Big Data

From online marketing to personalised medicine “big data” analysis promises to fundamentally change the way corporate decisions are made and so is proving to be one of the trendiest subjects in business schools.

Changing rules
The ingrained practice of cherry-picking data to justify previously made decisions is being ousted, making room for managers who can mine huge amounts of data in order to make reliable decisions. “Every role in a marketing department is now using data,” says Kevin Bishop, vice-president at IBM ExperienceOne, a provider of marketing solutions.

According to Marshall Topalansky, managing director at KPMG’s Center of Excellence in Data and Analytics, the shift in perspective is discernible. “There is a growing sense of the tangible value [of] those who [can] implement a data and analysis strategy,” he says.

This applies to a wide range of sectors, including retail and healthcare. Management consultancy Accenture estimates this year the US alone could see demand for analytics talent outstrip supply by more than 250,000 positions.

Programme strategy
As a result, business schools have started to offer a solution: a Masters in Business Analytics. Roughly split into two parts, this type of course offers the core technical skills required to work with large complex data sets while teaching how to apply the results within a commercial context.

One of the first business analysis programmes was introduced by Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto in 2012. Enrolling just four students to start with, the latest intake had 26 students. “[Our aim is] to create a breed of data scientist with an understanding for business,” says course director Murat Kristal.

Since then, the number of these courses has been growing. Stern School of Business in New York offers a one-year, part-time Masters of Science in Business Analytics tailored towards busy professionals and American University’s Kogod School of Business launched an online Masters of Science in Analytics this month. While the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is partnering with IBM to launch a two-week short course aimed at providing an introduction to data and analytics to chief marketing officers.

Employment opportunities
Evan Garmaise, currently a senior associate with KPMG in New York, completed the Schulich programme in 2013 as part of the initial intake. Having previously studied for an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a computer science degree at Princeton he says it was the “more specialised mathematical toolkit and use of data” the course offered that made it so appealing. Within eight months of study he had a job offer as a senior consultant at Deloitte, where he completed his four month research project on the job.

Numerical models
The emphasis on quantitative techniques means students require a numerical background, with a large proportion having studied maths, economics, computer science or physics at undergraduate level, explains Professor Kristal. “Our students can code in SAS (Statistical Analysis Software) which leads to very good perspective of how it [quantitative analytics] works and an underlying understanding that is difficult to achieve otherwise.”

This contrasts broadly with more traditional business courses, says Kalyan Talluri, who is taking applications for a new course at Imperial College Business School in London. “[Business Analytics] is for those who get their hands dirty, it’s less people orientated. MBAs tend to be softer, more managerial.”

Previously an analytics team would require statisticians, computer scientists and decision makers. When all these skills are combined in one individual it is not surprising companies are happy to employ them. As Prof Kristal points out, “We don’t even advertise.”

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