Category Archives: Legal

Tucson – Western Office

We’ve finally made the move to Tucson and are getting ready to move into new office space in the next few weeks. We are still finalizing some of the corporation issues but we have made some progress. Moving a business is never easy! I thought it would be interesting to share with some of my readers what we have discovered about Tucson as a place for small business and emerging technology businesses.

First, it’s pretty well known nationally that the city of Tucson, and to some degree Pima County is not very embracing and welcoming when it comes to small business and technology businesses. There are a few exceptions to this and I want to point out two of these at the very beginning. Thryve and StartUp Tucson are very hands-on and welcoming. These folks have a plan and great ideas. They deserve a lot of support.

The reputation of Tucson for not being business friendly is well known. There are lots of folks who have left the Tucson area and migrated back east. They are quick to talk about the raw beauty of Southern Arizona as well as how terrible the business climate is in the area. Much of the blame seems to be around a very welfare centric government, higher than average union memberships, highest sales taxes and property taxes in the state of Arizona and an alarming lack of good leadership.

It’s a common refrain among the folks I have met here who have migrated to the Tucson area that you either bring your job or bring your money. The meaning behind that is the job scene here is pretty poor so you need to have a job that is portable – where you can basically work from anywhere. The bring your money part of it means you need to be wealthy enough to move here as in being a retiree because it’s slim pickings otherwise. Which has some ramifications if you are married and your spouse needs to find a job.

When was the last time you saw an advertisement in Fortune, Forbes, or Bloomberg’s Businessweek on the virtues, attractions and compelling reasons for locating your business to Southern Arizona?

Issues surrounding education are enormous here. We have discovered that the politicians and ruling elite (currently a democrat majority) and specifically referring to the Mayor, City Council and Pima County board of Supervisors are anti-education. Strange as that sounds, the facts are there.

TUSD which stands for the Tucson Unified School District is generally just awful. I have not yet met anyone who sends their child to a TUSD school. The priorities expressed are so out of whack with reality that it’s kind of entertaining. Everyone we have met here sends their children to a charter school (Basis Tucson) or to a private school. TUSD is widely viewed as being inferior at every level including curriculum, teachers, superintendent and school board. Once you earn that reputation, it’s really hard to shake it. It tends to follow you for decades.

The Tucson political elite tends not to support higher education either. Even with the University of Arizona in the city, Tucson shuns any venture supporting higher education. Grand Canyon University was very interested in building a major campus in Tucson. GCU is a private school that has a religious orientation. Building a campus in Tucson would have meant hundreds of good paying jobs at occupational levels from janitorial and maintenance to faculty positions. However, the city council torpedoed this, in large part by council member Regina Romero. It just defies any logic how this once in a life time opportunity was wasted by the (ignorant) elite running this town.

As further evidence of the anti-education mentality by the elected elite, one of the very first considerations to stave off an operating deficit at the county level was to shut down a number of library branches. What consideration was given to reducing hours on weekends or create summer hours? Instead, it was the heavy handed threat to just shut down these branches. I have to wonder if the idea is a back handed attempt to keep certain patrons from reading and learning about how bad the local government is instead of offering a high quality service.

Pima Community College is another horror story. Having just been removed from probationary status after two years with the possible loss of accreditation. Still in question is the quality of the education, the college readiness of students who enroll at PCC and the faculty in particular.

Tucson is said to have the 5th highest poverty rate in the country as reported by CBSNews. I suspect that the city elite has not recognized or correlated that education and poverty are highly related. That would be a very simple observation to make for even the most casual observer. The public school system is so badly managed they can’t even attract teachers to fill 200 open positions. Low salary and miserable conditions are often cited as reasons for so many unfilled vacancies. At least that’s what I hear when I talk to some of the local business people. TUSD has to recruit teachers from outside of the state, in part because the districts reputation is so awful.

There have been some gains made in Tucson. Comcast is opening a call center in the area will employ around 1100 people. There has also been an announcement in the last year about some warehousing and distribution jobs being created as well. Let me say, any new jobs are welcome and I have to applaud Comcast for opening a call center here, but Tucson needs jobs that are better paying than what is typically found at call centers and warehouses.

Tucson seems to move from one crisis to another. Tucson never really appears to solve a problem but instead offers to kick the problem down the road by considering additional research or offering to fund a feasibility study on a given project. Long term problem solving and positioning the area for future growth is not a strong forte demonstrated by city or county leadership.

