“At SAS, our vision is ‘To transform a world of data into a world of intelligence,’” says Matt Scicchitano, Manager of the Certification Program at SAS. “The focus of our certification program is to educate and support the current and next generation of SAS users who are helping bring our vision to fruition.”
SAS, a best-in-class leader in analytics, was born out of academia in 1976 by visionary Jim Goodnight and three other faculty members at North Carolina State University. SAS continues to place a huge emphasis on education while simultaneously expanding to serve a global audience of small to large enterprise clients across all industries who are using the platform to transform the world in intelligent ways. In turn, the SAS® Certification Program serves a diversified global audience of academicians, students, data scientists, programmers and partners seeking careers in analytics. The program offers approximately 26 exams and provides solid learning and certification opportunities that help empower and prepare candidates for success in their field.
True to the SAS mission – “To empower and inspire with the most trusted analytics” – the certification team takes pride in strategically managing their program based on trusted certification data and analytics. In 2017, the team noticed some integrity issues with the certification program data stored and processed in a third-party system. In addition, candidate registration included an open-ended, free responses field in which to enter the candidate’s affiliation (e.g., employer, educational institution, partner status). This resulted in a jumble of data that was sometimes difficult to categorize. Due to trust issues with data and respective analytics coupled with the difficulty of utilizing affiliation data, the team began to evaluate how best to mitigate the situation.
Resolving Pain Points
“We were experiencing pain points with our previous credential management solution,” explained Scicchitano. “There were frequent incidents of delayed data where we had the score report for a candidate but no test data. The interface needed work and the jumbled/open-ended candidate affiliation data was causing angst. Unfortunately, our provider didn’t have plans to update the tool.”
“Our team brainstormed alternative solutions. Because I had experience using CertMetrics, Alpine’s credential management offering, to manage a program at a previous company, I saw it as a viable solution. To me, it represented the future of credential management in the industry, and I suggested we make our investment there.”
After a thorough evaluation of all potential options, the SAS team came to consensus to switch to CertMetrics, which they implemented in 2018.
“It was a relief to have the missing data issue resolved,” Scicchitano said. “Another immediate benefit was Single Sign On (SSO). Previously, candidates had to log into five or more different systems, but they now have the ability to get from point A to B through the CertMetrics portal. SSO has also been beneficial from a security standpoint, as it provides additional validation of the individuals accessing the system.
“Other benefits include a solid candidate management system that is seamless for our candidates, improved interface, and the ability to impersonate a candidate, which helps us see the candidate profile when investigating and addressing customer inquiries. We also appreciate the trusted advisor partnership and flexibility with Alpine and the proactivity of the Technical Solutions team. If there is ever a planned or unplanned outage or issue, we can count on proactive updates. That is really vital when running a global program.”
Refining Processes with Accurate Affiliation Data
According to Scicchitano, “It’s important for us to have a precise understanding of our diverse and global SAS certification audience so that we can serve them better and also develop effective marketing strategies.”
The case scenarios below provide a brief overview of the SAS academic and partner audiences.
Academic Audience Case Scenario:
The foothold SAS has in academia is helping them work toward achieving their goal of developing the next generation of analytics users. They have joint partnerships with more than 200 colleges and universities across the US and 350 universities globally. Students receive test vouchers at a 50% discount and that helps increase the number of early-career learners that are SAS certified. According to Scicchitano, “There are questions we, as a certification team, were contemplating that could only be answered with trusted data. For example: How many vouchers have been used? How many students are getting certified each year? Is this exam targeted at the right people? Which universities should we be working with? Which universities might be having issues with a particular exam? Is it the entire exam that has an issue or a certain section?”
SAS Partner Program Case Scenario:
SAS has a partner organization that is responsible for training partners, resellers, and consultants. They provide an extensive set of competencies that individuals from partner organizations can take to prove their competency in pre-sales, deployment, etc. This three-tier program framework allows partners to attain silver, gold, or platinum levels, depending on the level of requirements they fulfill. They can also receive test vouchers at a 50% discount, which helps promote their program. “Our partner organization was asking these types of questions that could only be answered with trusted data,” said Scicchitano. “How many vouchers have been used? How many people do you have at a particular company? We’re not seeing record of person ‘X’ on our list – why aren’t they on the list?”
These scenarios provide a brief glimpse of the data integrity issues SAS was navigating and the types of questions SAS needed to answer. Fortunately, Scicchitano knew the remedy was around the corner. SAS had opted to include the Affiliation Module in tandem with the overall CertMetrics implementation, and it has helped solve the issues they used to have with affiliation data.
By design, the Affiliation Module allows SAS to implement customized drop-down lists in place of the open-ended response method used previously. Candidates can now simply choose the appropriate value(s) from respective drop-down lists, which aids in the collection of standardized or normalized data. The drop-down lists can be easily updated and maintained as needed when program changes occur.
“Reporting is absolutely critical for us, and we value the clean and efficient report interface that allows us to run accurate, timely, and robust reports. The Affiliation Module has solved our affiliation data integrity issues and has helped round out our reporting solution,” said Scicchitano.
“We realize affiliations are self-reported and it is up to candidates to be forthright, but having the standardized/normalized affiliation data gives us significantly more confidence than we had before. It has opened a new realm of discovery that is helping us make strategic decisions for our program,” explained Scicchitano.
SAS was using voucher redemption stats and deductive reasoning (in a sense) to try and estimate what portion of their overall audience was academic. “Prior to 2018, we estimated our academic audience was in the 35 to 45 percent range. After implementing CertMetrics and the Affiliation Module, we were able to start tracking university activity. We discovered it is closer to 60% and we can report that confidently and take appropriate action.” stated Scicchitano.
Scicchitano and team now had more insights to help them determine where to focus growth efforts. Reports help SAS evaluate training and exams ongoing to ensure they are at the correct level and are meeting the needs of the company’s target audiences.
SAS continues to explore creative ways to leverage their data to promote learning and certifications. They are currently running some experiments with baseline and control groups. The goal is to drive volume in the academic market using an internal data analytics tool in combination with CertMetrics daily exports.
“We have a tool that candidates can use to request a discounted voucher that’s good for a year,” said Scicchitano. “We’re encouraging early use and provide three different messages that are invoked based on touchpoints. We are trying to see which of these messages will actually move the needle and get folks to take action. This is just one of several data-driven marketing experiments we are running and that we feel confident about due to what we have learned from the Affiliation Module data.”
With trusted data in hand and a highly respected certification program, the SAS Certification team is indeed helping fulfill the SAS vision “To transform a world of data into a world of intelligence” as they provide outstanding learning and certification opportunities for current and next-generation SAS users.
For more information on the CertMetrics Affiliation Module, click here.