University of Virginia launches Big Data initiative


The University of Virginia is positioning itself to be one of the major institutions involved in Big Data. The university is launching a research and development project that it hopes will not only be a model for other research projects, but for best practices in the study and application of Big Data nationwide.

The Big Data Institute will be a cross-departmental research initiative aligning several parts of the university system, and will be a key part of the university’s strategic plan moving forward. According to local coverage in The Daily Progress, the university hopes that by examining Big Data they can also make strides in other departments like astronomy or health where the stream of new data is massive.

On the health care front, the amount of data generated by that sector alone is in the terabytes and that is only expected to increase as more people enter the health care system under federal health care reform. This reality is leading some states to call on Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to provide more information about how that data will be stored and used.

Specifically, when an individual signs up for health benefits and completes the earned benefits screening questionnaire online, the questions included require a user to provide most if not all of their personally identifying information. In addition to program administrators, this information will also be screened by newly installed patient navigators. CivSource has previously reported on the emergence of navigators as the result of the law, these individuals are trained to help at risk and new patient populations find their way through the absurdly complex health care system. However, they will also be privy to sensitive data, presenting an insider risk in terms of Big Data breeches, as well as patient privacy risks.

Attorneys General in 12 states have sent a detailed letter to Secretary Sebelius questioning security precautions around these data. A recent Inspector’s General report on the status of the Affordable Care Act points to numerous tasks yet to be completed, while deployment deadlines edge closer.

Down the line, researchers at the University of Virginia and others may be able to provide suitable models for data capture and data security, through initiatives like The Big Data Institute.

Interestingly, the state of Virginia also announced a cybersecurity project – Semper Secure – this project will rely on the power of local universities and private sector partners to build out the cybersecurity economy in Virginia. Cybersecurity represents another “Big Data sector” of the economy, as recent federal spying revelations have shown, terabytes of data are streaming into NSA outposts around the clock. Overlaps between the two initiatives weren’t expressly mentioned in local coverage, but it would seem clear that synergistic relationships are there.