CASCON Keynote: 20th Anniversary, Big Data and a Smarter Planet

With the morning workshop (and lunch) behind us, the first part of the afternoon is the opening keynote, starting with Judy Huber, who oversees the 5,000 people at the IBM Canada software labs, which includes the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) technology incubation lab that spawned this conference. This is the 20th year of CASCON, and some of the attendees have been here since the beginning, but there are a lot of younger faces who were barely born when CASCON started.

To recognize the achievements over the years, Joanna Ng, head of research at CAS, presented awards for the high-impact papers from the first decade of CASCON, one each for 1991 to 2000 inclusive. Many of the authors of those papers were present to receive the award. Ng also presented an award to Hausi Müller from University of Victoria for driving this review and selection process. The theme of this year’s conference is smarter technology for a smarter planet – I’ve seen that theme at all three IBM conferences that I’ve attended this year – and Ng challenged the audience to step up to making the smarter planet vision into reality. Echoing the words of Brenda Dietrich that I heard last week, she stated that it’s a great time to be in this type of research because of the exciting things that are happening, and the benefits that are accruing.

Following the awards, Rod Smith, VP of IBM emerging internet technologies and an IBM fellow, gave the keynote address. His research group, although it hasn’t been around as long as CAS, has a 15-year history of looking at emerging technology, with a current focus on “big data” analytics, mobile, and browser application environments. Since they’re not a product group, they’re able to take their ideas out to customers 12-18 months in advance of marketplace adoption to test the waters and fine-tune the products that will result from this.

They see big data analytics as a new class of application on the horizon, since they’re hearing customers ask for the ability to search, filter, remix and analyze vast quantities of data from disparate sources: something that the customers thought of as Google’s domain. Part of IBM’s BigInsights project (which I heard about a bit last week at IOD)  is BigSheets, an insight engine for enabling ad hoc discovery for business users, on a web scale. It’s like a spreadsheet view on the web, which is a metaphor easily understood by most business users. They’re using the Hadoop open source project to power all of the BigInsights projects.

It wouldn’t be a technical conference in 2010 if someone didn’t mention Twitter, and this is no exception: Smith discussed using BigSheets to analyze and visualize Twitter streams related to specific products or companies. They also used IBM Content Analytics to create the analysis model, particularly to find tweets related to mobile phones with a “buy signal” in the message. They’ve also done work on a UK web archive for the British Library, automating the web page classification and making 128 TB of data available to researchers. In fact, any organization that has a lot of data, mostly unstructured, and wants to open it up for research and analysis is a target for these sort of big data solutions. It stands to reason that the more often you can generate business insights from the massive quantity of data constantly being generated, the greater the business value.

Next up was Christian Couturier, co-chair of the conference and Director General of the Institute of Information Technology at the Canada’s National Research Council. NRC provides some of the funding to IBM Canada CAS Research, driven by the government’s digital economy strategy which includes not just improving business productivity but creating high-paying jobs within Canada. He mentioned that Canadian businesses lag behind other countries in adoption of certain technologies, and I’m biting my tongue so that I don’t repeat my questions of two years ago at IT360 where I challenged the Director General of Industry Canada on what they were doing about the excessively high price of broadband and complete lack of net neutrality in Canada.

The program co-chairs presented the award for best paper at this show, on Testing Sequence Diagram to Colored Petri Nets Transformation, and the best student paper, on Integrating MapReduce and RDBMSs; I’ll check these out in the proceedings as well as a number of other interesting looking papers, even if I don’t get to the presentations.

Oh yeah, and in addition to being a great, free conference, there’s birthday cake to celebrate 20 years!

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