Editorial

State, region need to start planning now for big data highways

October 10, 2014
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Steelcase Inc.’s James Hackett, director and vice chair, led what was the most important session of the West Michigan Policy Forum two weeks ago, focused on the digital highway and the increasing gi-normity of “big data.”

The subject certainly deserved ranking among the top issues and might have been so, were business owners of West Michigan’s top tier technology companies participating in forum activities and helping to set those agenda items.

Those business owners should have a seat at the leadership table to assure such fundamentally important objectives are recognized and understood. Companies include giants like Gentex as well as OST, Ideomed, Atomic Object, Trivalent, Mutually Human and Springthrough.

It does not bode well that Michigan leaders are still mired in “discussion” of road and bridge reconstruction funding issues, but the data highway is certainly no less important and of looming significance. Hackett noted Michigan networks currently carry “ping-pong-sized data” but need to prepare for “bowling-ball-sized data.” He challenged the group of business owners and leaders: “I want you to be able to say you are ready for big data because our state has built for the way it’s coming.”

Statistically, data is doubling every 18 months.

The Right Place Inc. understands the big picture on big data, and in January included objectives as a part of its initiative on infrastructure, broadly framed as “improving business infrastructure, from intermodal logistics to broadband.”

The economic development agency currently lists statistical information showing that more than 4,300 jobs in 2012 in the West Michigan region were computer, Internet and related services. Extreme growth in those numbers is widely predicted. It is interesting to add an example from the McKinsey Global Institute analysis, which showed new Internet applications could fuel almost 22 percent of China’s labor productivity by 2025.

Hackett’s challenge — “Getting the Mitten to Think Big” — is a challenge, too, to become a leader in fiber optics.

Infrastructure? Businesses can’t even get on a bad road without necessary technology tools and its supporting infrastructure.

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