Published: 22 October 2017
Starting Wednesday October 18th, the business and technology professionals across Jamaica ventured Downtown Kingston to be captivated by fifty two (52) local and global speakers at a three (3) day conference covering topics ranging from artificial intelligence and blockchain to security and digital business transformation. The content churned out in different sessions was on par with international conferences and there is no doubt that attendees got value for their money.
Leading up to the conference, there were talks that the pricing was not affordable given the challenges in our local economy, however when you add up the costs of travel, accommodation and registration for an international conference, it is certainly a deal. It may be difficult for some companies to have their I.T. team away for three (3) days, but I noticed some organisations staggered the attendance allowing their staff to not overlap for specific days or sessions. The day pass for JCS (Jamaica Computer Society) members was $10,000, and $16,000 for non-members. Given that the annual JCS membership is only $6,000, it would be beneficial for attendees to join and take advantage of not only BizTech but also other events staged by the society.
Preparing to present at BizTech2017 required a slight change in my mindset as I was hesitant to use buzz words, especially big data which Gartner dropped from the hype curve in 2015, simply because big data is now prevalent in our lives across multiple domains and is no longer an emerging technology. After speaking with Sheldon Powe (Chairman, JCS), he noted that persons are interested in artificial intelligence and big data, so it made sense to capture their attention with this session content. That led to the birth of my session titled "Building your Big Data Roadmap and Data Governance Strategy". Delivering a 9:30 am session on Friday in Downtown Kingston after braving the insane traffic and morning downpour is not the ideal combination, however as fate would have it, the session received good attendance and support. There was lively discussion about structured and unstructured data and how to get value from data, especially with manual and paper based data collection. After numerous requests from attendees to have access to the content, I ensured that my BizTech2017 Presentation was uploaded to slideshare after the conference.
I was very pleased to see that the appetite for business intelligence and analytics has increased and the interest in data visualisation is also growing, evidenced by the turnout for the Tableau workshop presented by Incus Services Ltd. The blockchain session led by Brian Phan, CEO UCash saw attendees with an interest in the fate of bitcoins and how blockchain is enabling the rise of startups built on the technology. The cryptocurrency debate touched on the potential impact on global markets and the banking industry, this afforded surprisingly refreshing engagement with the audience and presenter.
A big part of any conference is engagement. It provides networking opportunities to meet new people and reconnect with friends and associates. This could not be anymore fitting than lunch on Friday where I had the chance to catch up with alumni from UWI Computer Science and our former Professor, Dr. Coore. We reminisced on undergraduate Computer Science, programming and the opportunities provided by online platforms such as Coursera and Udacity. This was the perfect precursor to the incubators session after lunch, where Professor Coore emphasised that "competence is key" for prospective entrepreneurs and startups as it garners confidence that can help to attract funding and can drive innovation and help us to meet global standards.
Professor Coore also highlighted that competitive programming in academia and local industries can help to improve and inspire students. After employing the competitive programming strategy at UWI Mona, he told the story of how this was a boost to students' self-confidence by competing and ranking highly on a global frontier. What struck me was the story of students being hired directly into Silicon Valley companies after this exposure. I wonder why don't we hear these kind of stories more often as they serve to inspire and uplift aspiring and existing students. For too long we hear how dismal and dreadful the Jamaican job market is, how graduates are unemployed, migrating, and sometimes take low pay and low quality jobs.
How many STEM graduates are currently sitting answering phones in call centers? As Professor Coore so poignantly asked, how many local companies are offering competitive programming opportunities and competitions that will lead to internships and gainful employment? Also, how many companies are looking into the talent pool participating in these competitions to improve their human resource? The reality is that we each have a role to play, and there is some promise with the incubation center at University of Technology (UTech) and companies like NCB building their own in-house tech innovation hubs and injecting millions into a local ICT startup programme, dubbed Technopreneurship, but we have a way to go. If our students have nothing to aspire to in fields as dynamic and innovative as STEM, why should they invest three to four years of time and debt to study it? Let's think on that, while we look forward to Mr. Trevor Forrest, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, promise that by end November 2017, there should be a science, technology and innovation policy.
If you are still on the fence about the value JCS is providing with BizTech and not sure if you should attend next year, then maybe the giveaways would entice you enough to go to #BizTech2018. For attendees who visited booths, they got the chance to sign up to win an Echo from Amazon, Google Wi-Fi from Google, Dell Laptops from Vertis Technology along with other prizes and giveaways. There was also mention of upcoming events around technology and innovation, such as the IBM Hackathon on November 4th and 5th and Tech Beach in Montego Bay from November 30th to December 2nd.
This was my first BizTech and I tried my best to live in the moment and appreciate the shift happening locally. I noticed that high school and university students were in attendance and I sat next to young girls from St. Andrew High, when it struck me that this exposure that we may take for granted might actually influence their career path, or entrepreneurship, and it may just encourage more girls to study STEM degrees. This again led me to think selfishly about the lack of these type of local events when I was in high school, or university. Who were the aspiring home grown women in tech to look up to? Where was this platform to show leaders in technology on a global scale?
My takeaways and recommendations from this conference would be to increase social media engagement with attendees using the hashtag to post online, as this gives the world a view of this charming Jamaican experience. I posted a photo on LinkedIn about the Tableau workshop and in less than three days, there were over four thousand views reaching as far as Vancouver, San Francisco, London and Bengaluru in India. The post was quite popular with SAP and they promised to come on-board for next year's event. Providing lanyards with name tags, company name, and colour coded for speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, attendees would be useful for networking among attendees. Improved session visibility on a digital board would make it easier for attendees to be aware of what is currently happening without the need for an agenda, perhaps even the creation of a mobile app would be useful. There is clearly a need for more volunteers and more companies to come on board to support the event. A final takeaway for me was the need to cater to different needs, such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.
Wrapping up BizTEch 2017, I reminisced on Mahatma Gandhi's famous quote "be the change that you wish to see in the world", so I would encourage I.T professionals to join JCS and contribute to the community, I joined on spot Wednesday and paid annual membership of 6kJMD (roughly 46USD) and I look forward to upcoming engagements. If this blog inspires even one person to join JCS and attend BizTech next year, then that is a start. I left BizTech feeling inspired, motivated and humbled by the energy and thirst for knowledge and high quality content. The foundation has been laid over the years by so many men and women in the technology and business space and the time is ripe for JCS to build on top of a solid foundation for young and experienced professionals who demand first world type experiences right here on home soil.
About the author: Raquel Seville [@quelzseville] is an Author [SAP OpenUI5 for Mobile BI & Analytics], BI Professional, SAP Mentor, AI Enthusiast, Founder: exportBI | Co-Founder: eatoutjamaica. To find out more, please visit her about me page.