All posts by Phil Rack

Phil Rack, Owner of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC. Grand Rapids, MI USA For more than twenty five years, I've worked as a SAS Consultant, specializing in the financial industry. My motives for this blog are to inform and educate other consultants as well as clients who use SAS or WPS and how they can more effectively use technology to further their business objectives.

Consulting from a Home Office

Keywords: Consulting, Home Office

Recently, there’s been a flurry of reports and surveys about the virtues and issues of working from home. One article will state that it is the future and the time is now for more flexibility for working from home, and the next article states that companies are now pulling the plug on home workers or that home workers are not really all that happy. It’s really a mixed bag on what you read and what conclusions you can draw from these articles.

I used to have an office in an office building. That office space costs me almost $1,000 a month in rent. Add in a business phone line and business internet service and the cost was over $1,100 a month. In the years that I had that office, I think I had maybe five clients come pay a visit. All the rest of the time, I was onsite with the client or in my office working by myself. It was truly a waste of time and money for me to have an office outside of my home.

With more independent consultants working together in virtual teams, it should be obvious to even the most casual observer that worker flexibility can be the key to getting a project done on time and on budget. I’ve heard from recruiters that they cannot find talented SAS programmers to work for them. I have turned down very promising contracts myself because the work environment is just not flexible enough to meet my demands. What is even more amazing to me is that many of these companies that cannot find the “talented SAS staf” that they desire have no desire to even begin to negotiate work being done off-premises. You have to wonder if any of these project managers have heard of the term VPN or know what Webex, Gotomeeting or Persony is all about.

My prediction is that with the rise in the cost of gasoline and energy that is needed to heat and cool large offices, companies will become more interested in placing that burden on the employee instead of absorbing that cost themselves. Companies that want to attract the best talent (and keep this talent) will offer such incentives. The baby boom generation is entering the retirement age and there will soon be a dwindling pool of employees to choose from. Forward looking organizations will develop and embrace virtual employees and work hours very soon.

Links:

www.persony.com
www.webex.com

The Business of Developing Networks

Keywords: Networking, Social Networks, LinkedIn

Having been in the consulting industry for the last 20 years, I can’t help stressing the importance of a strong social and client network. I estimate that 75% of my business is repeat business and business gained from networking.

Let’s face it; we live in a small world. If you want to grow your business or even stay in business, you need to develop and maintain your network. People are wired and they are well aware of who works with them, for them, and can help them in their endeavors. So how do you develop your network?

· Stay in touch with former clients and project managers.
· Let them know if you are available for new contracts.
· Use their contacts and network to work for you by asking if they are aware of any new projects on the horizon in their group or in allied organizations.

Develop “social networks” that are conducive to the type of work you do. Join professional associations and become an active member. Create ad-hoc networks by inviting potential clients out for a drink after work or for a cup of coffee.

Finally, learn to manage your network. Put all your contacts together where you can easily review them and keep them up-to-date. Better yet, get your network to do this for you! An example of such a service is LinkedIn and it’s an easy way to manage and develop you network.

Do you want to join my network? Shoot me your e-mail address and tell me the type of consulting and programming that you do and I’ll be happy to send you an invitation to join my LinkedIn network.

Links: www.linkedin.com

SAS and Database Skills

Keywords: SAS, DB/2, SQL Server, Oracle

I’m intrigued by how many SAS programmers I meet that don’t have skills in reading and writing to relational databases. Often, these programmers are fairly young in the field and quite possibly may not have had the opportunity to pick up these skills while on the job. And that begs the question, why have they not picked up these skills on their own?

Not having skills in one of the three major databases closes off the SAS developer. Your marketability suffers tremendously and quite honestly, questions arise about your enterprise experience if you don’t have these skills.

There’s no reason not have a skill set in at least one of these databases. Each vendor, (IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle all offer express editions that you can install in your desktop or server. These express editions are free to use and you can develop the skills needed by using these versions.

