The eyes of the growing world of big-data analytics were focused on Columbus in November when IBM opened its Client Center for Advanced Analytics, which will bring 500 high-tech jobs to the area.
"People from all over the world will come here to visit this center," Gov. John Kasich said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This is all about seizing the future."
But if anyone thought of data analysis as something new to central Ohio, they were wrong.
It was the area's rich history in the gathering, analysis and use of quintillions of bits of data that influenced IBM leaders to locate its one-stop shop for data analytics in its offices near the intersection of Tuttle Crossing Boulevard and Emerald Parkway.
"Finally, Columbus is getting recognition for something our town has been doing for
20 years and nobody knew about except for the people here," said Phil Rist, one of the founders of Prosper Business Development Corp., which has been analyzing data since 1990.
Back then, Rist called what he did an "information refinery," and reports were faxed to clients.
Other local big-data pioneers collected data on chemical compounds, cataloged the contents of libraries and helped the government with national defense.
"It's a core competency of a lot of firms in our city, and a lot have cooperated with Ohio State to move the innovation along," Rist said.
The field of big data is growing. An estimated 1.9 million big-data analytics jobs will be created in the United States by 2015, according to studies by Gartner, an information-technology research firm.
"IBM will contribute to and benefit from this environment," said Mike Teets, OCLC's vice president of innovation.
The notion of analytics took root in Ohio in a tangible way in 1967, when the state's colleges joined to create the Ohio College Library Center, now known as OCLC.
"The goal was to improve their efficiencies and operations," Teets said. "Back then, computers were very, very large machines, and we had to own our own physical networks."
What OCLC did in the 1960s is now called cloud computing.
"But we didn't have that term back then," Teets said.
The OCLC service quickly spread beyond Ohio --the organization came to be known as the Online Computer Library Center --and is now used by libraries worldwide to organize and manage materials. It's WorldCat database contains more than 273 million records, including materials that date to 4800 B.C.
OCLC has been a member of the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, since it was created in 1994. W3C develops the standards used on the Web.
"It's how we determine how content is organized and displayed," Teets said. "Our position within libraries and the amount of data we manage put us at that table."
Chemical Abstracts has long performed a similar service to the scientific community, gathering and sharing all the public information available on chemical substances.
Research institution Battelle has been at the forefront of numerous scientific advances and breakthroughs, including big data.
"We've been in this space for 25 years," said David Mongeau, Battelle's vice president for decision analytics. "It's computational science, mathematics, supercomputing, and all directed toward how to apply this to analytics."
Battelle does analytics for government agencies and companies in the areas of national security, health care, finances and banking, energy and transportation. Because of the proprietary nature of its work, Mongeau can't give many details.
"There's wide recognition in national security that one of our critical needs is identifying and preventing threats," he said. "You have to understand not just the data but the cultural and social context in which it was produced to make the right predictions."
In recent years, new local companies such as Information Control Corp., or ICC, and Farsite have become players in data analytics.
"We started doing work primarily for retailers, to leverage data and build models to help them select sites (for stores)," said Michael Gold, one of the founders of Farsite.
Clients he can name are Dick's Sporting Goods and the Ohio State University Medical Center.
"For Dick's, we helped them develop a model to forecast sales and identify store locations," Gold said.
And for Ohio State, "The project was to understand patient behavior as it relates to where patients will travel to get certain health-care services and how to use this to help Ohio State locate the right services in the right areas to maximize operational excellence," he said.
For fun, Farsite's movie-mad data crunchers predicted the winners of the upcoming Academy Awards.
ICC is growing rapidly and plans to hire 100 employees this year. The first batch of 25 data analysts is immersed in a six-week boot camp of sorts.
"It's like drinking from a fire hose; there's a lot to learn," said Steven Glaser, ICC's chief executive, of the classes in data modeling and analysis.
Once trained, these employees will work in teams on projects for a client. While confidentiality agreements prevent ICC from revealing the names of its clients, current ones include a large restaurant chain, a bank, a manufacturing company and an energy company.
They will gather and analyze data for these clients, which in turn will use it to make better strategic decisions.
One of ICC's newer employees is Tim Poorman, a recent Ohio State graduate.
"I did my internship in San Jose, with Cisco, and there was a lot going on out there. And I think there's the same level going on here in Columbus."
ICC will work with IBM on some projects.
"One of the reasons IBM chose us as a partner was all the things we already have the ability to do and our ability to ramp up and add new employees," Glaser said.
Glaser and others see IBM's new analytics center as a win for the region, bringing jobs and clients to the area and helping their companies grow.
"Finally, Columbus is being recognized as a cool town to be doing data analytics in," Rist said. "It's exciting what IBM is bringing here, and there isn't an industry or government sector that can't benefit from better-organized data applied to their particular business issues."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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