Business Analytics Wave Sweeps Across B-Schools

Innovation in business is about filling a need, solving a problem, narrowing a gap — or completely closing it. No one who has been paying attention these last few years will be surprised to learn that the field of business analytics is a sizzling hot topic in business schools, with new courses, concentrations, and even full-on majors springing up everywhere you turn. From new business analytics majors bursting on the scene at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business to Santa Clara University’s new BA minor in the Leavey School of Business and Babson College’s new BA concentration, it’s truly one of the 4 Key Trends Happening Now in Biz Ed. (See our series on specialized master’s degree business analytics programs by clicking here.)

One of the latest schools to hop on this fast-moving train is Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. In the fall of 2017, Mendoza introduced business analytics to its lineup of majors, the first time the school had undertaken the task of creating a new undergraduate major in about 35 years, says Rob Easley, chair of Mendoza’s IT, Analytics, and Operations Department and a key player in designing and launching the new degree.

“It looks more sudden than it was, but the reality is, we took over a two- or three-year period before doing this,” Easley tells Poets&Quants for UndergradsThe school spent those years consulting alumni, various boards of advisers, and actual firms. “We talked to them about the growth in analytics that was predicted,” Easley says. “They all agreed it would be a big thing. We also read other sources like reports put out by McKinsey. Everyone was talking about how big it would be.”

Inside one of the new analytics classrooms recently opened at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. Photo by University of Notre Dame

PROGRAMS FILL A ‘GLARING NEED’

Other schools acknowledge that the B-school landscape is abuzz with new biz analytics offerings because industries are screaming, loud and clear, that such programs produce graduates for whom there is a glaring business need.

“It’s not just a buzzword that catches people’s fancy. There is a very strong demand for it,” says Raj Singh, associate dean of the undergraduate program at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Look at what companies have done today. Take Amazon, for instance. They’re using data for every decision and every move that the company makes. At some level, business schools are a little bit behind the current. Industry is out there, they’re using it, and they’re looking for skills.”

In the fall of 2017, Carlson introduced a new business analytics minor informed by feedback they had received from industry insiders, recruiters, and corporate partners. “The biggest thing we got was from people who are in the health insurance industry,” Singh tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads. “United Healthcare is a big recruiter for us, so people designing insurance plans, for instance. And then we were getting feedback from marketers.”

DEMAND WAS NEVER A QUESTION

Business school students are paying attention. When Notre Dame Mendoza introduced its business analytics major last fall, it was instantly a huge hit, becoming in one semester the third-most popular major over marketing, management, and several others, and right behind finance and accounting, respectively.

Anne McCarter, a junior, had been hearing industry buzz about Big Data and how to create a story from data. Then, a chat with a neighbor in her hometown further convinced her to explore biz analytics as a major. “I happened to chat with a neighbor about what I was considering studying,” says McCarter, originally an economics major with a minor in computing and digital technology. “He emphasized the importance of Big Data in the industry he works in and how that translates to the majority of other industries.”

When she learned about the new major at Mendoza, McCarter first sought to understand the difference between business analytics and information technology. “Once I learned the difference,” she says, “I was extremely interested in BA.”

At Carlson, when the school launched its new minor, the result was similar. In just one semester, 201 students signed up for it.

“It’s been an amazing response from the students,” Singh says. “It surpassed our own expectations. For instance, we’d planned for one section for each of the required classes, but we had to double it to meet the demand.”

‘IF YOU CAN MAKE SENSE OF THE DATA, YOU’LL BE INCREDIBLY VALUABLE’

So what’s all the fuss about? Why are business schools racing to manufacture new programs and conjure up new majors?

Providence College School of Business

“We are swimming in data,” says Dan Horne, associate dean of faculty development at the Providence College School of Business. Horne also is the creator of the school’s Data Analytics Bootcamp for undergraduate students, which takes place every fall. “We have too much data and it’s become overwhelming. If you have the type of skills that help companies sort through that data and make sense of it, you will be incredibly valuable.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the mashup of terminology, Horne says: data science, management information systems, big data, business analytics. The differentiator — and where the opportunity lies for B-schoolers — is in data analytics professionals being the sense-makers of it all. 

Zsolt Katona, a professor of marketing and director of the recently launched Fisher Center for Business Analytics at the UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, puts it this way: “What we notice is that even though there are a lot of interest and initiatives, there’s still a gap between data science and application to relevant business problems and trying to solve them. We’re not doing basic data science, but finding avenues to apply data in practical ways to real business problems and to generate real solutions.”

Business schools are essentially offering to provide an intermediary —  “a person in the middle,” Katona says, “who would be able to understand what data scientists are doing and relating it to the business problem. They’re asking questions like, ‘Are we looking at right data set? Are we getting meaningful results?’ There’s two ways to go about it. Either a middleman who understands both sides and can manage the process, or to train the managers better. I think we’re trying to do a little bit of both.”

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