New Thinking

Exploring the promise of Big Data for cities and for brands

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Opportunity abounds for those able to gather, analyze and draw insights from the flow of data around us, no matter what sector—from agriculture to medicine, manufacturing to energy and utilities, commerce to education. Locked within data is potential for greater efficiency, innovation, savings and a potential boost in brand.

To accelerate the emerging field of big data, the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) applied more than $5 million to establish four regional hubs for data science innovation. Covering all 50 states, the consortia around these hubs include commitments from more than 250 organizations, including universities and cities to foundations and Fortune 500 corporations. Recognizing the benefit of big data and the need to better understand how to harness its potential, a wide range of corporations have partnered with involved think tanks and academic and research institutions. The companies involved include Procter & Gamble, Macy’s and General Motors.

Together, these organizations form “big data brain trusts” that will partner to address regional challenges with each actor learning more about big data in the process. The hubs will ease the initiating of partnerships by reducing coordination costs, creating opportunities for knowledge sharing and bringing top talent to address important issues. Priorities of each regional Big Data Hub vary, and among them include new technologies for big data and data-driven discovery in areas such as healthcare, natural resources, resilience, food security, education, energy, manufacturing and finance.

Data as a boost to brand

This endeavor focuses on gains from the potential of data, but with this involvement will also come a boost in brand. Cities that have adopted and promoted their use of smart technologies and big data efforts frequently experience an improved city image as a result. These endeavors promise not just a technological fix, but also a brand fix; for smart and innovative cities are better able to attract and retain talent, business and other resources.

For example, in 2009-2010, the City of Dubuque invested about $1 million dollars in a Smarter Water pilot study as part of its Smarter Sustainable Dubuque initiative. The consequent boost this project gave to the city and its sustainability initiatives helped lead to the city receiving $27 million in state, federal and foundation grant funding to grow these efforts. This in turn affected other actors involved in the partnerships to implement these efforts, including academic institutions, civic groups, the chamber of commerce and other private sector actors.

As such, the NSF Big Data Hubs offer varied gains for involved organizations: a better understanding of how to gather and analyze big data, a potential boost in brand and the opportunity to help improve their communities along the way. To learn more about how your organization can get involved, see the Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs website.

Photo credit: Frank Peters/Thinkstock by Getty Images

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