Ranyah Salous, associate director of advanced analytics and intelligent automation for Guidehouse, gives a presentation during Day for Data, held Sept. 9. Photo by Andy Santos for Virginia Tech.

The inaugural Day for Data, held on Sept. 9 and hosted by the Pamplin College of Business’s Center for Business Analytics, connected nearly 150 students, faculty, and industry professionals in an exploration of the modern applications of data analytics in the corporate setting.

The field of business intelligence and analytics is one of the four Pamplin Pillars, as laid out in Pamplin’s strategic plan. However, the event was open to all Virginia Tech students.

The day kicked off with an address from Interim Dean of Pamplin College of Business, Roberta “Robin” Russell, followed by a keynote address from Mabby Amouie, chief data scientist for Norfolk Southern. Amouie delivered a presentation on how Norfolk Southern is utilizing high-speed cameras and artificial intelligence to transform the train inspection process.

Amouie explained that, for nearly a century, train inspections have been performed manually, with humans walking alongside the train for several miles noting hundreds of potential defects per car.

“This process was tedious, strenuous, and prone to human error,” said Amouie. “Norfolk Southern’s artificial intelligence system can identify defects and alert maintenance crews while the train is traveling its route at 70 mph.”

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Closing remarks from Richard Darden, distinguished engineer and digital human evangelist for IBM Expert Labs, introduced Day for Data attendees to Iris, a digital human powered by artificial intelligence designed to help passengers navigate Fort Worth airport. Iris introduced herself to the audience, answered questions, and displayed state-of-the-art emotional modeling and empathy simulation.

According to Darden, Iris delivers a compelling argument for digital human replicas as the future face of AI.

“I found the AI from IBM interesting and futuristic,” said Boman Raskin, a graduate student in the MSBA-BA program. “It was crazy to see the AI’s eyes following the speaker as he paced around the room and how it was able to answer his complex questions in real-time.”

Featured presentations by Sam Hampton, co-founder of Vizalogix, Ranyah Salous, associate director of advanced analytics and intelligent automation for Guidehouse, and Eric Christensen, technical lead for FutureScape at Deloitte, also took place throughout the day.

After a networking break, there was a panel discussion featuring Sarah Spicer, data analyst at Capital One, Mark Collins, consultant at Guidehouse Defense, and Nikos Harasty, consultant at Deloitte, all of whom are graduates of the Center for Business Analytics’s MSBA-BA program. The topic, “’The Real World’ — Recent Alumni Perspectives on an Emerging Field,” enabled panelists to share lessons and insights gleaned from their transition from the classroom to the cubicle, including experience navigating work/life balance, whether it’s more important to be a generalist or a specialist, how to operate within corporate hierarchies, and much more.

“I took away valuable information that will lead me to develop relevant useful skills throughout this school year in my graduate level classes,” added Raskin. “These skills will help me excel in the work world.”

The overwhelming success of Day for Data already has organizers thinking about next year. “We intend to make this an annual event,” said Luke Williams with the Center for Business Analytics. “As of right now, we’re still collecting feedback on what we’ll want to change or improve, but suffice it to say that next year will be even bigger and better!”