Business Analytics Wave Sweeps Across B-Schools

Associate Dean Raj Singh greets students at the Carlson School of Management. Photo courtesy Minnesota Carlson

CARLSON’S NEW MINOR: 6 COURSES THAT MERGE TECHNICAL, FUNCTIONAL SKILLS

The result is an abundance of opportunity for business school students. “Our strength as a business school is providing functional knowledge combined with technical knowledge. That’s how we chose to give our students an edge with the new minor,” says Raj Singh at Carlson.

The new 12-credit minor consists of six courses, three required core and three electives. The three core courses stand to emphasize the technical knowledge that students will need to flourish in the field of business analytics, Singh says: for instance, Data Engineering, which teaches students to scrub and prepare data so that it can be used for organizational decision-making; and Analytical Tools for Business Problems, which teaches analytical methods and different ways to use statistics for making business decisions.

As students go on to choose electives within the minor, Singh says, they’re able to merge the technical skill set with more of the functional and managerial components.

WHY A MINOR AND NOT A MAJOR? ‘THE ICING ON THE CAKE’

Carlson’s Interactive Data Visualization for Business Analytics class, meanwhile, involves seven weeks of examining data, identifying business patterns, and manipulating data sets to show what-if scenarios. “Most business people, when they think about decisions that need to be made, they have these ‘What if?’ questions in their mind,” Singh says. “Instead of 10 different charts, students are able to take one dynamic chart and manipulate it as they ask different questions.”

To do this, Carlson students use Tableau, a data visualization software popular in industry as well as academia. “In some sense, it’s very new way of looking at data,” Singh says. In both the core and elective courses, he says, Carlson students with the business analytics minor are exposed to a variety tools and applications used by today’s real-world professionals.

Carlson chose to offer a minor instead of a major to avoid churning out students who were specialists in business analytics, but who lacked deep functional knowledge, Singh says. “We decided not to go the route of coming up with an analytics major. Instead, we decided to do a minor of 12 academic credits, and we’ll encourage students in marketing, finance, accounting, supply chain management as this being the icing on the cake.”

Rob Easley, chair of Mendoza’s IT, Analytics, and Operations department

MENDOZA GOES ALL-IN WITH ITS NEW MAJOR

Notre Dame Mendoza took a similar approach, blending technical skills with functional business knowledge, but instead went all-in with its new business analytics major. The 21-credit curriculum is similar to Carlson’s in that students learn the technical side of how to interpret, manage, and manipulate data, and also get data visualization know-how and hands-on experience with mechanisms that are commonly used in the field, such as Tableau, Python, SQL, and R.

“We have courses on social media analytics where we’re working with unstructured data, Twitter feed streams, etc.” Rob Easley says. “We have an ethics course, too, looking at the ethics of data analytics. That’s a very critical thing. Not only what kind of questions can you ask or should you ask, but, for instance, is it okay from a privacy perspective?

“Another thing that’s very Notre Dame-like is sports analytics. It’s an elective, but it’s a huge area that’s pervasive in some sports in particular. It’s fascinating all that’s available in this area.”

BOOTCAMPS & ACADEMIC CENTERS

With similar goals in mind, but a different twist, the School of Business at Providence College launched its Business Analytics Bootcamp three years ago. The idea stemmed from recruiter feedback that students coming out of the undergraduate program needed more technical knowledge.

In response, the school created a voluntary, week-long intensive training that takes place every August. The bootcamp is open to all undergraduate students and is said to equip them with a quantitative analysis toolkit.

“It involves some programming, advance work with Excel and some of the statistical programs that are available, some use of R, and hands on with basic statistical packages like SPSS,” says the bootcamp’s founder and coordinator, Dan Horne. “We also do basic analytics and data mining techniques. It’s about helping students understand both the art and the science in this.”

Meanwhile at the Haas School, the Fisher Center for Business Analytics opened a year ago with a three-tiered focus on research, teaching, and industry engagement as it relates to business analytics.

EXPECTED STUDENT OUTCOMES

With all of the training and new program development happening in this area, the outlook appears bright for undergraduate business school students. “My guess is that pretty soon a lot of jobs that are out there for business grads will demand analytics skills and there will be fewer jobs that will say it’s just a nice-to-have,” Carlson’s Raj Singh says. “The demand is going to be there in a big way.”

The answer to the million-dollar question of salary is still unknown, as many of the initiatives emphasizing business analytics are just getting warmed up. Nevertheless, to get some sense of where students may fall on the pay scale, Rob Easley at Mendoza looks to the history of data for IT management salaries. “It’s important to look at total career earnings, but the average starting salaries for IT was around $67,500. I anticipate it will be the same for business analytics.”

If she has any doubts about a future in analytics, Mendoza student Anne McCarter isn’t showing them. This summer she will intern with consulting firm Protiviti, a gig she secured largely thanks to Mendoza’s Business Analytics Department, and she’s bullish on the future.

“A handful of my friends in the major already have internships with consulting firms,” McCarter says. “Almost every industry requires data analysts, so there were many options when applying for internships. The Business Analytics Department — and Mendoza in general — prepared me extremely well for the interview process. I had plenty to talk about during interviews and casual conversations with recruiters. I am looking forward to the internship because the company is a perfect fit for me and classes like Data Management and Business Problem Solving have prepared me well.”

After graduation, McCarter she sees herself continuing in consulting. “I believe that the information and skills learned in class will translate well with any job BA students accept.”

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