CAS Discusses the Benefits of Machine Learning in Relation to Information Management and Increased Productivity
Venki Rao - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree
VP and CTO
Director of Market Strategy - Central Ohio
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The VP and CTO of CAS, Venki Rao, discusses the benefits of machine learning in relation to information management and increased productivity.
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SG: We're here today with Venki Rao, who is the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at CAS. CAS is an organization based right here in Columbus with about 1,200 employees. My name is Steve Gruetter, with Expedient. I'll be your guest moderator today. Venki, let's get started.
VR: All right, Steve, thank you very much for the opportunity.
SG: Thanks for coming in and congratulations on the nomination for the Tech Power Players. It, uh, I think it's going to be a great event for our community. So CAS is doing some very interesting work, and especially within, uh, disruptive technologies. Can you give us a little input on some of the more exciting disruptive technologies that you're involved in?
VR: Sure, absolutely, Steve. CAS, if you know, it is a 111-year-old organization. Always was based in Central Ohio in Columbus. And in the last 35 years or so, we moved from publishing journal material and abstracts of scientific and chemistry information. We are digitized, we digitized them, and we built products that can take this curated information out to our scientists and our educators, uh, people that are in education. So, recently we realized that we can actually curate this information more effectively if we use machine learning and artificial intelligence. So, we have about 350 Ph.Ds, chemistry Ph.Ds, in our organization. They take all kinds of inputs from, uh, scientific, of scientific data and they curate it and they throw it at us to digitize them. We index that data and make sure that, you know, it is in the right sequence and, uh, stored in the right area.
So, this whole curation takes days, 27 to 30 days from the time they receive the raw data. So, if we apply machine language, we could actually cut 65 percent, we can gain 65 percent productivity so the scientists can do higher value tasks for us. So, the machine learning is, right now it gives, uh, 80 to 85 percent accuracy. They take all these journals and uh, and put up this data. And they curate it, which is with the scientists assisting that way, and then we take that information and we process it. And uh, we were able to get, get the currency of our data to our customer 21 days faster than before.
SG: I could see that that could be of tremendous value to essentially the client base that you serve, and with as many changes that are coming, cutting off 65 percent or 21 days means quite a bit.
VR: It's quite a bit. It all depends on the currency of the data, because we, our systems are subscription-based systems. So, it's like a scientific Google; you come in and do you do a search and the most accurate and the most current data you get, it will enable you to do that much faster, your research that much faster, and you're in a, you are ahead of your competition at that point. So, most of our, uh, clients that are pharmaceutical companies or research organizations or even government patent offices – having this most recent data gives them that much of a competitive edge for them compared to the other players in their industry.
SG: So, could you give an example of some of the data, some of the disruption that you're doing in the industry, how your client base is utilizing that and creating some advantages?
VR: Yeah! So, so we are, uh, if you look at it, scientific data has multiple forms. There's a relevancy data, there's a reaction data, there's all kinds of other nomenclatures that go with it. It's, it's right for us right now. It's very important after, if you look at it for 111 years ago, or 111 years, we have been doing this. Uh, printing and publishing was the first 65/70 years of that 111 years. So, imagine getting a paper version of some abstract and read it and like it. And then, you can call us and say, “Yep, this is what I want.” And then you'll get the article in the mail. So, this whole cycle time is, uh, about, I want to say about 45 to 50 days cycle time. By the time you read the article, you like it and then you order it and you get it, uh, that, that itself is about a two to three week process. Prior to that, getting the right information onto the abstract is another two months process.
So we, we are completely in, uh, cutting that timeline and bringing the most accurate, most, uh, you know, current data to our customers and making them that much more effective. So that is, that itself is revolutionizing in our industry. Our competitors, we have very few competitors, and we are considered as the gold standard compared to our competitors.
SG: That’s what I’ve understood.
VR: Yeah. So, because we have been curating this data, scientific data, for over a hundred years, and we own the rights to this data. So, we don't sell the data. Instead we, you know, we provide it on a subscription basis. So, that's our competitive advantage and we are providing that data almost in, um, we, we upgrade our systems with the current data two to three times a week, which is, uh, a not real time update, but at the same time connecting all the dots to the previously curated data takes time. So that's why we can only bring it to you two to three times a week and then, you know, in the future we are aiming to do it on a daily basis, on a real time basis.
