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Community contributions lead to SAS Visual Analytics book and SAS Global Forum paper

by Community Manager ‎02-13-2017 03:47 PM - edited ‎02-15-2017 09:57 AM (1,756 Views)

When I read the LinkedIn article, Already dreaming of SAS Global Forum 2017? I am!, by Zencos Data Visualization Practice Director Tricia Aanderud, I had to smile. The topic of the last session listed is a community manager’s dream come true: Tricia and team dissected SAS Communities posts and cross-reviewed ideas with community members to write a book of SAS Visual Analytics tips and tricks called, Introduction to SAS Visual Analytics.


As a quintessential example of what a true community can accomplish, I was dying to ask her how she did it. Here she gives us the scoop, explaining how community members “pressed the team to explain basics” and “reminded [her] that Australia and Europe also exist.” Caution: more smiles ahead.


Me: Tell me a little about yourself, and the SAS Visual Analytics book.


Tricia: Many in the SAS Community might be familiar with me from my blog BI Notes or one of my books about SAS BI or SAS stored processes. One of my favorite things to talk about is communicating information effectively. When I first starting writing my BI-Notes blog, I was only providing usage tips. As I continued I noticed that many people provided techniques for using SAS tools but almost no one talked about effective graphics! I’ve had a long-term interest in using data visualization and layout techniques to communicate information effectively, so I wanted to share my knowledge.


Many people start using SAS Visual Analytics but don’t understand data visualization principles. Thus we get useless reports and analysis. With even a little education – you can turn boring into effective and drab into dynamic.

As I started thinking about writing this book, I didn’t just want the user documentation reprinted with vague examples – it had to be more. I approached my co-authors, Ryan Kumpfmiller and Rob Collum, about the project. My idea for the Introduction to SAS Visual Analytics book was to provide a common sense guide for using SAS Visual Analytics with some guidance from data visualization experts and some information for administrators.


What gave you the idea to write it? Did you wake up one day and know it was in your future or did the project build up over time?


It was important to all of us that the book have value. Since I have been working with the product for several years I was already aware of some areas where users get stuck – but I was sure there were more. SAS Communities provided an excellent resource. Of course I had to apply some data analytics – which posts had the most views and most comments. I used that as the basis for deciding which questions were more important or perplexing.  Then I looked for themes in the posts.  Ryan and I worked through the data to determine where in the book we would try to incorporate explanations and examples. It makes more sense to present a resolution to an issue when you know how and why users have actually faced the issue.


After I finished writing most of the chapters last summer, I contacted Chris Hemedinger for any additional data he might have from the SAS Communities. We wanted to do one last pass-through to make sure we had the most-discussed topics. From his data, I applied the SAS Visual Analytics word cloud object and received a very Zen message – as you can see below.  So – then we meditated and wrote our final topics. Smiley Happy


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Any shout-outs to specific SAS Communities members whose questions let you to illustrate concepts?


So many people contributed to the answers and provided great input that I worry I would leave someone out by highlighting specific people. What is true is that it is a community and all of us together worked on it – some by asking questions and some by answering.


Two technical reviewers for the book were selected based on their roles in the community: Michelle Homes and Peter Wijers.  They provide excellent feedback to users and to us during the review cycles. I noticed the SAS team was also active in answering questions, which is a benefit to all.


You are an avid blogger. What insight did you gain from your BI Notes readers that contributed to the book?


I love when readers of my blog contact me with ideas. There were a few posts about how to do infographics or get an infographics look. One awesome idea that included in the book came from this blog post:  SAS Visual Analytics: Design versus Reality. It’s so brilliant in its simplicity that I literally smacked my own face. “Of course that’s how you can create a single value that you can manipulate – use a pie chart!“  This example was included in the book!


What other sources (online or other) helped you come up with the VA tricks?


The entire SAS team has been great. Probably none of this book would have been possible without Rick Styll cajoling and cheering me on!


Also I cannot thank Ted Stolarczyk enough. He had some ideas of topics that were sticking points, such as working with aggregated measures. Many times he said – just use what I wrote! While I didn’t want to steal it – I did appreciate his thinking on calculations versus aggregated measures, and I was able to reproduce it. Plus he really pressed the team to explain basics! As a long time user, even I forget that how to build a custom geographic data item based on latitude and longitude may not be obvious to everyone.


And speaking of geography - it was helpful to have an international viewpoint – Michelle Homes reminded me that Australia and Europe also exist.  I recreated some examples in the geospatial chapter to include those areas instead of making it so US-focused.  


Can you give just a hint of a common question or two you found from the SAS Communities to include in the book?


There is an entire chapter in the book that goes through each data object and explains how to use that object. For each object we tried to include one or two tips based on SAS Community questions. It ranged from how to use aggregations effectively to tricks for working with treemaps. This blog post about line charts 3 Tips for Making Your Line Charts KISSable is a good example. While many users aren’t really that confused about line charts, it may not be immediately obvious how to deal with missing date values (SAS Visual Analytics: Dealing with Missing Dates).  Other tips were about working with bubble plots such as you’ll read in this post SAS Visual Analytics: Bubble Plots for Less Toil and Trouble.


Join us at SAS Global Forum where we go through the tips and tricks in our session, SAS® Visual Analytics Tricks We Learned from Reading Hundreds of SAS® Community Posts. We will be giving some free copies of the book to some lucky attendees.


And hopefully SAS Communities will be there with some swag. Smiley Happy

Sounds great, Tricia, can’t wait to see the presentation. As for the swag, members will have to stop by our booth to claim goodies…after they’ve done a little something on the community. Hope to see many of you there!

by Trusted Advisor
on ‎02-13-2017 06:54 PM

Looking forward to their SAS Visual Analytics SASGF presentations and reading the final version of the book. Resource rich information for SAS Visual Analytics users!