"Big data" is the next huge thing in the always-changing world of information technology, and central Ohio soon will be home to what's being called the most advanced center in the field.
Today, IBM will announce plans to locate its new Client Center for Advanced Analytics at the company's campus at 4600 Lakehurst Court in the Tuttle Crossing area, The Dispatch has learned.
The analytics center will create 500 high-tech jobs over the next three years, said R.B. "Ron" Lovell, vice president of IBM's analytics center.
This type of advanced IT work, which involves capturing, analyzing and making sense of the billions of bits of data produced every minute by millions of computer users, also will position Columbus as a national and even international center for big-data analytics, Lovell said.
It's a view shared by local officials and business leaders.Ohio State University and IBM are collaborating to create undergraduate and graduate programs in analytics to increase the limited talent pool in this rapidly growing field.
"It's very exciting," said Julio Ortiz, Huntington Bancshares' director of IT services delivery. "IBM is building the first-of-its-kind analytics center that will drive the next generation of computing, and Columbus will be at the center of it."
Big data, or analytics, gleans insight from sources as diverse as Twitter, Facebook and even videos. This information is used to make better-informed strategic decisions, improve customer service, detect fraud and gain a competitive advantage.
Most large companies already use analytics, and those that are not are scrambling to catch up.
Companies are expected to spend $34 billion worldwide next year on big-data analytics, and by 2015, 4.4 million jobs in the field will be created globally, including 1.9 mil-
lion in the United States, according to studies by Gartner, a leading IT research firm.
"This will be a unique, one-of-a-kind capability," Lovell said of the analytics center. "Not only will this be a technology center where we will build out analytics and address client issues, it will be a demonstration center and briefing center, and we'll bring in people from all over to demonstrate our capabilities."
These capabilities could have a multiplier effect and attract other IT companies to the area, along with other types of companies looking to take advantage of the local big-data capabilities.
"The fact that IBM, a market leader, has chosen to put their worldwide analytics delivery center here is incredibly important and means jobs, and, in a lot of cases, great jobs," said Kenny McDon-
ald, chief economic officer of Columbus 2020, the area's economic-development group.
"And it gives us a great stepping stone to make a case to companies around the world to invest here ... and help our existing companies be more competitive and grow."
Columbus-based Battelle already does analytics for the federal government and a number of local and national companies, which adds to the potential to make Columbus a hub for this type of activity.
The IBM analytics center is a private-public academic partnership. It began locally with Columbus 2020 and the Columbus Partnership, a group composed of Columbus-area business leaders.
Executives at Huntington Bancshares, Nationwide, Cardinal Health and Limited Brands discussed their shared need for big-data analytics and approached IBM, which coincidentally was looking for a home for its proposed analytics center.
"What we found was we were all investing millions in this area and that it was a high-growth area," said Michael Keller, Nationwide Insurance's executive vice president and chief information officer.
"What they offered was a point of coordination," Lovell said. He added that IBM was considering other locations for the center but declined to give specifics.
The combination of interest from those four large companies, infrastructure already in place on Lakehurst Court, the regional talent pool and connection with Ohio State added up to make Columbus the ideal location, Lovell said.
"Everyone thinks the talent pool is on the East Coast and West Coast, and I don't mean to downgrade them, but the Midwest has an equal talent pool," he said. "And the academic linkage to Ohio State was important."
OSU's Fisher College of Business is creating a graduate program in analytics, and the university is also working on an undergraduate program in the field.
"We want to attract students (to the graduate program) who have enough quantitative analytical grounding and marry that with business training," said Christine Poon, Fisher's dean. "And the third component would be experiential learning, such as internships on real projects."
This hands-on learning could take place at IBM, she said, or at Huntington, Cardinal Health, Nationwide or Limited Brands.
"We're dreaming big, and we think Columbus can be the go-to area for analytics," Poon said. "When companies fly in to work with IBM here, and see all this Buckeye talent, they'll say: 'Why can't we find this where we are? Let's put some brick and mortar here and be here.""
IBM also is working with JobsOhio on a tax-incentive package for the new analytics center.
"It's a work in progress, and we should finalize it in December," Lovell said.
IBM's presence in Columbus came as a result of its purchase of Sterling Commerce and its four-building campus on Lakehurst Court for $1.4 billion in 2010. The company's employees were integrated into IBM's software group and number about 650, Lovell said.
These operations and employees will remain, and the vacant space will be retrofitted and used for the new analytics center. Lovell said there is the capacity for a total of 2,000 to 2,500 employees at the campus.
"We've just started bringing people in and will really crank it up after the first of the new year," he said.
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