SG: Now is that due to the quality standards that you incorporate to validate that all the information is accurate and as it goes from the machine learning into the process, you said your engineers get involved – is that for them to do the QU?
VR: That’s exactly it – so that they need to do the last little bit of clean up, and what happens is, let's say you have yesterday's data and today I bring in new data – whatever new data that came in, it has relevancy to your old data. So what you need to do is, you need to take the whole digest and compile it, so all these relevancies are connected to each other. So it, when you do a search, if you don't connect those dots, it will only pull in whatever is out there in today's data and cannot make any distinction or relationship. It can't recognize the relationship between that data and the data that existed in the past.
SG: That makes sense.
VR: So it's, it's very, and we are making this available over, uh, you know, obviously the mobile technologies, your iPads and any other tablets, which is, uh, very useful for our scientific community because, you know, sometimes in the labs, all they have is a small device to work with, and they can pull the data instantly and, uh, do their research without any delay. So, it's actually pretty impactful if you take a look at the community we serve in.
SG: Speaking of community, I'm going to change it up a little bit and let's bring this back to the Central Ohio IT community. Since you've come in from Atlanta, you've been exceptionally involved in the, in the local community. Why do you invest your time?
VR: It is important for me because, you know, it's my way of giving back to the community I live in. Uh, I was very active in the Atlanta tech community. Uh, we had something called UCLA Georgia CIO Leadership Association. And I was, I played a very active role in that and coming here, uh, you know, I would like to meet my colleagues. I will get to know the folks that are in technology. So it's, it's uh, beneficial for both of us. You know, for me it's good if I'm looking for a talent, a particular talent, you know, I can spread the word and I can get that talent. There are always, uh, businesses that are on up cycle and there are businesses that are in down cycle. And if you, if somebody’s businesses going through a down cycle and they want to place their employees somewhere else, you know, they're good employees, you know, I can always, you know, help them. In the same way, uh, if there is a way I can help them, I would help them.
So it's…having that affiliation, having that sense of family and friends is important to me. So, that's why I started to get very active and got to know many of my colleagues, uh, in Columbus area. So, I'm still building my network and I'll continue to build it.
SG: Well, we're glad to have you here.
VR: Thank you.
SG: No doubt about that. And uh, and it was great to have your event at the, uh, at the Tech Strategy that we had. What was that, about three, four months ago? And it got to show off CAS significantly, I believe, to the IT community.
VR: Thank you.
SG: Sure. What you've seen here so far, what kind of things do you think our local market needs to do? What actions do we, should we take to become the next level of a technology hub, a national technology hub?
VR: Steve, I think we are already becoming a national-level technology hub. We just need to market it better. And uh, I, I see that Columbus is number one emerging technology market, uh, according to many studies.
SG: The Forbes study on that one.
VR: Exactly. And uh, how are we promoting that? Because I see in our local newspapers how wonderful Columbus is, you know, how the cost of living is and what kind of technology market we have, but are we taking it outside Columbus and telling people that are living outside Columbus so they can come in? My, my biggest challenge is, you know, I come from an organization that I've worked 17 years for General Electric Company and there are a lot of people who are willing to come work with me in CAS, work for me. However, they are a little concerned about moving to Columbus from bigger cities like Boston, Houston, Atlanta. So, I know what I'm trying my best to promote Columbus because I really enjoy living in Columbus, uh, and uh, through LinkedIn and other social media telling them how wonderful the city is.
It's a small, big city, you know, you can get anywhere to anywhere within 20 minutes. I love the traffic. People are very nice here. And I run into people that are so kind, and they help me even if I don’t need help out of their heart, because they are nice. And I, I want to, I want everyone to know that about Columbus and I want them to move to Columbus and bring their skills and make this city a much richer city. Uh, it's uh, you know, how do I say this? It's a, I really, really enjoy living in Columbus purely because I think the weather's nice, like I said, you know, the traffic’s fantastic, uh, the people are really nice and uh, you know, we know each other, uh, there's a sense of community here and I hope everyone knows about that.