SAS programmers would be well versed on how to create databases and tables, insert data, bulk load data, create and drop tables and indexes, and acquire schemas all outside of the SAS environment. From within the SAS environment, a SAS developer should be able to do all the above plus know how to code Libname connections to their database. A SAS developer should also know how to use macro variables to trouble shoot connections and view return codes from within SAS when querying a table.

Links: SQL Server IBM DB/2 Oracle SAS Institute

Persony

Keywords: Persony, Web Conferencing, Screen Sharing

In my previous post, I discussed SightSpeed and how I wish it had screen sharing or application sharing functionality. This has become even more important to me know because my service provider who I was using for web conferencing closed up shop! I had been using Coitalk and have rudely found out that they had too many network issues (and I suspect money issues) and decided to close shop.

Searching for a new service provider for web conferencing on the net, I discovered a new provider/software application called Persony. If you are interested in or have a need for inexpensive web conferencing, check out Persony at www.persony.com.

You don’t pay a monthly fee; you just buy the software and use either their web server (which is free) or your own web server. Depending on the features and number of clients needed, Persony costs $99 to $299. Over the weekend, I have been testing both setups and using my own web server, it’s just a little bit quicker.

Installation is pretty easy and took only 20 minutes for me to get it setup. The software works, but I have two problems that seem to be related. I can’t take a snapshot of the screen and upload it, nor can I upload a picture. I seem to have permission problems on my web server that is preventing me from doing that. I need to talk to tech support to resolve this issue. Screen sharing, text messaging, audio conferencing, record a conference, all work. They do have a 30 day trial so you can play with it if you want.

Links: www.persony.com

SightSpeed

Keywords: SightSpeed, Web Conferencing, Video Conferencing, Communications, Web Cameras

For the last 18 months, I’ve been using a service called SightSpeed. SightSpeed is an amazing service that allows me and my clients (as well as family) to communicate over the internet. With a good web camera and a decent internet connection, you can hold video conferences at 30 fps with speech being perfectly synced with lip movement.

There are numerous reasons that I like SightSpeed so much. The price for the service, for doing one-on-one conferencing is free. You simply have to signup for an account and download the software. If you need to web conference with more than one other person, SightSpeed offers a professional service plan that allows you to initiate multi-party conferencing. Multi-party conferencing costs $50 per year and allows a maximum of four participants (you and three others) in a single conference.

SightSpeed also allows you to send video e-mails (they are stored on a SightSpeed server) which can be 30 seconds in length for the Basic free service and up to one minute for the Professional Service plan. Your video emails are stored for 30 days on the basic plan and for the life of your subscription with the Professional plan. That’s also a nice way to post video to blogs and not have to worry about storage and bandwidth issues.

I use a Logitech QuickCam Fusion web camera that has a built in microphone so I don’t have to mess around with a headset. At other times, I use a Jabra Bluetooth ear piece/microphone that clips in to my ear and for the most part is hidden behind my ear. The Bluetooth setup is really superior in that there is absolutely no echo and I can get up and move around to the whiteboard or do other things and still keep a conference going.

SightSpeed works over or through firewalls quite well. I use Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2000 and I only had to make a single change to ISA (opened port 9000) to get it to work. On an XP Pro notebook using a D-Link UpNP router, it worked without a single change. I like that!

The quality of the web conference is dependent on three factors. The amount of light you have in your room, the speed of our broadband connection, and the quality of the camera. With a well lit room, a moderately fast connection (I have a 6 Mbps/1 Mbps cable connection) and a good web camera, you can have a very good video conferencing experience. Check out the requirements at the SightSpeed web site for more information and detailed information in plans and pricing.

What would I like to see added to SightSpeed? I would like to see application sharing (or even application viewing) and whiteboard functionality included in future releases. But even without these additional functions, SightSpeed does what it was intended to do and that is provide the best PC-to-PC video conferencing application available on the market today.

Links: www.SightSpeed.com
www.logitech.com