The students enrolled in the University of Montana’s IBM InfoSphere Streams course are getting one-of-a-kind introduction to the groundbreaking tools being used in the quickly expanding high-tech field of big-data analytics.

The job now, according to the founders of a new Big Data Alliance being formed in Missoula, is making sure those students have somewhere to put what they learn to work after graduation. More importantly, alliance founders want that “somewhere” to be in Missoula.

The alliance is being organized the Missoula Economic Partnership, which is working to bring community, private sector, government and university stakeholders together to talk about how to grow all areas of big-data analytics in Missoula.

“We’re just saying, let’s get all the parties together that play in this space and say, how? We don’t want to develop an expertise in this and have no ability to capture it, grow it,” said James Grunke, MEP president.

The Streams course is an interdisciplinary class that was first offered through at UM’s School of Business Administration in the fall 2012 semester. It is the first undergraduate Streams course in the world and helps prepare students who want to pursue jobs in the big-data sector.

Critical to the conversation, Grunke said, is Alex Philp, whose tech companies have been doing groundbreaking work in big-data analytics for the past decade. Philp’s work put Missoula on the big-data map after he launched several companies, including GCS Research and TerraEchos.

The alliance can help develop the infrastructure to make sure students have a place to work and businesses like Philp’s can grow, Grunke said.

“It’s really a chicken and an egg,” Grunke said. “We think we’re trying to be both.”

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It was Philp’s connection to IBM that helped bring the Streams class to UM.

In 2010, Terra secured a licensing agreement with IBM. IBM’s Streams software is embedded with TerraEchos’ Kairos system, a technology that helps package, analyze and correlate large amounts of fast-moving data in real time.

Philp is an “IBM champion” who lectures and blogs for the company. He worked for several years with UM and MEP to bring the Streams class to campus. In February, Philp brought high-level IBM representatives to campus to discuss how UM’s partnership with IBM could be expanded.

Philp sees the Big Data Alliance as being a forum for all interested players to meet, talk and spark innovation.

When IBM representatives gathered with community members at a luncheon here in February there was an “explosion” of conversation about the industry. That’s what needs to happen if Missoula is going to move forward as a big-data hub, Philp said.

“I want it to support innovation on all fronts. How can we use big-data technology to do it better? Better banking, better natural resource management,” he said. “Every single (Missoula) institution, I can tell you how they’d benefit from big data. All of this is worth discussing and learning about.”

Big-data analytics is a $28 billion industry that is already facing growing workforce demand needs. The end game is to have Missoula be an “internationally recognized hub for excellence in big data,” Philp said.

The first Big Data Alliance meeting likely will be in late spring, Grunke said.

“At least it gets people thinking about these things,” he said. “There’s nobody else right now, really kind of taking this approach to say, ‘This could be ours.’ ”

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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