Michael Davis is an Analytics Manager with Health Market Science Inc. Prior to joining HMS, he worked for Aetna Inc., Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, the Connecticut Hospital Association, and as an independent consultant. Davis has been a SAS® user since 1985 and has specialized in developing decision-support, Web-enabled applications and data warehousing systems. He has frequently presented papers at SAS Users Group International/SAS Global Forum, NESUG and local SAS users groups. He holds a master's in health administration from Duke University.
How long have you been using SAS®?
What SAS products have you used in the past? What products and solutions are you currently using?
Besides using the basic products [Base SAS, SAS/STAT®, SAS/GRAPH® and SAS/ACCESS®], I have used SAS/AF®, SAS® Enterprise Guide®, SAS/IntrNet®, SAS Learning Edition, SAS OLAP Server, SAS/QC®, SAS/SHARE®, SAS Warehouse Administrator (now SAS Enterprise Data Integration Server), and SAS® Scalable Performance Data Server®. Currently I'm using the basic SAS products with Oracle. A few years ago, I convinced my employer to license SAS Visual Data Discovery for Linux, which includes JMP® software.
What is a problem you have solved using SAS?
I was motivated to become a consultant because as chairperson of the local SAS users group, I was hard-pressed to supply the names of reliable local SAS consultants. As a consultant, I quickly realized that not everyone was comfortable writing SAS programs, but they still needed to tap the power of SAS software. I started creating GUI-style applications using SAS/AF. With the emergence of the Web, I switched over to creating applications based upon SAS/IntrNet.
I frequently created GUI applications to automate the application of SAS software for recurring complex analysis tasks. My favorite example was the creation of an application for a large international financial services firm to automatically code and submit mainframe batch jobs to extract and merge raw data for modeling. The application, Data Builder, had several useful features. The niftiest feature was the ability to know which tape cartridges contained the data for the accounts being analyzed. The application pre-dated online database systems. A monthly claims data set spanned dozens of cartridges. The Data Builder application would consult a prebuilt index to load and read only the handful of cartridges needed, greatly reducing execution time.
What is the most innovative way you have used SAS?
Before I became a consultant, I started using SAS at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut [now part of Anthem Blue Cross]. We had changed the method of reimbursement to clinical laboratories to make payment for bundles of tests [profiles], but the clinical labs billed us for the individual tests. Our IT department could not quickly adapt our claims processing system to bundle the tests in order to make the correct lower payment to the clinical laboratories. The difference would have to be identified during post-payment audit.
My solution to determining the correct payments was an elegant adaption of the FORMAT procedure. Using only two macros, I would either count a list of applicable tests or test whether all tests in a list comprising a profile were present. Unlike the "spaghetti code" solutions previously considered, my solution was table-driven and could be easily updated.
What is your most memorable SAS moment?
When I was working with SAS Scalable Performance Data Server at a pharmaceutical client, we kept on encountering SAS catalog corruption. The SAS developers were certain the problem was the file server at the client's end. I wrote an SCL program that could be run in Cary, NC, to replicate the problem on SAS' computers. Lo and behold, my program demonstrated that the problem was a software defect. In fairness, we were using the software in an unusual way. Still, it reinforced the lesson I often have to relearn – that software will often be used in ways you never anticipated. Programs must check for the unexpected.
How has SAS changed in the time you have been using it?
When I started using SAS in 1985, the biggest challenge was coming up with computer hardware that SAS needed to run. Now computers are relatively inexpensive and much more powerful. Disk space is usually plentiful. On the other hand, salaries are higher and the supply of trained professionals is often scarce. So preserving precious staff time required to accomplish tasks is the paramount challenge. That's why point-and-click interfaces that make SAS software accessible to a wider audience are gaining in popularity.
Have you ever attended a SAS users group meeting or SAS Global Forum? If yes, please list them.
I started attending local SAS users groups, such as the Hartford Area SAS Users Group, shortly after I started using SAS. I have made presentations to nearly every local SAS group along the East Coast, from Maine to Washington, DC. I attended the first NorthEast SAS Users Group conference at Pace University in New York City and have attended most NESUG conferences since them.
I started attending SAS Users Group International (now SAS Global Forum) in 1990 and went nearly every year until recently. I enjoyed serving as a section chair and may offer to do that again in the future. One of my motivations to contribute my submission to the Circle of Excellence is to reconnect with my SAS friends from years past.
Has your work with SAS been influenced by any other members of the SAS community?
I am constantly learning things from other SAS users. It is important to take the time to leave your office and visit with SAS users from other companies. If you don't, your growth in understanding and exploiting SAS software will be limited by how your company is currently using SAS software. Without the support of my SAS colleagues back in 1994, I would have not had the courage to become a consultant. I have many SAS friends around the country (and elsewhere) with whom I have worked or associated with during users group meetings for the last 27 years. SAS evolves, but your SAS colleagues remain your bedrock. The friendship of people you meet at users group meetings and conferences is one of the best reasons to use SAS software!
If you could point a new SAS user to one resource, what would it be?
First, the SAS support website is a treasure. Since access to SAS Tech Support is not restricted, SAS has a strong economic interest in making support.sas.com more helpful and accessible. The SAS-L newsgroup and sasCommunity.org Wiki complement support.sas.com nicely.