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Conference Report: Big Data and Implications for Corporations, Communities, and Research 

By Kristin Duffy

Big data was one of the key issues discussed at a recent conference that I attended for the Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers (NACRO), and it is something that will no doubt have a significant impact on NIU faculty, staff, and students.  Big data refers to the mass quantities of data generated through a wide variety of sources; for instance, information-sensing mobile devices, internet browser identification tracking, social media, and items containing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.  It is generated very quickly and in a myriad of formats:  text, videostreams, numeric data, etc.  Many questions surround how to store, evaluate, and advantageously manipulate these newly available troves of data, as well as determining ownership of and use policies for these data.

While many corporate entities are already using big data to improve their processes and increase productivity, healthcare organizations are among other fields that are also making positive use of it.  For example, this IBM commercial provides an interesting visual of how data can be gathered from a newborn baby, which hospital staff can then use to perceive the threat of illnesses much further in advance than traditional methods of assessment allowed: http://vimeo.com/11740464

Industry representatives speaking at the NACRO conference made it clear that they are looking to academic partners to help navigate their way through the use of big data. Indeed, big data initiatives extend beyond the private sector. The Administration’s Science & Technology (S&T) policy memo accompanying the federal FY 2015 budget continues to encourage funding agencies to pursue “grand challenges” – described as ambitious goals that require advances in science, technology and innovation to achieve, and to support high-risk, high-return research.  Big data and cybersecurity are identified among these grand challenges.

The need for both private industry and the federal government to manage big data will continue to provide faculty and staff from across campus with opportunities to engage in big data sponsored projects, whether it is to conduct basic or applied research of their own or to provide expertise to an external partner. Further, many exciting cross-disciplinary possibilities exist for NIU faculty and staff to explore, in terms of sponsored research, curriculum development activities, and even campus operations.

Kristin Duffy
OSP Contract Coordinator