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4/3/2006
08:42 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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SAS Institute: It Used To Be Technology That Rocked

When the 30th SAS Institute user group convened in San Francisco on March 26, I hadn't attended a SUGI (SAS User Group International) gathering for over a decade. So let's say the high production values of its opening session--the big-time, high-fidelity sound system, slick video effects, and theatrically staged customer awards--were a shock.

When the 30th SAS Institute user group convened in San Francisco on March 26, I hadn't attended a SUGI (SAS User Group International) gathering for over a decade. So let's say the high production values of its opening session--the big-time, high-fidelity sound system, slick video effects, and theatrically staged customer awards--were a shock.Wasn't this SUGI, where statistical analysts show their love of numbers, their desire for computing power, and their need for more powerful software? And didn't they dislike commercial messages?

When the aging Mickey Thomas, former lead singer for Starship, leaped onto the stage, flouncing his long brown curls as he sang, "We Built This City On Rock And Roll," I almost got up to check the marquis out front. Had I wandered into a rock and roll revival or some other theatre production by mistake? No, it really was SUGI, but is this what technology conference goers expect when they travel across the country? Many of them are coming to find their peers, listen to leading practitioners of their trade, and get a fix on where SAS Institute is headed. There were marketing hints of what SAS was up to next on the stage that night, but not much time was spent on real answers.

I was wondering out loud about these issues with an admitted member of the old guard, Andrew Karp, an 11th-consecutive-year SUGI presenter and consultant for Sierra Information Services Inc. in Sonoma, Calif. (His session was "Getting into the PICTURE format.") He said this year's opening session wasn't as commercial-laden as some he had seen--mainly because it wasn't as long.

The SUGI conference has a lot in common now with other big technology shows, such as Microsoft's Visual Live, Sun's JavaOne, or Oracle's OracleWorld, all extended commercial-laden productions for their sponsors. Karp said he was concerned with the name change announced at the start of the opening session. The show will be renamed from SUGI to the SAS International Forum. Karp said he was concerned it heralded a turn toward SUGI becoming "more of a marketing event, less of a technology one."

It seems like too much, paying for the software, paying to attend a user group, and then being subjected to staged, commercial messages. It's something like going to see a movie and being blitzed with commercials before it starts. Isn't that what you were trying to avoid when you paid $9.50 at the door?

SUGI ... er, SAS International Forum users, what do you think?

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