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Big Data: The New Oil and Gas

on Wed, 04/03/2013 - 09:55

In 2000, three computer science researchers at Carnegie Mellon University banded together to form their own company, Vivisimo. Originally funded through local venture capitalist firm Innovation Works and grants from the National Science Foundation, the trio created a software program capable of sifting through the vast amounts of data available on the World Wide Web and organizing it in a useable fashion. Their efforts paid off in 2008 when Vivisimo was contracted by the United States to run the search functions on the official federal government website. Four years later, Vivisimo was acquired by IBM for an undisclosed amount, part of an effort by the technological giant to enter the field of “Big Data.”

The phrase “Big Data” refers to the multitude of information out on the Internet that most companies don’t have the resources to store, let alone sort through and categorize. The goal of companies like the former Vivisimo is to harness that information and make it useful for businesses. At a panel discussion at IBM’s offices in Squirrel Hill, Lisa Khorley of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center mentioned hospitals as just one potential beneficiary of such capabilities, but the possibilities are endless. According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, Vivisimo co-founder and current IBM employee Jerome Pesenti referred to Big Data as the new oil and gas. “Just the way the Internet changed us in twenty or thirty years, Big Data will change how we live, work and play over the next thirty years,” added co-worker Saman Haqqi.

Unlike oil and gas, Big Data can be transferred and stored anywhere, and the newly formed Pittsburgh Dataworks believes that the Steel City can be at the epicenter of the coming information rush. The organization is a joint effort of all the key technological players in the region, including IBM, Carnegie Mellon University, Google, Innovation Works, the Pittsburgh Technology Center, the Software Engineering Institute and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, among others. The goal of Pittsburgh Dataworks is to not only enhance the city’s Big Data reputation but for the companies involved to work together to recruit and maintain the high level of data scientists and businesses needed to make Pittsburgh the hub of Big Data activity.

“A big substory of Big Data is the shortage of the talent that will be needed to implement the Big Data solutions and solve the Big Data problems,” Saman Haqqi explained to the Pittsburgh Business Times. Pittsburgh Dataworks will thus also sponsor programs designed to demonstrate the career opportunities available within Big Data to perspective high school and college students in order to fill the void. “It’s the next level of business intelligence,” Haqqi says of Big Data. “The breakthrough is the capacity to store the volumes of data and the ability to process it fast and develop the algorithms to get the insight.”

And for the members of Pittsburgh Dataworks, the Steel City is the perfect place to make that happen.

Anthony Letizia (April 3, 2013)

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