My advice, if you are considering moving or opening a business in Southern Arizona is to do your homework. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t locate in Tucson proper (meaning the incorporated areas of Tucson). Take a look at the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Marana as your future home base. These three communities seem to have the highest quality of life, income and education attainment in the area. They also have the best elementary and high schools. There’s plenty of quality office space in these areas. If you do a lot of sales online in Arizona (hence you have Arizona sales tax) the Catalina Foothills is probably the place to be. Two other areas that deserve mention but I have not yet researched these communities are Green Valley and Sierra Vista. Depending on their tax base, educational infrastructure and distance from other communities, they may be worthy of consideration.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Some Newer Articles and Blog Posts on the SAS v WPL Legal Case

For those of you who have been following the SAS Institute v WPL legal case, there’s been some interesting commentary. The first one up is a blog article from “The IPKat” entitled “Lengthy litigation, short shrift: Court of Appeal unmoved by SAS appeal.”  The blog post basically identifies the major arguments that SAS lost and WPL won in the court case.

The second article is on Forbes and is entitled “SAS v WPL Case Shows That Software Functionality Is Not Copyrightable.” This was published on December 8, 2013. This is really a layman’s view of the copyright case and is a good read for a quick understanding of what was decided by the appeals court.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Building a BI Consulting Company

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a series of conversations regarding consulting and necessary hardware and software to run a successful consulting house. In the last year we’ve seen so many references to “big data” and many of us in the consulting field just shrug our shoulders and smirk because we’ve understood that “big data” is a lot of hype for most of us. If you want to be precise about it, the term (and what we should be concerned with) is actually “big analytics.”

As a BI consultant or consulting house, you don’t have to replicate your client’s systems or data warehouse to consult on “big analytics.” As a matter of fact, some of the most successful BI consulting going on today are with companies that have outsourced a portion of their analytics to a third party. For example, loyalty cards are a driving force in retail and many organizations have outsourced this to third party analytics firms. We also see a growing opportunity in health care for fraud detection and pricing of procedures and prescriptions.

So the question comes down to what is your consulting focus? Is it providing knowledge and programming expertise to a company and perform the consulting remotely (or even onsite) or is it more encompassing and moving in the direction where you have the client’s data on your systems and perform a daily/weekly/monthly service?

I’m inclined to argue that the more financially successful firms that are offering consulting are the ones that are taking client’s data and providing the analytics services away from the client. The rates and fees are higher than when you are on site and there is limited travel time and expense to deal with.

I often see quotes for servers that they have been solicited from Dell, IBM or HP when they are sizing hardware to run WPS. I am amazed at how reasonably an organization can purchase or lease hardware that is immensely powerful for processing data sets when running WPS. I’ve seen 16 and 32 core servers that can run dozens of WPS jobs simultaneously priced between $40K and $60K.

I’m convinced that if you have a good services offering (and a decent sales staff who can find you clients) that this is the golden age in analytics for smaller firms and firms considering jumping into this space. My observations with advertising agencies and others who offer such services bears out that the supply of talent is low and the demand is high.

Of course, hardware cost is just one factor in this line of business so in a future column we will talk about how software cost and licensing can constrain you to the point where you can’t provide any services to third parties or it can set you free and allow you to make significantly more money. Software licensing is a major component to running a profitable BI/Analytics service.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Complexity and Cost

This past weekend, my wife and I went to a lovely wedding. This was a Catholic wedding that was amazingly short but the priest had a very interesting sermon on complexity and cost. He talked about complexity in our lives and the cost both direct and indirect that we each experience. One example that he gave was smart phones and how expensive they are in terms of outright cost of service as well as the indirect cost, that being how much time we take playing and looking at the gadgets at the expense of others and relationships around us.

Hi sermon got me thinking. This is true for software and business intelligence in particular. The cost of non-open source software can be pretty high. And the reason for that? Support cost, sales cost, maintenance cost, legal costs, etc…

I often see how companies have purposely fragmented their products so that they can charge more for additional libraries modules. This has increased cost tremendously for the consumer. Our competitor is a prime example of this. They send out a local or regional sales person to chat up the prospect. Often, they can’t answer the questions the customer has because of the complexity of the product. So they send out a Sales Engineer or two who visits the prospect to answer these questions and chat them up a second time. Now we have three people in the mix who are making a 100 grand a year (at least) involved in the sale. The price of the software product has to increase to the customer because of all the people involved in the sale.

Here’s another example of added complexity. Different pricing for the same product depending on how you use it. Take companies that are B2B in nature. Firms such as actuarial firms, claims processing, advertising etc… are often labeled as data service providers because they want to use the software in a B2B capacity. Sometimes this is as innocuous as being a Contract Research Organization providing statistical analysis. The cost here comes from a different license (think lawyers), people to audit the customer and employees to enforce the license. It all adds up!

