In 2013, nine New Jersey colleges and universities formed a unique partnership – the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) - aimed at building advanced computing and big data analytics capabilities in the state.
Today, the NJBDA has expanded to include 16 higher education institutions, NJEDge - a non-profit statewide technology and network service provider, as well as industry and government allies. The Alliance serves as the State’s research, education, and outreach consortium in advanced computing and big data, having been officially recognized by the New Jersey State Legislature as “New Jersey’s Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Consortium.”
With new collaborators, and a state government that recognizes the importance of advanced computing technologies and the skills needed to boost business productivity, the NJBDA is pursuing an ambitious plan to equip New Jersey companies and workers with the resources necessary to compete in the new data-driven economy.
In the Northeast “Data Science Corridor,” Bristol-Myers Squibb, Church & Dwight, Mathematica Policy Research, and other major corporations, as well as small to mid-size companies, employ hundreds in big data roles. To make it easier for employers to connect with talent, in 2018 the NJBDA organized the first ever statewide data science career fair at The College of New Jersey. Employers from across the region had the opportunity to meet and interview undergraduate and graduate computer science students (and related disciplines) from the 16 NJBDA academic institutions.
To ensure that New Jersey schools are preparing students for success in the workplace, the NJBDA hosted a workshop that brought together industry, academic, and government leaders to discuss hiring needs, curriculum and training programs, and technology trends.
A majority of participating employers identified machine learning as an emerging technology trend expected to have a significant impact on their business. Half of the employers indicated that they already recruit or plan to recruit candidates for hybridized roles that combine subject matter expertise or industry-specific experience with technology skills.
These hybridized jobs are often referred to as “analytics-enabled”. They pay more, and offer greater job security. This finding prompted the NJBDA to recommend in a recent report they prepared for the New Jersey Future of Work Taskforce, that data science and/or analytics be added to the general education curriculum as a requirement for graduation from two and four year colleges and universities.
The NJBDA coordinates technical training on a variety of topics, based on input from industry partners and workshop participants. Recent examples include a workshop led by Church & Dwight on web scraping and sentiment analysis of Amazon Reviews and a seminar on how to design, launch, and complete a business analytics project.
Dell and TNS Research report that the cost of IT infrastructure is one of the greatest barriers to big data utilization. To help companies overcome this barrier, the NJBDA is in the process of developing an Advanced Computing Infrastructure Database. NJBDA member institutions house specialized equipment, such as a supercomputer at Rutgers University and a virtual reality center at Rowan University, that would be cost prohibitive for many companies to purchase and maintain.
NJBDA members have committed to making their advanced computing infrastructure – and the experts who know how to operate the infrastructure - available to New Jersey industry at nominal cost. The long-term goal is for this information to be added to Research with New Jersey, a comprehensive database of research capabilities at New Jersey universities.
To further leverage the research expertise of NJBDA members, this past fall, the NJBDA convened over fifty New Jersey researchers from industry, academia, and government to identify research topics, share dataset information, identify big data research expertise, and discuss upcoming funding opportunities. The workshop resulted in a joint application being submitted to the National Science Foundation. Due to overwhelming demand, a second workshop is already scheduled for December 2019.
While the resources of the NJBDA are targeted to New Jersey, its reach extends beyond the boundaries of the state. NJBDA members collaborate with educational institutions throughout the US and around the world, and they belong to many national and international organizations.
The NJBDA aims to be a model for states and regions seeking to leverage advanced computing technologies and expertise and the effective partnerships it has created to catalyze data-driven economic growth.
Learn more at njbda.org or contact Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, PhD, Executive Director, Office of Economic Development and Innovation, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, and President, New Jersey Big Data Alliance at email@example.com.
Jessica Paolini is Assistant Director, Office of Economic Development and Innovation, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Vice President of the NJBDA Industry Affiliates Committee.