NJ Big Data Alliance Hopes to Be a Catalyst for Economic Activity, Job Creation

Photo: Marget Brennan-Tonetta Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Marget Brennan-Tonetta | Esther Surden

On August 15, Governor Chris Christie signed  Bill A2218/S582, which formally designated the New Jersey Big Data Alliance (NJBDA) as the state’s advanced cyber infrastructure consortium.

According to Margaret Brennan-Tonetta, associate vice president for economic development at Rutgers University, the consortium is “unprecedented,” bringing together eight of the state’s higher education institutions, both public and private.

It was established to highlight New Jersey’s capabilities and reputation as a leader in advanced, cutting-edge technology.

“The alliance was created about a year ago in recognition of a need for higher education and the state to build advanced cyber infrastructure and advanced computation capabilities,” Brennan-Tonetta said at a press conference on Sept. 23.

Creating infrastructure in the state will be a costly endeavor, and the universities realized that the only way they could accomplish something this big would be if they all worked together, she added.

Through the alliance, the participants will build awareness of specialized computing equipment housed throughout the state, and will facilitate the sharing of this equipment by universities, industry, and government. The NJBDA will also be able to assess what infrastructure and technological expertise is missing from the mix.

“New York and Massachusetts have somewhat similar programs, but those programs were driven by the state government and were a top-down effort,” Brennan-Tonetta said. “This was a bottom-up effort, and I think that it will be very effective in terms of our willingness to work together and collaborate.”

Since the alliance’s foundation last year, it developed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) for all the eight institutions and held a big data conference with more than 210 attendees.

Now this bill has been passed and signed by the governor.

Photo: Upendra Chivukula speaking at the Big Data Alliance Event Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Upendra Chivukula speaking at the Big Data Alliance Event | Esther Surden

Former assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who sponsored the bill, talked about the economic impact of creating this alliance in New Jersey. He has just been approved by the New Jersey legislature as a commissioner of the N.J. Board of Public Utilities (BPU), and has left the assembly.

Chivukula said that New Jersey is lagging in terms of job creation, but the NJBDA will help the state attract investment, grow the economy, and create high-paying jobs. “I think this will be a real catalyst for moving things forward.”

Universities in the state will learn how to collaborate while still competing, Chivukula noted, as the bill encourages New Jersey colleges to look for partners among other New Jersey academic institutions.

“In the state, we talk about shared services. This is the shared services among universities in the Big Data Alliance,” Chivukula said.

Dr. Manish Parashar, director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute and NJBDA delegate, said that the manipulation of big data offers the opportunity to have a tremendous impact on business, helping firms increase their competitiveness. Engineers could also manage systems better, modeling and adapting them based on knowledge derived from big data analysis. And governments could improve the lives of citizens by using this data.

Photo: Manish Parashar of Rutgers Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Manish Parashar of Rutgers | Esther Surden

“Being able to transform this big data into insights that can transform society is very important,” he said.

Big Data provides big challenges as well. The infrastructure needed to move big data, process it, analyze it and convert it into knowledge is very expensive, Parashar acknowledged. There are also challenges in manipulating the data and figuring out the optimal types and quality of data so that it can be transformed into knowledge, he added.

At the press conference celebrating the bill’s passage, Mary Ward-Callan, managing director of technical activities at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), outlined how that organization would collaborate with the NJBDA.

The influential IEEE, one of the world’s largest organizations dedicated to advancing technological innovation, with more than 400,000 members, has its operations center in Piscataway. There are 7,000 members in New Jersey alone.

Ward-Callan said that the IEEE is collaborating with the NJBDA on conferences, communications and standards. The group helped organize a symposium at the Stevens Institute of Technology to get the effort off the ground. In the future, the IEEE will put together educational opportunities to help develop new talent emerging in this area of expertise.

Ward-Callan added that, with the development of big data, there are challenges involving security and privacy, and she hoped that New Jersey and IEEE resources could be used to address these problems.

Photo: Left to Right: Mary Ward-Callan, IEEE: Mahmoud Daneshmand, Stevens Institute; David Belanger, Stevens Institute; Rashmi Jain, Montclair State University; Daniel Paolini of NJ office of Information technology. Photo Credit: Esther Surden
Left to Right: Mary Ward-Callan, IEEE: Mahmoud Daneshmand, Stevens Institute; David Belanger, Stevens Institute; Rashmi Jain, Montclair State University; Daniel Paolini of NJ office of Information technology. | Esther Surden

What’s next for the NJBDA? NJTechWeekly.com asked the leaders, and received the following answers:

  • Both the Stevens Institute of Technology and Montclair State University are organizing events to help educate industry on how to work with big data and the NJBDA.
  • The NJBDA is working on an MOA that will serve as a more formal collaborative agreement among the participating institutions.
  • Working groups will be formed to focus on issues like intellectual property.
  • “We will also be developing a big data portal where we will be hosting large data sets for industry or researchers to be able to utilize for research purposes,” Brennan-Tonetta said.
  • Simultaneously, the NJBDA is developing a strategic plan for spearheading the growth of advanced cyber infrastructure in the state, pending further legislation.
  • The NJBDA would also like to involve industry partners in its efforts, and will be working toward that goal.

The NJBDA was initiated through Rutgers, by the University’s Office of Research and Economic Development and the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute (RDI2), and includes Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Richard Stockton College, Rowan University, Rutgers, and Stevens Institute of Technology.  

The Alliance worked closely with the Office of Assemblyman Chivukula, the New Jersey Office of Information Technology – Enterprise Data Services, IEEE, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and NJEDge.Net, which provides high capacity network interconnections to colleges and Universities throughout the State.

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