Till fairly recently, the business analysis team of a corporate firm included a statistician who specialised in the analysis of all things numerical; computer scientists who were experts in employing software programs to power the company’s operations; and managers, who knew how to leverage the work of the other two professionals and combine it with sound business sense.
Now imagine a scenario where one single individual has a magical crystal ball that gives him the power to combine all three skill sets. That day dawned not long ago, resulting in a new species on the corporate evolutionary ladder – ‘unicorns’.
These are quantitative specialists who synthesise and analyse Big Data, the humongous amounts of electronic and digital data that floods businesses on a daily basis. Clearly no longer mythical, ‘unicorns’ are nicknamed for how rare they still are.
Also going by the more boring term ‘data scientists’, the work of these professionals is becoming crucial to driving business decisions, making their skills among the hottest things on the corporate landscape – and consequently on the MBA agenda as well.
But rather than design the business administration programs for super-skilled data scientists, business schools are aiming at a broader spectrum of individuals – those who want to combine business acumen with quantitative skills.
So, instead of a PhD in statistics, biostatistics, particle physics or computer science, all you need is an affinity for numbers and a passion for numerical data. A background in information technology and computer programming does help.
If you want to sign up, well, your best bet would be a year-long Master’s program in Business Analytics, with more and more business schools launching Certificate and Master’s courses in this domain.
The only full-fledged MBA program in Business Analytics is being offered by Indiana University’s Kelley Business School, whereas a few other universities are contemplating it as a specialisation for their two-year MBA program.
Synonymous with Big Business and Big Money, Big Data is the term used for the colossal amounts of data, both structured and unstructured, generated by pretty much everyone on a daily basis.
While web searches, social media, mobile data, text messages, images, videos and posts are generated by all and sundry, other sources include remote-sensing devices, software logs, cameras, microphones, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers and wireless sensor networks. And the volumes are growing all the time.
Massive volumes of data like this cannot be captured or analysed by traditional software programs but they are a treasure trove of information crucial to businesses and their bottom lines.
No wonder a professional who can sift through it, make sense of it, see patterns in it, draw conclusions from it and devise solutions from it is invaluable to any corporate organisation, not to mention governments, non-profits and the like.
Running Big Data through special algorithms and software developed specially for this purpose can provide ‘business intelligence’, or solutions to cost reductions and time reductions; assisting with new product development; optimising current offerings; predicting customer preferences; and revealing critical details about online buying behavior; thus enabling smarter, more well-informed business decisions.
Marrying Big Data with high-powered analytics can thus help a company determine the root causes of failure, detect fraudulent behavior before it affects a business, optimise its operational efficiency, and even recalculate entire risk portfolios in minutes.
It is now easy to see how Big Data can reveal stunning insights that could virtually turn a business around, help a company or start-up leapfrog over the competition, and make millions very quickly when put to use on Wall Street.
It is easy to see why the demand for professionals with business analytics as their core skill is exploding. This means if you have an MBA degree and have taken even a Certificate course or Master’s course in analytics, you could be among the new mega-rich – and likely join the workforce with a six-figure salary.
And grooming these specialists is a host of business schools, whose Master’s programs in Business Analytics are trending on the MBA radar.
Among the recent entrants to Big Data is Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business, whose Dean, Amy Hillman, says interest in a Master’s in Business Analytics has spread “like wild fire”. The 87 spots up for grabs received over 300 applications in 2014.
Then there’s Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which offers several courses in Business Analytics, some required for its MBA program.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also has a new program lined up. The MIT Sloan School of Management is developing a Master’s in Analytics course jointly with the university’s Operations Research Center, beginning in 2016.
Not surprisingly, partnerships between business schools, industry and data analytics firms are mushrooming, to the benefit of each player.
For instance, International Business Machines Corp (IBM), which has poured billions into snapping up analytics companies, has partnered with over 200 business schools to design and develop their analytics programs.
Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business, which is among these 200 business schools, now offers its MBA students a Marketing Analytics course.
“Historically, students go into marketing because they ‘don’t do numbers’,” says Dawn Lerman, Director of the business school’s Center for Positive Marketing. But, these days, with a flood of data surrounding consumer behavior, “you can’t hide from math and statistics and be a good marketer,” she says.
In another academia-industry partnership, Deloitte joined forces with Kelley School of Business to offer a certificate in Business Analytics to the company’s employees, a few years ago. The school designed a similar certificate course for employees of management consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton.
More recently, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business announced its Master of Business Analytics program in 2014, with 30 students. The program was the brainchild of Marshall’s corporate advisory board, whose executives are drawn from blue-chip firms like General Electric, Boeing and Walt Disney, who benefit immensely from analytics talent.
Among these advisors is Melissa Lora, President of Taco Bell. “We find it invaluable to have people who can synthesise data and suggest changes based on those insights,” she says, pointing to Taco Bell’s need to sort data on restaurants’ service speed and product quality as well as social-media metrics.