FITIS Tech Forum 2015: Big Data

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The Big Data Tech Forum 2015, held at the Kingsbury on the 28th of April, was more or less a giant conference on big data – including its evolution, challenges and opportunities and its impact on business intelligence.

The event boasted a number of distinguished speakers in the tech industry and as with any event, this event kicked off with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp and the singing of the national anthem. Abbas Kamrudeen, President, FITIS Software Chapter, addressed the audience with his welcome speech, paving the stage for Muhunthan Canagey to deliver the keynote.

According to Muhunthan, ICTA is on the verge of initiating a big data project. Their first step is to have a collection of data from various sources: the free Wi-Fi initiative is one such step, which he says, will be used to analyze data such as how many people used public transport. Based on that, they can make various assumptions. (We’re not entirely certain how you correlate the number of people using WiFi at the train station to the number of people getting on a train: this part was not explained). He also pledged to have more data sets up and running at data.gov.lk, the government Open Data portal.

The audience is then invited for a small tea break whilst the presenters get ready for the ‘big’ event.

The first speaker for the day was Venugopal Krishna, an IT consultant from India, speaking about tools and development platforms of big data.

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He started off by giving a definition of big data

Data sets whose size is beyond the ability of commonly used software to capture, manage and process within a tolerable elapsed time.

He also explained about the various big data analytics use cases and technologies and tools used for big data such as Hadoop, Spark, Apache Storm and Kafka, all of which are open source. The audience is a mixture of glazed looks and frantic scribbling on notepads. More technical terms are tossed at the audience especially with regard to batch processing and stream data processing.

He also gave what we consider the standard talk about cloud computing – how it works, the advantages and a brief introduction to Amazon Web Services, arguably one of the best commercially available cloud platforms available right now.

The next speaker for the day was Dinesh Priyankara, senior architect specialist, Virtusa, talking about the impact of big data on business intelligence. Dinesh gave a brief history of BI, from when IBM researcher Hans Peter Luhn coined the term (in 1958). He carried out a comparison between traditional BI vs. Modern BI with Big Data; unnecessary data was previously discarded, but with modern BI, 100% of data could be processed via Hadoop implementations, and then the required data could be cherry-picked and stored in the warehouse for analysis.

He also gave the audience some insight into Microsoft’s Azure services – especially HDInsight, a cloud-based implementation of Hadoop for those who really need it, yet lack the financial resources to afford it. It is also available as a Windows Azure service. Dinesh’s session brought an end to the first half of the event and the audience was invited to take part in lunch.

The second stage of the event started off with Prinshu Varma, another IT consultant from India, talking about the evolution of big data, seizing opportunities and preserving values of big data.

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Next up was an interesting session; a panel discussion. The panel consisted of:

  • Rohan Jayaweera – COO, Microimage Mobile Media
  • Tariq Marikar – Director, Etel
  • Fayaz Hudah – Program Head, ICTA
  • Wellington Perera – DPE Director, Microsoft Sri Lanka

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Rohan speaks briefly and asks a number of questions from the panel. Among them, he asks Dr. Tariq about his definition of big data. He responds by comparing the human brain and its parallel processing power and how data replication is processed.

Next to meet Rohan’s gaze was Fayaz of ICTA, who was asked the connection between big data and ICTA. Fayaz jokingly said that around 80% of the audience was sent by the HR department rather than actually being interested in learning what big data is about. The audience gave an appreciatory chuckle and the mood in the room somewhat lightened. Fayaz went on to stress the importance of correctly using big data to analyze market trends and that businesses need it to make accurate business decisions. With the proliferation of cheaper processing and cost effective tools, markets like Sri Lanka can seize these opportunities to build themselves.

A controversial question was asked with regard to whether or not mobile tracking of customers is ethical or not. It was followed up by another question with regard to the government collecting data for the Open Data project and if whether it is an invasion of privacy. There were concerns that the relevant laws should be put in place in parallel to the collection of data. The next point of debate was the correlation between IoT and big data.

The last session for the day was by Shanta Yapa, Vice President of the Epic Technology Group speaking on “Big Data: socio-economic perspectives”. As most of the content was covered by previous speakers, Shanta glosses over the theory and jumps right into where big data can be used. Big data he said, can be used in areas of resource allocation, demand/supply management, waste control, productivity and others, pointing out key social issues such as road accidents, waste in agriculture, corruption, disaster management, all of which are issues that big data can have the answers to.

Once in 3 hours, someone is killed due to a road accident in Sri Lanka. It is also the number one cause of death.

It was more or less half an hour of the problems in Sri Lanka, and how big data can help solve them: he urged the audience to take note of the social issues listed here and look at them as a means of creating new opportunities for the future.

With that, the sessions came to an end and the speakers were awarded tokens of appreciation. Wellington Perera was invited back on stage to deliver the vote of thanks. He thanked ICTA, Microsoft and FITIS for their hard work and support. Last but not least, he thanked the members of the audience for their contributions and presence; having logged that, the even was done and dusted.

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