Category Archives: Research
The experiment with integrating SAP HANA into teaching and research here at Missouri S&T is paying off. Last week I observed our Business and Information Technology, BIT, students presenting their ERP Simulation projects to a team from Deloitte SAP Service Line. What caught my eye was that the students are now incorporating data from our Autism gene mapping research project, which is a university research project that my IT DBA staff are collaborating on in order to learn how to better support SAP HANA. This goes back to my original strategic decision to invest in SAP HANA to allow our researchers and students to align more closely with the desires of our corporate employers. See my blog post from last year. I elaborated on the concept of IT’s changing role as a facilitator of teaching and research in this article published in “CIO Review” last Fall. Observing our students understanding of the potential of SAP’s HANA for the Business Intelligence support for their projects is justification enough for the investment. But the excitement is now being generated by how HANA fits into our overall STEM teaching and research environment.
The Autism project was a fortunate opportunity to learn and explore the potential of HANA. Feedback from my DBA’s about how HANA is different from their traditional relational database experience is encouraging as well. What I hear is that HANA is initially daunting in it’s complexity. However, it makes the initial database layout easier because it shows you so many more possible relationships. Of course this is the Hadoop foundation based on large in-memory utilization. The HP SAP HANA appliance just packages it all into a more effective tool chest. Combine HANA with an already rich set of BI and Visualization tools, then let talented students run with it and you see the potential is endless.
Back to the Autism Project, the study is fascinating, especially to me with my bioinformatics background. The research investigators include: Drs. Tayo Obafemi-Ajayi, Bih-Ru Lea and Donald C. Wunsch. Here is a portion of their abstract:
Several studies conducted on autism gene expression analysis suggest that autism can be linked to specific genes though there are still no genetic markers that are undeniably diagnostic for idiopathic ASD. What is known is that the genetic landscape of autism is complex, with many genes possibly contributing to the broad autism phenotype. Genetic data analysis involves big data analytics. The ASD HANA in-memory database project will facilitate the goal of the ECE researchers to develop novel computational learning models for analysis of ASD genetic data. The genotype data of these ASD patients is available through the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC).
So the research is progressing and we expect significant new funding thanks to the proof of concept work already done. Chalk up a win for stimulating research. But another win is how the students have applied a portion of the data to create BI class projects. Now they see the connection to the Health Science industry. Because we now understand the potential of HANA we have also validated a research connection for the petroleum industry. This was the hope for the HANA investment, a perfect storm matching STEM savvy Business students with corporate recruiters identifying research ideas is a Win for all. This is the type of IT support flexibility needed by the emerging higher education teaching and research model of the future.
While eating lunch at my desk I opened up the webcam view of our new Nonavitra 6K Visualization Wall we built for use in the library. Three students jumped on the system and proceeded to spend 15 minutes exploring chemical bonding options starting from some periodic table application. I wouldn’t say that it was utilizing hi-res graphics but what was important is that the students were having such a great time exploring. This brings me to what I feel is one of the most important reasons for giving our students access to this visualization resource. The opportunity to explore and gain experience in working with resolution that is typically reserved for corporate showcases or expensive research facilities.
The library had an open house a few weeks ago where they introduced Nonavitra and ever since we have seen the reservation schedule for the resource fill up with student groups especially in the evening. In fact one of the first uses for the wall was the rugby club using it to scout a future opponent. But what I love is that student study groups are reserving it.
In the beginning my Research Support team started bugging me to allow them to build some sort of a visualization facility. They wanted to build an immersion visualization experience reminiscent of CAVE2 at the UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). And yes that would be fabulous but we need to walk before we run, which is why user adoption is the overriding requirement. Last year’s V4DiR focused on 3D data review and the Nonavitra Visualization Wall now allows us to put a powerful visualization resource in the hands of our faculty and students. The one condition that I set was that I would not build a visualization resource that would become relegated to providing campus visitor demos. We seem to be having success with these technology rollouts. The 3D Printer program in the library has been extremely successful. The secret to success is to put your effort into engineering the business process for making the resource available.
Reprint of IT Facilitating Teaching and Research: this article of mine that was recently published in CIO Review Magazine’s Education Edition offers my observations about how IT needs to take a more deliberate role in not just supporting academics and research but also to stimulate it. I used our example of investing in a SAP HANA Appliance and committing staff resources to support the use of it for teaching and research. This has proven to be beneficial even without the opportunity for our Business ERP students to get hands on experience or the Autism Spectrum Identification research project now using it. It has been successful by just expanding our staff expertise in this area.
Now we have a few more of our investments showing potential and all of these solutions have been developed by our student employees. We built a 8×10 ft 3×3 video wall that our students named Nonavitra that we have located in the library so that everyone can use it. Here is the Library Guide describing what it is and the procedure for access. We are seeing use range from the ERP business students presenting their SAP Dashboards, examination of gigapan photos from geology, Electromagnetic Compatibility display from ECE, students exploring NASA Eyes to the Rugby Club using it to watch a video of an upcoming opponent.
We are also looking at mounting a LiDAR camera on our new helicopter drone. Again another example where IT provides a tool that can stimulate research, but IT also owns maintenance and operator expertise that is critical for taking advantage of the drone. We have built a digital signage solution that we call MinerBytes based on the Raspberry Pi computer that is being deployed throughout campus. We are also close to finishing our production version Segway. I will save the Segway story for another post, but again another project which provides incredible experience for students that just might translate into something that can benefit our university.
