The idea took root during a dinner three years ago, at Oscars restaurant in Dublin, as the top technology officers at Cardinal Health and Nationwide talked about their similar needs.
The small gathering eventually produced big results, as IBM said late last week that it will locate its first Client Center for Advanced Analytics -- and 500 new jobs -- at its campus in the Tuttle Crossing area.Analytics, also known as "big data," is considered one of the next big waves in the technology industry.
It involves analyzing the billions of bits of data produced online, and then helping companies use the information to make better strategic decisions, improve customer service, detect fraud, and gain a competitive advantage.
"What piqued our interest were data analytics. We saw that as a growth area and a foundational skill for both of us to develop," said Patty Morrison, Cardinal Health chief information officer, of her dinner with Michael Keller, who holds the same position at Nationwide.
Keller grabbed hold of the idea and ran with it, Morrison said, bringing it to Columbus2020, the area's economic-development group. A member of the organization's board, Keller set up a task force that included the CIOs of Nationwide, Cardinal Health, Huntington Bancshares and Limited Brands. The group eventually contacted several IT companies.
"We asked them what their capabilities were and their interest in Columbus," Keller said. "With our combined business opportunities, that made it attractive to a supplier."
The center will provide services for local companies, as well as others located throughout the country, and position Columbus to become the nation's hub for big-data analysis.
In other words, that was one heck of a dinner.
However, the line in the snow from Oscars to Thursday's announcement wasn't exactly straight, and involved several collaborations and a new marketing strategy for economic development.
"The idea was, how could we leverage the (analytic needs) of all of our companies," said Alex Fischer, CEO of Columbus Partnership, a coalition of area chief executives, that was also involved in the pitch.
And it worked, as the big-data needs of Nationwide, Cardinal Health, Huntington and Limited Brands were attractive to IBM.
"At various moments in IBM's history, great ideas come forward," said Mike Rhodin, the company's senior vice president, software group.
The proposal from Keller and his group, Rhodin added, was one of these moments -- and led to the center.
"I've been doing this for a long time, and this is one of the more unique things I've ever worked on in terms of how it all came together," said Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer of Columbus2020.
What made this proposal unique, he said, was the four large companies banding together and basically saying: "We're willing to spend millions on analytics, if you're willing to do it here and bring the jobs here."
The group will look for ways to duplicate the success in bringing the IBM analytics center to Columbus, but they say that it could be a challenge replicating this type of collaboration and marketing approach.
"It might not be the same," McDonald said of future pitches. "Most areas aren't as pervasive as analytics. All the really large companies have a need for it, especially those in data-sensitive areas such as insurance, financial services and health care."
There aren't that many other areas, he said, in which a shared need is as pervasive.
"But we are looking into it," he said, adding that advanced materials for the aerospace and automobile industries could lend to such a collaboration.
Ohio State University is a leader in that area and Ohio has several companies that could be part of a shared supply chain for advanced materials.
"But this is just an example. There's nothing formal we're doing right now," McDonald said.
What the IBM analytics center will allow McDonald and his team to do is market Columbus as the nation's big-data analytics hub.
"We can now pursue both small and large companies that need to grow," he said. "We can tell them IBM is building their big-data delivery center here and you can be part of this."
TechColumbus, an incubator for tech companies, was also involved in the project, as was the city of Columbus, Battelle, JobsOhio and Ohio State.
The university is working with IBM to create undergraduate and graduate programs in big-data analytics.
"We bring the power of partnership," said OSU president E. Gordon Gee during the grand opening of the center on Thursday. "I don't know very much about analytics, but I know what you are doing is our future."
Gee is correct. Big data is really big.
Companies are expected to spend $34 billion worldwide next year on big-data analytics, and by 2015, 4.4 million jobs in the field will be created globally, including 1.9 million in the United States, according to studies by Gartner, a leading IT research firm.
"We've shifted to a digital culture," said Julio Ortiz, Huntington Bancshare's director of IT-services delivery.
Columbus2020 had three goals when it started the task force, McDonald said, and all three are within sight. The first was to help local companies become more efficient and profitable, through big-data analytics."The second goal was to make this sustainable, not rely on one or two contracts, and make this a true magnet for analytics," McDonald said. "And, I knew if we did the first two things, we'd accomplish the third, which is to create jobs, which is our No. 1 goal every day."
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