That above examples illustrate everything that is wrong with traditional ways of thinking in terms of software. At MineQuest Business Analytics, we’re proud that we are able to help keep cost down for the customer. We don’t have such draconian licensing for companies that are DSP’s. We don’t have an organization that is setup to milk and churn the customer for every last cent. What we do have is a company that is dedicated to providing the best service and software at an affordable price.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Final Judgment Dismisses SAS Claims on WPS – Finally

UK High Court hands down final judgment in SAS Institute v World Programming dispute

Well that’s the headlines in the Press Release from World Programming LTD. Judge Arnold upheld his preliminary findings on the case over copyright issues between SAS and WPS. In many, many ways, this is a landmark ruling for software companies and a huge win for the consumer.

Let’s be honest, what is important is the consumer and lower cost software is what is wanted by the vast majority of organizations that use the SAS System. We read press releases and tweets about how SAS is a great place to work, but in the end, it’s all about the customer and affordability.

In my opinion, the best part of the judgment is section 82 at the very bottom. “For the reasons given above, I dismiss all of SAS Institute’s claims except for its claim in respect of the WPS Manual. That claim succeeds to the extent indicated in my first judgment, but no further.” Italics are mine.

We get a lot of phone calls and requests for evaluations of WPS software every week. I imagine SAS has some idea of the publicity it helped generate by bringing the law suit. But I suspect that they never thought they would have a legal battle on their hands brought on by a small British outfit that is intelligent, strong willed and legally savvy. The common wisdom in Cary was probably that WPL would fold when the first law suit was filed.

Here are the important links:

Final UK High Court Judgment (25 Jan 2013)

CJEU Press Release (02 May 2012)

CJEU Judgment (02 May 2012)

Provisional UK High Court Judgment (23 July 2010)

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Another View of R and Big Data

I was reading a blog entry the other day that just blew me away. Librestats has a blog entry entitled, “R at 12,000 Cores” and it is a very good (and fun) read. It’s amazing what can be done by the open source advocates and this article is a great example of that.

After reading the article, I can’t help but think about the relationship between extremely large data, server size (both CPU’s and RAM) and how fast data is growing. There has to be a way to crunch through the amount of data that is piling up and this article addresses that issue.

I believe you will begin seeing vendors embrace R more openly, mainly because they have to embrace it. There’s not any companies that can develop code at the break neck pace that the R community is putting out packages. It’s truly amazing and cost effective to model data in the way that the above article describes the state-of-the-art.

Even small companies can make use of multiple servers with dozen of cores and lots of RAM rather inexpensively. Using Linux and R on a set of servers, an organization can have a hundred cores at their disposal for crunching data and not paying very much in licensing fees.

I have been giving some thought to making the Bridge to R run in parallel on a single server as well as across a set of servers using WPS and pdbR or Rmpi. This way, WPS would handle the management between the servers and the data transparently and provide for number crunching at very low cost. God knows we have a few extra multiple core servers laying around here so it may be an interesting adventure to give this a spin!

My first thought and intention is to make the code backward compatible. Perhaps just add a macro that can be called that contains the information needed to implement running R across cores and on a grid. It could be something as simple as:

%Rconfig(RconfigFile=xyz, RunInParallel=True||False);

The remaining statements in the Bridge to R would continue as they are and the R code would be pushed to the servers based on the information in the RconfigFile. WPS would still collect the output from these jobs and route the appropriate information to the log and listing window as well as the graphics to the graphics viewing window (wrapped in HTML) for users to view their output.

 

WPS and SAS Lawsuit – the First Findings From the High Court of London

Now that we’ve heard the courts response to SAS Institute’s charges against World Programming Limited (WPL) of improperly creating an interpreter of the language of SAS, I hope a lot of companies and language developers sit back and understand what has just happened and what was just won. It has some real world ramifications and long term issues that will impact these organizations and developers who use either of these products. Finally… there’s competition in the market for companies and other organizations that use the language of SAS.

Why did SAS decide to pursue a legal challenge to World Programming? I firmly believe it’s because they were feeling the shock of lost sales and renewals to WPL. The legal challenge was, in part, an attempt to slow down WPS sales by introducing fear and uncertainty in the market place. This worked to a degree as some companies decided to wait until the court decision was announced before deciding to go forward with a WPS purchase. To reinforce that belief, it’s also my understanding that SAS attempted to push back the trial date time-and-time again to the end of the year. That was to no avail. I also doubt the reason for delaying the case was because the legal staff at the Institute and their hired London Attorney’s were unprepared to push forward with the suit. Seriously, how can you file a suit and not have the evidence ready and at hand?