My RTD review post as promised is mostly to confirm how satisfied we were with the success of the conference. Attendance doubled from the previous year, the Keynote presentations were right on, the sessions were valuable and well attended and the Fireworks were more spectacular. This is not your normal Research and Technology Development Conference because Missouri University of Science and Technology is not your normal research campus. The difference focuses around S&T’s need and desire to collaborate with regional research universities. Missouri S&T confirms this focus by going above and beyond to throw not only a rich professional conference but also an extremely enjoyable experience. All this comes at the expense of S&T staff and partners working hard, but driven by the rewards.
Wesley Chun, from Google and author of the “Core Python” Series of books kicked off with a Keynote presentation that helped everyone understand the value of embracing new technology even if it might be disruptive. Mark Suskin, PhD, from the NSF Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure followed up with a reflective look at our traditional public research funding model and asked us to offer new ideas for what that model might look like.
The three pillars of Computational Science, Additive Manufacturing and Large Scale Visualization provided very distinct and engaging conference content areas. Many new professional connections were established for those seeking information about these pillars.
The talk of the conference again will be the Monday Night Social Event. Anytime you offer some of the finest BBQ in the region along with a selection of local beverages and the finest Pie in the land you have a winner. Follow that with a custom fireworks show put on by your own Explosives Engineering department and end it with a high energy rock band and you greatly improve the technical conference experience. Yes it was a great time, Thank You to all who were involved.
Checkout the Time-lapse of setting up the Video Wall
The blog post by Ian Cox about his new book “Disrupt IT” motivated me to offer some reflection on the type of IT Disruption that I have needed to employ for my slice of Higher Education. I have not read his book but I can tell that I would agree with his premise that IT has become the change agent. It is easy to connect technology to why change has accelerated in recent years. But change is not accelerating in Higher Education. Be clear, we do not need to change because of technology, but it is technology that has highlighted the need for change. And that is where IT may be the perfect change agent for Higher Education.
Higher Education is still avoiding the real technology elephant in the room, the “Internet”. We deal with a whirlwind of questions about how students learn and why does college cost so much and why isn’t it about students getting jobs. Maybe we should use more technology in the classroom or software to manage our student success. But it does just come back to the fact that Higher Education no longer controls the data which is converted into information which can become knowledge for anyone motivated enough to absorb it.
OK, back to disruption. I came to Missouri S&T because I wanted to make a difference in Higher Education for the STEM segment that I feel is critical for our future. I do believe IT needs to be the change agent and doing so at such a technology dominant university is the perfect challenge. Yes, I inherited an IT service model that was catering to our traditional decades old higher education culture. And Missouri S&T is facing the same challenges stressing many public research universities in the US. Challenges of serving increased enrollment with an aging infrastructure using an outdated business model. How can IT help?
First you have to change the culture of your IT staff while also laying the groundwork to change the university’s relationship to IT. This is all done by building trust. IT staff that are working in the traditional control service model may be reluctant to breakout of that comfort zone. IT staff love to be needed and that old model offered that, but what about innovation? IT staff should be the innovation leaders or at least they should want to be. I believe that path to a successful IT culture change has to build from IT being innovative and gaining pride from how that innovation can impact the university. And the key to unlocking that innovative spirit in your IT staff is to show them that you mean it. Invest in their ideas or at least let them own your ideas. And above all, assure them that it is OK to fail.
Gaining trust from your university is more tricky since some of your customers are very content with the old IT support model which may still support their outdated business model. However, the important customers are the faculty. The reality for them is that their job has only gotten more difficult to perform. Teaching loads have not decreased and research funding is more and more scarce. IT offering support for teaching load tends to point toward the utilization of technology and exploring online delivery. But IT does not need to push any of that, IT just needs to offer assistance in utilizing it. IT does not need to push online learning to secure their value in EdTech support. They just need to offer support, faculty need the help, leave the politics of course delivery to the Provost. And IT support for research needs to come again as the assistance model. A researcher used to get a grant that outfitted their lab with technology that was managed by a grad student and had enough fluff to allow some breathing room. Today it seems like more time is spent submitting grant proposals then actually fulfilling the research of the successful grants. IT has to find a way to be a trusted partner so that researchers can sell that support to win their grants. This is a budget dance, but IT has to find a way to free up researchers to actually do research.
When IT appears to be achieving positive repositioning, some strategic disruption can put it all together. IT departmental reorganization will inevitably be needed, but turn it into an opportunity. Gain some visibility for IT on campus by offering support to a much needed service. That might be a service to students it might be supporting another service provider like the library. Don’t lead with a software service disruption, that will come later and will probably be IT’s greatest contribution, but total trust is needed for that.
A benefit that I thoroughly enjoy from being the CIO at Missouri University of Science and Technology is the opportunity to promote, support and participate in research activities. The capstone event that represents IT’s involvement with research is our “Research Technology Day”, RTD, that takes place next week, September 9-10. Pulling off a significant conference such as this is a tremendous amount of work but we must persevere because what good is research if we don’t share it with others.
This year’s RTD takes on additional value for me because it is my first opportunity to place my mark on our research support goals. But it also allows me and my research support team to gauge where our state university system wants us to be and where our neighbors and peers are at. My impressions and observations so far:
It is easy to generate interest in a research conference with your peer IT support colleagues. It is difficult to generate interest within in your own research community. However, that is just a communications problem, once you breakthrough there is plenty of interest. Then it becomes a race to keep up with the demand and pull it off. This year’s RTD will be great; awesome speakers, interesting research topics, good food and real “Fireworks”. But it will also be important for aligning the future of our institution’s research strategy with the changing landscape of today’s higher education research environment. The overall motivator – this along with teaching is the major reason why we exist.
Update: Opening night of the Conference was great. I don’t think I have ever seen a better fireworks display. Way cool being showered overhead with such a show in the middle of campus. The S&T Pyro team offers us a unique skill set. Here is a video of the Display