Big Data Alliance--Big Deal for Economic Growth in New Jersey
Photo: (L to R) Daniel Paolini, N.J. Office of Information Technology; Michael Wiley, N.J. Economic Development Agency, Margaret Brennan, Rutgers; Manish Parashar, Rutgers. Photo Credit: Rutgers
(L to R) Daniel Paolini, N.J. Office of Information Technology; Michael Wiley, N.J. Economic Development Agency, Margaret Brennan, Rutgers; Manish Parashar, Rutgers. | Rutgers

Representatives from New Jersey’s premier colleges and universities, along with delegates from the New Jersey  Office of Information Technology, the New Jersey  Economic Development Authority (EDA), and staff members of state assembly member Upendra Chivukula and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone met at Rutgers New Brunswick December 5, 2013.

The goal: to create a big data alliance that would break down silos of education and research happening in the state and achieve cooperation between the universities to make big data an economic engine for New Jersey.

The end result will be shared education and research programs, and cooperation with industry.

Big data is a $300 billion industry, which has been targeted by several states. New Jersey seems to be primed for some significant participation in the industry, since the state is home to large health care, telecom and pharmaceutical companies, all of which have issues that analysis of big data could possibly solve.

Associate vice-president for economic development at Rutgers, Margaret Brennan said, “Future growth in industry sectors across the board—energy, pharmaceutical, food—are all going to be dependent on access to high performance computing capabilities  and its ability to handle big data.”

“If the state wants to remain competitive, we really need to supply these kinds of resources to industries here,” she said. Brennan noted that the addition of these capabilities will attract companies to New Jersey.

Other states, Brennan added, have made significant investments in big data infrastructure. New York has the High-Performance Computing Consortium and Massachusetts has a Big Data Initiative. Even Arkansas, with its establishment of the Cyber Infrastructure Task Force in 2008, was ahead of the pack.

“We realize that with our situation here in New Jersey  now, we can’t commit those kinds of dollars; so in an effort to try to maximize what we do have, it’s important to pool our resources, in terms of infrastructure, equipment, expertise and people,” she continued.

University participants came from all three Rutgers campuses:  Kean University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Richard Stockton College, Rowan University, Stevens Institute of Technology, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry.

Discussing the resources available in the various institutions, Brennan said that while Rutgers has its Blue Gene computer located at the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute [covered here by NJTechWeekly.com], Princeton University has much in the way of high performance computing capabilities.

“The other universities have some computing and curriculum resources, as well as established undergraduate and graduate courses, that can be shared, and some research programs in place in this arena,” Brennan said. “There is specialty expertise at these universities as well, which combined with additional resources, can increase the output of the whole ecosystem,” she indicated.

Some of the next steps for the participants will be figuring out what avenues for collaboration are open to them and how they can combine their resources in order to go after bigger initiatives.  Research collaboration is one way to generate larger amounts of external funding, Parviz Ansari, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Rowan University, told NJTechWeekly.com.

Speaking enthusiastically about Rowan’s contribution to the coalition, Ansari said the university has expertise and a number of resources to contribute to the coalition, especially in the healthcare, biomedical sciences, and environment fields.

Ansari also noted that the university will be able to capitalize on the health data generated in collaboration with health organizations, including the New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Cooper Medical School, one of the newest medical schools in the country, which is part of Rowan. The university is creating a school of biomedical sciences which should be opening in the fall of 2014.

“We have started a conversation about the potential addition of a health data analytics program,” and the university “hired a senior scientist from industry to work with us” in the development of that program, said Ansari..

As part of the reorganization of the university system, the New Jersey  School of Osteopathic Medicine also will join Rowan. That school has a graduate program in biomedical sciences.

Additionally, Rowan has intellectual infrastructure to contribute, including scholars involved in signal and pattern recognition, which are needed to interpret big data.

The alliance is currently developing a memo of understanding (MOU) for all of the university partners to sign, basically agreeing to work together to come up with a collaboration plan, Brennan said. The  MOU will define how the group can share courses, for example, or provide access to computing power and infrastructure. It will also define what expertise is available at the different universities and discuss how that expertise and infrastructure can be shared with industry.

The MOU will also discuss how the system can be set up so universities can access each other’s’ computing resources, and whether they will send researchers to work on site, or if  researchers will be able to work with these assets remotely.

The state is also interested in taking part in the coalition. Daniel Paolini, New Jersey CTO for data management, said that there are two major drivers for big data on the government side: homeland security and instrumentation. He noted that many government agencies are developing “interoperability schema” for data sharing, using the National Information Exchange Model.

Also, the state is involved in government open data initiatives, such as www.yourmoney.nj.gov, which make more data available to the public.

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