Dirty Water and Data Science: Why Boston Is the World’s Big Data Hub

by   |   June 20, 2014 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

Alex Cosmas, Chief Scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton

Alex Cosmas, Chief Scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton

Boston holds a central role in American history. It was the birthplace of revolution in the 1700s. In the early 1800s, it became New England’s transportation hub as well as the intellectual, educational and medical epicenter of the young nation. As the country transitioned from the 19th to the 20th century, Boston, along with New York, became one of the mega-financial centers of the United States.

We, as Bostonians, have been at the center of so much of our nation’s history. And today the city finds itself right in the middle of yet another revolution – the Big Data Revolution.

Boston (and, by extension, Massachusetts) is poised to become one of the leading data analytics hubs in the world. Want proof? According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Massachusetts Big Data Report, the city hosts close to 500 companies in its big data ecosystem, more than 5,200 processing and data-related patents were initiated here between 2008 and 2012, and the state is home to the highest per-capita concentration of college graduates with data science-related degrees – more than three times that of second-place New York.

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Boston’s role in the growth of data science is a reflection of the city’s entrepreneurial culture, exemplified by the hundreds of growing tech companies in the area and the 243 venture capital firms, private equity firms, angel investor groups and strategic investors that have planted roots around Boston. Coupled with the 50-plus local universities that are graduating close to 5,600 students annually from 14 data science-related programs, the area has both a pipeline of young talent for the region’s established tech giants as well as an incubator of knowledge and talent for the 800 local tech startups, which have collectively raised more than $5 billion and created 17,800 jobs.

A grassroots movement has also spawned new “Meetups” each week – on any given day, you can find a lecture on topics ranging from distributed databases and cloud computing to social hack-a-thons. In addition, Boston is home to numerous data-focused events and conferences that cultivate an environment of constant intellectual and professional growth.

The progression of this ecosystem of universities, startups, established companies and investors is being nurtured by the city and the state, which continues to take steps to improve access to data, strengthen computing resources and extend broadband coverage. To that end, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently announced a $3 million capital investment to launch the Massachusetts Open Cloud project, a university-industry collaboration designed to create a new public cloud computing infrastructure to spur big data innovation.

Furthermore, the city’s online open data initiative provides residents with information regarding food establishment inspections, snow removal, building permit data and other municipal services. It’s all part of Mayor Marty Walsh’s overarching effort to enable public participation, collaboration and government transparency through the sharing of information.

No conversation regarding analytics in Boston, however, would be complete without mention of our beloved Boston Red Sox. Boston was one of the pioneering MLB teams to embrace sabermetrics and analytics as part of its recruiting and player-development strategy. And the proof is in the pudding. In 2003, one year prior to the historic World Series run that broke the franchise’s 86-year drought, the Minnesota Twins released a 6’4”, 230-pound first baseman by the name of David Ortiz. Ortiz had performed well at the plate and had the numbers to prove it, but he didn’t fit the league’s vision of a world-class infielder. Former General Manager Theo Epstein, however, wasn’t interested in holding to stereotypes – he followed the numbers. Three World Series titles and dozens of clutch home runs later, you can be sure Red Sox Nation believes in the power of analytics.

The data revolution is fundamentally changing the questions that sport franchises, entrepreneurs, Fortune 1000 companies, and public sector organizations are asking: How can I predict sentiment to develop the right products and services for the right customers? What is the untapped potential of my organization’s data, and how can we harness its value? How can data inform solutions to our greatest societal challenges?

With its thriving community of inquisitive and conscientious data scientists, Boston is poised to be a center of data-driven creativity and thought leadership for this generation and many to come. As a long-time Boston resident and analytics practitioner, I am very excited to be a part of this great city’s legacy of driving revolution.

Alex Cosmas leads Booz Allen Hamilton’s Boston office and is a Chief Scientist in the firm’s Analytics practice. He is a recognized expert in the use of predictive and probabilistic models to perform both deductive and inductive reasoning from large datasets and leads a capability team, which delivers advanced analytics across the public and private sectors. Alex has consulted for Fortune 100s both domestically and internationally in the areas of demand modeling, consumer choice, network modeling, revenue management, and pricing. He is a member of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) and the Airline Group of the International Federation of Operations Research Societies (AGIFORS). He earned a B.S. in applied physics from Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, an M.S. in technology and policy, and an M.S. in aerospace engineering, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Think your town has what it takes to lay claim to the big data title? Email the editor and make your case. The best arguments could appear on Data Informed.

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