing"; accurate, timely information to influence the operational decisions they make each day. However, getting information "at any cost" is not a "good thing".

Quite often our users get their information from "data shadow" systems - groups of spreadsheets and local, customised databases. While these systems appear to provide exactly the information that business users are asking for, they are outside the purview of the IT group, and they often spawn data silos with the usual problems of inconsistency and quality.

Business groups build data shadow systems to answer the business questions that the enterprise applications, data warehouse or reports fail to answer for them. They're filling a gap in the services they receive from their IT departments. Users may not want to get the information this way, but they don't see any alternative. Worse still, as data shadow systems evolve over time, they encompass more and more information, and increasing numbers of business users come to depend on them.

Data shadow systems give business groups what they want, but most business users do not want to spend so much time creating these systems. Nor should they. They should be spending their time gaining a better understanding of their business, not wrestling with technology.

Because dealing with technology is not what business users do best, they cobble data shadow systems together without an overarching design. Each addition gets more difficult to implement and more costly to maintain. And when data management principles and disciplines aren't followed, data consistency and integrity suffer. Data shadow systems often fulfil their business's need, but they do so in a very costly manner that uses too many resources and sacrifices data quality.

My experience suggests that every company, large or small, has at least one data shadow system. Keeping the needs of business users in mind, it is possible to replace or rework these shadow systems with solutions that dovetail with a company's overall data warehousing architecture. Replacement doesn't need to be a huge effort, either. The best data warehouse projects deliver in a strictly incremental fashion, piece-by-piece.

Rebuilding data shadow systems is the right thing to do to ensure consistent, quality information for running a business.

Whilst many data shadows are created with Microsoft software, there are many created with SAS software too. Is your own system a data shadow? If so, you've got the best set of tools in your hands for rectifying the situation. Get to it!

Tuesday 23 April 2013

NOTE: Every Day's A Learning Day For Presenters #sasgf13

I recently spotted some cracking advice from Charu Shankar (SAS Education) on the SAS Users Groups blog. No matter how many times one has presented at conferences, there's always room for improvement; and the biggest influence on one's presentation is the preparation. Charu has tips for before, during and after making a presentation. The one that most caught my attention was:
The Pause – The pause is probably the most powerful technique to grab user attention and allow time for your clever tip to sink in. You don’t have to be a yogi to know the value of breath to allow the words that follow to be crystal clear and articulate.
Thanks for the tips, Charu!

Monday 22 April 2013

NOTE: Topic(s) For SAS Global Forum 2013 #sasgf13

It's been relatively easy to predict the key topics for the last few years at SAS Global Forum: big data, mobile BI, and visual analytics. These have been industry themes, and SAS have invested a lot in Visual Analytics. They continue to invest heavily in Visual Analytics and its associated technologies such as the LASR server.

So, this year, I'm expecting to see lots more of the same, with lots of references to the "democratisation of analytics". Yes, SAS will doubtless spell "democratisation" with a "z", but George Bernard Shaw did say that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

Not so long ago, making use of advanced analytics required massive investments in high-powered IT infrastructure. Obviously, that tended to limit the number of organisations that could afford to take advantage of advanced analytics software. But with the advent of massively parallel computing delivered on relatively cheap commodity hardware, the situation has changed.

The changes in hardware options and solutions have been accompanied by significant enhancements in ease-of-use and usability. There’s a bit of debate raging these days over where the centre of analytics gravity is going to be. Some contend that without enough data scientists, analytics will advance too slowly to have as much impact on the business in the near term as it should. Others argue that no matter what happens, the expertise needed to actually use these tools will always require the specialised knowledge of the business analysts. And, finally, there’s a camp that says analytics is about to become democratised in a way that puts the power of analytics in the hands of every user.

With the clean, simple interface of Visual Analytics, SAS are clearly in the latter (third) camp. In my own opinion, we need a continuum of skills and tools that accommodates the second and third camps. The experienced and skilled data analyst will develop sophisticated models, with robust measures in-place to ensure the quality of the models, and the models will be seen as offering competitive advantage; less-knowledgeable users will use their tools to understand the data better, and make simple inferences.

