BY ROSEMARY DREGER CAREY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
WHAT DO LOCAL LAW ENFORCEment agencies, global pharmaceutical companies, insurers, municipal governments, venture capital firms, university administrators
and the computing giant IBM have in common? Their future depends on their ability to leverage “Big Data” to address business and societal problems in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.
Whether helping local police reduce violent crime, aiding college students in achieving their full potential, or treating and preventing life-threatening disease, a competitive edge goes to the organizations that put Big Data at the center of their business decisions.
The term “Big Data” is the relatively new industry term describing the large amount of facts and statistics that organizations use (or do not use) in their daily operations. The 100 percent explosion in Big Data over the past five years (the Big Data Bounce) and the vast market opportunities ripe for the taking were the subject of the 4th Annual NJ
Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) 2017 Symposium at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark in March.
Sponsored by the NJ Big Data Alliance (NJBDA), the all-day conference brought together top experts from business, government, academia and public service to share real-world perspectives on how Big Data can be successfully leveraged in a wide range of applications. The 2017 theme, “Big Data Connects,” focused on collaborative programs that helped achieve business or societal goals, increase competitiveness and
“Data is money,” explained Katherine O’Neill, executive director of Jumpstart NJ, one of the largest angel investment groups in the New Jersey/New York region. O’Neill described why early investment firms are doubling down on companies that have Big Data as the basis for their business model. “Data is a commodity that can be sold and
resold, and the impact of Big Data is everywhere, from the Internet of Things (IOT), to cybersecurity, financial fraud, healthcare, medical diagnostics and insurance.”
But more important than the data one owns, says O’Neill, is how that data is used. “Data analytics,” she said, “have the potential to change fundamentally the way companies will do business over the next one to three years. Brick-and-mortar stores will be especially affected as the way people get services is more tied to the cloud.” O’Neill identified other notable trends in the market, including the use of “Blockchain”—
a digital ledger of transactions open to the public; more widespread use of conversational AI (artificial intelligence) such as Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant, Alexa; and rapid growth in self-service data analytic platforms. She also predicted increased data breaches and opportunities to address the inevitable havoc that ensues.
Jason Cooper, vice president and chief analytics officer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield NJ, provided a fascinating glimpse into the world of genetics, genomics and proteomics—rapidly evolving areas that offer real scientific promise for prevention, treatments and even cures. Despite facing the dual hurdles of an aging population and some of the highest average healthcare premiums in the country, Horizon BCBSNJ has successfully used data analytics to cope with New Jersey’s rising costs for pharmaceuticals and hospital care and improve patient quality of life, he said. Better capture of data, bidirectional data exchange and greater use of AI,” Cooper advised,
“allows insurers to address rising costs for pharmaceuticals, particularly in oncology and autoimmune disorders. Imagine the costs we could save and the better quality of life if the patient could avoid two rounds of chemotherapy. We can change from treatment to prevention.”
The technology that drives Big Data is critical. “Every company needs to be a tech company—and everybody needs to be tech literate,” suggested Dirk deRoos, IBM Worldwide Product and Competitive Strategy Leader for Big Data Technologies. Mr. deRoos used familiar data breach examples from Wikileaks, Ashley Madison and Walmart to drive his point home. But companies do not have to invest in a lot of hardware to store, protect and leverage their data, he said. Instead, they can become more data-driven using self-service access to data and analytic tools. “Advances in cloud and analytics technologies, combined with the right organizational policies, can make self-service analytics possible for most organizations,” he said. “It’s about working smarter, with the right algorithms.”
Bringing Big Data challenges from the boardroom to the streets, Anthony Ambrose, Director Public Safety for the City of Newark, introduced a successful collaboration
between New Jersey law enforcement agencies—the Route. 21 Corridor Project. The project had a goal to reduce regional crime stemming from Newark’s Route 21 traffic corridor—an easy getaway for determined criminals. The project earned national attention for its data analytics and sharing practices to address public safety.
Commanding Officer Brandon Gray of the New Jersey State Police’s Information Technology Section described the initial challenges: scattered and unstructured
data, legacy applications, 500+ municipalities with different vendors and a general unease with IT among law enforcement agencies. By sharing data among police
departments, and making that data available and user-friendly to police officers, better policing with measurable success followed. “We started with 20 cities and
three counties, and today we have 45 police departments in five counties. This collaboration made it a smooth transition to get important data at our fingertips.”
Captain Mitch McGuire, CO, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Computer Crimes Unit, Crime Scene Bureau and Rapid Deployment, added: “Big Data in law enforcement is money well spent.” He advocated for giving law enforcement the ability to collect and mine huge amounts of data from diverse sources—automobile license
plate recognition, social media, and outside data sources, such as enforcement databases in high-crime areas.
Even college campuses are leveraging Big Data for better outcomes. Karl Rexer, Ph.D., president, Rexer Analytics, described his firm’s systems which employ data analytics that identify the indicators of a satisfactory college experience, whether assigning the right dormitory, advising on course of study or making appropriate financial aid available.
David Kuntz, chief research officer, Knewton, described his company’s models for using inferred analytics to measure what a student is prepared to learn. The models have shown to improve student performance and reduce the dropout rate. Kuntz pointed to a case study from Arizona State University, which increased the retention rate for at-risk students by 11 points, and cut the failure rate in half.
Leveraging big data makes cities work smarter, too. Collette Santasieri, director, Civil Infrastructure and Environment, New Jersey Innovation Institute (NJII), explained how Big Data is a critical component of sustainable cities. Her area of expertise—brownfields—are real property for which the expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance or pollutant. There are approximately 450,000 brownfield sites in the United States, noted
Santasieri. “People generally assume that these properties, once developed, are “cleaner, safer, and more appealing, but we need facts. Big Data allows us to show positive return on investment to funders and elected officials,” she explained. “Especially in these times when the EPA is under attack, data brings the story of brownfield redevelopment to life and captures the attention of those we need to convince.”