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Thursday, November 29, 2012

I.B.M. and Ohio State University to Open Center for Big Data

There is plenty of debate about just how much Big Data analytics can help businesses make smarter decisions to increase sales and cut costs. Yet there seems to be no debate that there is already a shortage of data scientists and business analysts to feed the Big Data boom.

I.B.M. is taking a step to address that problem in the American heartland by opening a new data analytics center in suburban Columbus, Ohio. The center, announced on Thursday, will combine research, client services and skills training.

I.B.M. says it plans to hire 500 analytics consultants and researchers for the center over the next three years. But the larger impact on the region's work force will likely be college students who work on projects at the center, and a partnership between I.B.M. and Ohio State University to develop new course materials for technology and business, and arrange teaching stints by Big Data professionals.

In an interview, Michael Rhodin, an I.B.M. senior vic e president, said the impetus for the new center began with the concerns of local clients, including Nationwide Insurance, Cardinal Health, Huntington Bank and The Limited. “They told us they were increasingly spending around business analytics and mathematics, and that those skills were hard to find,” Mr. Rhodin said.

I.B.M. has a sizable analytics operation in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, home of Sterling Commerce, a software company acquired by I.B.M. two years ago for $1.4 billion. The new I.B.M. center will also be in Dublin.

I.B.M., like other major technology companies, is making a bit bet on Big Data as a source of its future growth and as a major trend in business that will play out over many years - much like globalization. “But the common language of business,” Mr. Rhodin said, “is not going to be Chinese or Spanish. It's going to be math.”

That is the logic behind predictions of a surge in demand for people with Big Data skills, bo th technologists and business analysts. Last month, Gartner predicted that 1.9 million technology jobs would be created to support Big Data analytics in the United States by 2015, and three times that many jobs outside of computing.

But a talent gap looms. “Our public and private education systems are failing us,” said Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's head of global research. “Data experts will be a scarce, valuable commodity.”

The largest demand will be for analytics-adept business people, predicts Christine Poon, dean of the Max M. Fisher College of Business at Ohio State. “The future is going to be owned by people who are comfortable in the quant world but have deep business knowledge,” Ms. Poon said.

The Fisher business school brings a large potential pool of manpower to the Big Data talent gap. It has 6,800 undergraduate and graduate students.