SG: I truly believe that Columbus is America's finest city. All apologies to San Diego – that is their catchphrase. It's mine for here, now. And I also believe that you're correct in, if you come here and you look at it, you get taken pretty quickly on what kind of a great community this is. I spent too many years in Los Angeles, where it takes 20 minutes to get two blocks, and I'm much happier here.
VR: Absolutely. I agree with you.
SG: So, um, so I moved back here in ‘93 from Los Angeles. I started with expedient in 2011. My boss asked me, kind of in an interview process, it wasn't really an interview. He said, “So where to next? Where do you want to go?” I said, “This is Central Ohio. I'm going to live here and die here.” He said, “Not a transfer candidate.” Not a transfer candidate.
VR: I wish I can attract some of those, some more Steves! You know, uh, I want them to come work with us at CAS and work with us and many other beautiful and great companies here.
SG: Well, you're up to speed on what's been going on in our community. What do you think has been the biggest success just in, in the year that you've been in town?
VR: I've been, actually, to be honest with you, very closely involved with smart Columbus Initiative. So my, my organization and legal counsel sits on the board from the business standpoint and uh, and uh, thanks to Ben Blanquera, he got me involved in the Smart Columbus operating system. And uh, I lead the technology piece of that, and the amount of progress we have made in the last six to eight months is, is just unbelievable. Uh, we are coming up with the, we started, we finished our Version One of the Smart Columbus operating system. We’ve started with 2.0. Now we have the data about all the parking spaces and all the heights of the bridges and then all the road conditions so we can share that with our residents as well as our tourists so we can make this city that much smarter. So, even before you come into Columbus, you have all this data available. So, I think Smart Columbus Initiative, it started out to be, you know, you drive a car, cars that do not pollute the environment as well as, you know, you share your ride. From that to becoming, you know, building a smarter city…I mean, I've seen a lot of growth in that area and a lot of evolution. So, I'm very, very happy to be associated with that. And at the same time, uh, growing and evolving with it.
SG: I believe between Smart Columbus and the Smart Corridor Project that we've also got going between East liberty and Dublin that the transportation aspect of how we do things in Central Ohio is going to be the standard bearer for the rest of the country in – you might think it's in 10 years, it might be in five.
VR: It could be.
SG: It could be. And things are moving so quickly on this spot and I'm glad that you're involved in the Smart Columbus aspect.
VR: Yes, I am. And thank you. And I'm, I'm actually, I'm enjoying that part.
SG: Well that's great to be a part of, there's no doubt about it. What do you think is the biggest challenge of working here in Central Ohio? What would you like to see this community do better?
VR: You know, it’s, uh, I'm still learning about that. Uh, from, from my standpoint, uh, Central Ohio has been a great place to work. The community is in, uh, like I said, they embrace you ,they, they pull you together and help you as much as they can. Uh, it's uh, and I also like the size, to be honest with you. I, uh, I really like the size of Central Ohio, Columbus especially because it's a, it's not a big city, but at the same time it's not small either. I like that, you know, medium size. And, uh, I, I really think from that standpoint, growing larger, I don't know we're going to end up, but uh, I like the way it is right now.
In terms of, in terms of what we can do better, you know, obviously we can market ourselves better. You know, we, we also, like how Amazon wanted to come here and I'm still, I think we are still in the running.
SG: I think we're a top three city!
VR: Yeah, we are still in the running to get the Amazon second headquarters and all those kinds of marketing would help us. I think that's what I would like to see more, so we can grow, not the size of the city but, you know, grow the economy and grow the technology footprint in Columbus.
SG: I, I certainly agree with that. And uh, I guess we'll be talking to the community leaders to help market us more. Maybe we're just too humble here.
VR: Maybe we are!
SG: I've never been accused of that. Thank you. Thank you very much for your time. This is Steve Gruetter of Expedient with Venki Rao of CAS. To learn more about the comSpark event and Tech Power Players, please visit comsparktech. Goodbye, until next time.
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