Data Analytics: Hottest Business Major?

Greg Allenby of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business

Greg Allenby of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business

‘THERE IS GREAT DEMAND IN THE MARKETPLACE’

“We’re doing it for the same reason everyone is doing it, because there is great demand in the marketplace,” explains Greg Allenby, a professor of marketing and statistics at Fisher. “What’s distinctive about our program is we’re making it all R-based, which we believe employers will ask for. It’s really the future in statistics, so we’re hoping this will get students up and running for jobs in industry.”

At MIT, the new major in business analytics for undergraduates comes at a time when the school is looking to make its curriculum more market relevant and build on MIT’s longstanding quantitative strengths. MIT’s Jake Cohen, associate dean for undergraduate and master’s programs, says he believes that many of the school’s management and engineering students will be interested in doing a double major in the subject.

“Companies are generating an exponential amount of data and they need people to take all this data from clients and customers or consumers and generate insight,” Cohen adds from an interview with Poets&Quants last spring. “This is a field we really see as emerging and we want to be on the forefront of it.”

HOW TO USE DATA ANALYTICS TO OPTIMIZE A FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT

Indeed, students are eager to get their hands wrapped around ways to approach the complex questions that businesses are facing today. Those who study big data in a classroom learn how to manipulate data using advanced techniques such as data mining, optimization and simulation modeling, and database design and management.

At Tippie, they learn the subject by studying real-life examples, such as how to do use data analytics to optimize a Fantasy Football draft or hit the most PokeStops when playing the Pokémon game, Street says. They also study more serious business problems, from how hospitals can reduce their readmission rates to predicting the type of behaviors that would increase the odds of donors willing to contribute to a particular nonprofit.

Tippie’s major has attracted students such as Ling Tong, a senior at the school majoring in mathematics and business analytics and information systems. As a freshman, she entered the program intending to major in accounting, with the goal of getting her CPA.  But Tong soon changed her mind when she learned that the school offered a new major that would allow her to study big data. “Business analytics is much, much more interesting,” believes Tong, who plans to study the topic in graduate school next year and eventually go back to China to work in the field.

A WIN-WIN FOR BUSINESS AND ITS CUSTOMERS

She’s put her recently honed data analysis skills to good use, participating in a business competition last spring sponsored by Syngenta, an agricultural biotechnology firm, and INFORMS, a professional society for practitioners of information-systems management. She was part of a team from the Tippie School that used data analytics to develop a model to predict which varieties of seeds farmers should plant to maximize their yields. Her team took third place in the Syngenta Crop Challenge, an important validation of the skills she’s learned in her classes, she says.

“When you can use data to help the business delver more value to the customer, that’s a win-win for both sides,” she said.

Expect explosive growth in the topic as more business schools jump on the bandwagon with Tippie, MIT, Maryland, and Ohio State. This is not a trend that is anywhere near its peak.

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