SAS have a range of solutions across the continuum and I look forward to seeing recent developments for all of them in San Francisco next week.

Sunday 21 April 2013

NOTE: Prepped and Ready for SAS Global Forum 2013 #sasgf13

As I write this, it's the afternoon of Sunday 21st April. In a week's time I shall be in sunny San Francisco, indulging in a cycling tour of the area with friends in anticipation of the SAS Global Forum opening mixer in the evening. I'll probably be a wee bit sleepy, having had a long day on the previous day.

I'm expecting Saturday to be an especially long day because I'll need to rise at 7am British Summer Time to catch the 12:20 Virgin Atlantic flight, and I'm planning to attend the Tweetup in the evening. But the Tweetup is at 8pm Pacific Time, and TimeAndDate tells me make that that is 4am Sunday in British Summer Time. As I said, a long day, and I may not stay long!

I didn't attend the Tweetup last year because of the long day plus the travel distance/time between my chosen hotel and the Tweetup location. This year, I have no such excuse because the Tweetup is in the same hotel as me. I look forward to meeting the organisers (Tricia Aanderud (@taanderud) from And Data, and Michelle Homes (@HomesatMetacoda) from Metacoda), plus lots of other fellow tweeters (tweeps?). It'll be an informal gathering, and non-tweeters are welcome (although, you might be under firm pressure to become a tweeter!).

Twitter is a great means of keeping up-to-date with SAS industry news and tips from some of the most knowledge people. And I'm there too: @aratcliffeuk. If you'd like to know more about Twitter and/or meet some of the most prolific SAS-related twitterers, come along and join us at 8pm Saturday (or 4am Sunday if you're from a similar time zone to me!)

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Career Thoughts - The Rise and Rise of the Statistician

As my kids have got older and have had to make decisions about which subjects to continue, and which to drop, I've paid closer attention to the general trends in some specific areas. Whilst I'm not sure that either of my kids will follow in my footsteps, I've paid attention to career changes in and around the SAS world. One of the very clear and visible trends is the increase in data-related, analytical roles.

In March this year, icrunchdata reported an increase in statistics-related jobs from 16,500 three years ago to 28,305 this year. As more and more data becomes more and more readily available for analysis, demand for the business benefits that skilled analysis of that data can offer continues to accelerate.

When it comes to analytics careers, analytic department bosses and businesses are interested in one particular, ephemeral skill: curiosity. As Greta Roberts (faculty member for the International Institute for Analytics and VP at vendor Talent Analytics) put it, finding curious and cutting-edge analytic team members means it's "important for business to move beyond being dazzled by software skills." Technical skills such as Hadoop, Hive or SQL are valuable, but it's the ability to derive information and knowledge from the data that really counts.

Analytic tools such as SAS Visual Analytics allow the analyst to increasingly focus on the analytics without the friction of dealing with the data. Jeff Hammerbacher (Founder and Chief Scientist of Cloudera, and one of the first 100 employees at Facebook) has been quoted as saying "data is the IT of our generation". In other words, in Jeff's view computing is no longer an issue or a barrier, the analyst is only limited by their own skills, knowledge and curiosity.

So, I'm encouraging my kids to follow their interests and strongest subjects, but I'm also encouraging them to make their best efforts in maths. If they subsequently read statistics at university and go on to become data analysts then maybe I could say they had followed my footsteps.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

NOTE: SAS Talks Revisited

It's been quite a while since I last mentioned the excellent SAS Talks series. In the intervening period, the archive of talks has grown enormously. The archive of talks is a veritable treasure trove of SAS knowledge.

SAS Talks is principally a series of live webinars. The next live event is Getting Started with SAS with Chris Hemedinger and Stacey Syphus (both from SAS) on Thursday April 11th. The information page tells you more about the event, and offers the ability to register for the free event.

The number of past events in the archive has grown to the point where some structure has been applied to the archive. The videos are now split into:
  • Meet the expert
  • Meet the instructor
  • Meet the author
  • Meet the customer
As you can see, the SAS Talks cover all aspects of SAS and its usage, from all perspectives.

Take a look! There's sure to be a topic that relates to your current project.