One other point I want to mention. It looks to me like SAS was caught off guard by the World Programming Press Release and SAS was frantic to issue a release of their own in an attempt to save face. When they did issue a release, they didn’t state anything in Section 332 of the Courts Findings that the court found in favor of World Programming. It’s my opinion that this was not an oversight but was disingenuous and purposefully misleading. Again, the reason could very well be to try to keep the customer community in a state of confusion.

Interestingly, in the mind of many companies and individuals, the idea that SAS decided to sue WPL was an indication that the WPS software has gotten pretty darn good. The fear that WPS was becoming more feature rich and running on all the popular platforms (Mac, Linux, SUN, SPARC, z/Linux, AIX, Windows, and z/OS) had to be a great cause of concern at the Institute. Actually, some of the calls I received from companies interested in WPS learned about the product because SAS Institute issued a press release which was published in numerous trade papers back in November of 2009.

Another question many people have asked is “Why did SAS sue WPL in the UK?” I imagine it’s because WPL has no corporate presence in the United States. Hence, they were probably forced to go to court in London. Also, I’ve heard that SAS realizes as much as 40% of its revenues from the EU. WPL being across the pond has much more branding and name awareness in the EU than in the US so that may have been another reason to go to court in the UK.

So what about the decision? First, the court’s decision is that… it is legal to create a language interpreter based on published documentation and that the WPS software is legitimate (See Section 332. Part iv).

On the assumption that Pumfrey J’s interpretation of Article 1(2) of the Software Directive was correct, WPL has not infringed SAS Institute’s copyrights in the SAS Components by producing WPS (see paragraphs 245-250 above).

Reading through the courts decision, I don’t see that there is an injunction and WPS is free to continue in selling their interpreter. The court only agreed with the SAS claim that there was copyright infringement in a single WPS manual. I noticed that manual has been taken down and I assume is being rewritten.

I’m sure there are many legal specifics around the charges, it was an interesting claim that they laid forth. I like the way a friend of mine argued how difficult it is for SAS to try to argue the charges. He stated, “Just imagine if you read a book about butterflies, and because you read that book, the author claims that you cannot write a book about butterflies.”

Companies

What is the impact? It means that there’s literally thousands of companies who have not been able to justify the cost of products put forth by SAS who will now be able to leverage the language. As a reseller, the calls I receive usually start with a description of why they are looking to move away from SAS products or have been provided a quote that was too expensive for them. These are first time licensees as well as big name Fortune 100 companies. The list of organizations that license WPS truly runs the gamut of organizations who are frustrated with the pricing and the sales practices of the Institute.

Developers

For the SAS language developer working in a corporate setting, this decision possibly means more job security for many of you. Since the cost of WPS is so reasonable compared to SAS, many smaller companies can afford to bring on the language. It also means that due to the economy, companies who are being forced to aggressively control costs have a choice now to move their processing to a WPS based solution as a way of controlling licensing cost and not terminating developers.

The good news is that you can continue to leverage your training and skill sets using WPS as it relates to your SAS experience. It also means more applications on a variety of systems can be written using WPS because the cost is typically one-fifth to one-fourth the cost of SAS on a server.

Also, it’s worth noting that WPS runs natively on Mac OS X and z/Linux. Neither of these OS platforms are currently supported by SAS. I believe SAS stopped developing for Mac back with v6.2.

Consultants

For consultants, it means a new market area to apply your trade and practice. At one time I was a SAS Quality Partner and it became obvious to me (as well as to many other QP’s) that our customers were not looking to embrace SAS products any longer but instead, were looking at ways to lower cost by either dropping certain products or moving the processing to smaller and more affordable platforms. WPS will now provide consultants with a vehicle to move their consulting in directions where their training and expertise can still be used without loss or change of rates.

Also, acquiring SAS Software as a consultant is a pricey proposition. The Institute offers numerous types of consulting relationships and the cost of such associations starts at $3,000 or so. A WPS license currently costs a consultant less than one-third that much.

Going Forward

Going forward, I see nothing but great possibilities for WPL and the WPS product. I’ve kicked around scenario’s with other consultants regarding how SAS may change their approach now that WPS is a viable, legitimate and legal market choice. Will SAS lower their prices to match WPS? We all highly doubt it. Since SAS is so focused on Vertical Market Applications, will they lose interest in the foundation products and leave that market to WPS? The only way I can see that happening is if enough customers abandon SAS on those product lines. Will World Programming start to innovate by creating their own PROCS or product lines? I can’t imagine that’s not in the cards but we’ll have to see how these hands get played out.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,