Open And On Trend: BioTeam Panel Returns, Evolves For #BioIT18

May 25, 2018

By Joe Stanganelli

May 25, 2018 | This year's Bio-IT World Conference & Expo again wrapped up with a BioTeam panel session (see Bio-IT World's coverage on last year's BioTeam panel here)—again featuring BioTeam co-founder Chris Dagdigian as a panelist, and BioTeam alumnus and independent consultant Chris Dwan as a moderator. This time, however, it was dubbed a "Town Hall." Featuring neither slides nor individual presentations, presenters stuck to a panel format from beginning to end—with added town-hall-style discussion among audience members. Yet further in the interests of opening up the insight-sharing beyond BioTeam, the panel was expanded to include a non-BioTeam employee—Tanya Cashorali, co-founder and CEO of TCB Analytics.

"Last year, everybody on the panel was either BioTeam[-employed] or BioTeam-affiliated—and that's still weird," said Dwan. "[We want] a series of semi-curated conversations."

Below are just a few broad strokes of the observations and advice on bio-IT trends: 


On Science vs. IT:

Despite prejudices and cultural misgivings against IT among the profession (panelists vocally self-included), Kristen Cleveland, BioTeam's Director of Operations, urged hashing things out with IT early on in the development of a research system—rather than face more untenable conflicts combined with platform usability issues down the line.

"We knock on IT's door saying we need help, we need compute, we need storage, we need the whole nine yards," said Cleveland. "But we don't invite the IT quality people to the table.

Cleveland reported taking this one-step further: inviting IT leadership into the laboratory. It was powerful, explained Cleveland, for IT leaders who had never actually seen an NGS machine in person before to see and touch one, and to hear a particular scientist explain the real-world problems he had to face with technology.

"Bringing human beings into the lab, actually allowing them to get exposure… [allows for] grand storytelling that has to happen," said Cleveland. "Having that storytelling is key."

"We talk about training, but there's also cross-training," added Adam Kraut, BioTeam's Director of Infrastructure and Cloud Architecture, as he emphasized the mutual benefits of cross-functionalities among teams and individuals. "Just trying something out that you've never done has tremendous benefits to what you work on primarily."


On Distributed Ledgers:

The most popular question on attendees’ minds: "What trends are embarrassingly overhyped this year?"

The first words out of Dagdigian's mouth in response: "The worst one: blockchain is the—"

He was cut off by raucous laughter and applause by his appreciatively hype-sickened audience.

"It's the clown car of our world at this point. We know how to make slow and highly latent databases; we've solved that problem," continued Dagdigian, to more laughter. "It's being driven by a bunch of grifters who want to profit off of magical math tokens."

Dagdigian did allow that there "might be legit" blockchain companies and use cases out there in the industry (an area Bio-IT World has covered before)—but said that the legitimacy is bogged down by hype-heavy whitepapers from blockchain startups in the midst of fundraising for their own cryptocurrency ventures.


On VR:

Cashorali, an Oculus Rift owner and self-confessed "huge video-game nerd," was bullish on applications for virtual reality (VR) that involve training, remote surgery, and the like—but not for general business purposes.

"I'm still trying to get people to understand 2D bar charts. I don't need to see a line graph in 3D," kvetched Cashorali. "In terms of visualizing next month's quarterly budget, I can't see the executive table putting on a headset to visualize a line chart."

Ari Berman, vice president and general manager of BioTeam's consulting services (and a returning panelist from last year), agreed with Cashorali's assessments—further adding that "Being able to crawl through a human body on a sub-atomic level is a really interesting thing for a doctor."

Karl Gutwin, a senior scientific consultant at BioTeam, was more tempered, arguing that for whatever added accessibility that VR offers, less immersive technology that overlays data and images within the real world holds more promise.

"It…seems like augmented reality (AR) is going to be more useful than full-on VR," said Gutwin. "To me looking at things like Microsoft's [Mixed Reality headset] Hololens is a little more interesting than things like flying through a protein structure."


On AI:

For a couple of the panelists, artificial intelligence (AI) is a matter of "First things first."

"There are small problems that we can address right now with the data that you have in front of you," said Gutwin.

"In order for a deep-learning neural network to work right, you have to curate your data," said Berman. "How many people [here] actually curate their data?" After very few hands indeed went up, Berman added, "Yeah, that's what I thought."

Dagdigian opined that AI and machine learning (ML) are "in the hype phase," but may have real-world practicality and value. Cashorali—who related her own experiences in doing machine-learning work as far back as 2006—agreed.

"[There's this notion that] you press a magic Hadoop button and then you profit! And that's absurd," said Cashorali. "[Big vendors] have scared you into thinking you need a Big Data strategy or your company's going to go bankrupt."


On Following Trends:

At this point, perennial BioTeam talk on industry trends got meta for a while as panelists waxed rhetoric on trends—generally—as a phenomenon.

"The general gist of the problem of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and these hype curves that everybody is on comes down to one thing—which is the marketing," pointed out Berman. "Companies profit when people are scared and feel like they're missing out."

Gutwin, however, likened trends and FOMO to humanity's base instincts—marketing or no.

"I have a five-year-old, and every time something is happening in the house that he's not aware of, he goes, 'What's going on?!?' He's got FOMO," said Gutwin. "I want to caution everyone in the room who starts to think, 'Uh-oh, maybe I'm missing out on one of these trends,' you're not. You're really not."