From stock market crashes to climate change, global disruptions pose substantial threats to corporate sustainability. To mitigate risks to their economic security, environmental accountability and social responsibility, companies must be able to identify their vulnerabilities and keep closer tabs on potentially volatile conditions around the world.

New cognitive business and machine learning methodologies, designed to help companies collect, visualize and analyze data from wide-ranging sources, are viewed as central to these efforts.

“All across the value chain, companies have to know their vulnerabilities and prepare for risks on many fronts, not just from market gyrations,” explained Reggie Caudill, dean of NJIT’s Martin Tuchman School of Management (MTSM). “We can use these new analytic tools to evaluate potential weaknesses and even predict events, which will put us in a better position to manage business continuity and remain agile and resilient.”

With a five-year, $1.5 million grant from The Leir Charitable Foundations, NJIT will develop these business data science tools. The university’s newly launched Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Research Institute for Business, Technology, and Society will have a dual mission: to conduct business and management research and to establish partnerships with academic and business communities, regional economic leaders and government agencies.

Reggie Caudill, dean of Martin Tuchman School of Management

For the business and management research part of its mission, the new Leir Research Institute will develop predictive and proactive data analytics embedded within cognitive business and management tools. Caudill points to the sudden scarcity of valuable natural resources, like lithium or rare earth metals, to exemplify an unforeseen disruptive event. Critically important to the technology industry, these metals are produced only by a few mines globally, and some of these are in countries whose diplomatic relationship to the U.S. can be strained, making a critical shortage a distinct possibility.

“You can imagine the impact to the electronics sector,” Caudill noted. “But if we can do sufficient text mining and natural language processing of social media and get a handle on the potential for disruption, the earlier we [will] know … Companies can then respond with appropriate actions, including identifying new sources to ensure continuous supply.”

In establishing partnerships among various communities, the Leir Research Institute will also develop metrics to help companies measure their own sustainability. “This will allow companies to see where they need to prioritize investments,” Caudill said. Other institute initiatives include creating tools to help companies integrate disparate business data sets and provide insight into business data analytics through machine learning and AI methodologies.

The Leir Charitable Foundations grant will also support annual research symposia and Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Fellowships for graduate students and distinguished faculty. The fellowships, in particular, will aid in recruiting candidates for MTSM’s new Ph.D. program in business data science, one of the first in the country to integrate business analytics and management systems theory with statistics, computing science and engineering.

“NJIT has long been a leader of collaborative scholarly research aimed at making groundbreaking impact on our increasingly tech-driven society. This mission is furthered by providing valuable opportunities for exploration and examination to both its graduate and undergraduate students, which in turn prepares tomorrow’s researchers for innovative discovery,” said Margo Gibis, president of The Leir Charitable Foundations. “We look forward to all that the future holds at The Henry J. and Erna D. Leir Research Institute for Business, Technology, and Society, and are pleased to expand our special relationship with the university and to further the recognition and legacy of the Leir family.”

The Leir Charitable Foundations have made gifts to NJIT for more than two decades, supporting research conferences, The Leir Center for Financial Bubble Research at MTSM and two endowed faculty chairs: The Henry J. Leir Chair in International Trade and Business and The Henry J. Leir Chair in Healthcare.