Data analytics tools are not a hard sell to business leaders but it is still striking how many MBA candidates are hell-bent on crunching big data.
Companies across sectors are desperate to glean insights from data analysis and the trend is not lost on the world’s top business schools, which are teaming up with data leaders to produce tech-savvy managers. IBM, KPMG and Accenture have all invested in school programs.
Companies see the benefit in training analytics talent and top schools, from NYU Stern to HEC Paris to National University Singapore, are catering to demand. More data management courses are rumoured to be in the pipeline.
“All businesses are affected by the new surge in data and are scrambling to take advantage of it and make sense of it. Analytics is a necessary part of business school education now,” says Kalyan Talluri, MSc Business Analytics director at Imperial College Business School.
Companies are investing billions of dollars in data solutions and some are willing to compete with the likes of Hewlett-Packard and SAP, the listed software computing groups, and fund research centres at top universities. KPMG will pour £20 million into a data analytics centre at Imperial; IBM and Telfer School of Management have pumped around $5 million into a similar centre at Telfer.
KPMG is at the vanguard of digital service lines, according to market research group IDC.
Future managers must become data leaders, the firm says. Miriam Hernandez-Kakol, KPMG principal and US technology enablement leader, says: “Business leaders are increasingly dependent on data and analytics, cloud solutions and mobile capability to enhance efficiencies and improve margins.”
Developing courses with private providers is often an expense but business schools recognize the need.
Jennifer George, director of the Master of Business Analytics at Melbourne Business School, says there is an “urgent need” among companies to hire analytics talent.
“The quality and quantity of data now available to many businesses means that those organisations who are not considering how to use it effectively are giving away a huge competitive advantage,” she says.
Career prospects are the driver. “Globally there is increasingly a trend across the IT sector to hire MBA graduates with business experience within analytical roles,” says Tracey McClurg, head of MBA careers at UWA Business School, with firms hiring for positions like director of customer analytics and business insight manager.
Consulting firms are top recruiters, driven by companies investing in their data. “They are all looking for talent that has the technical and business savvy to understand, interpret and effectively communicate how data can drive decision-making," says Jennifer Whitten, director of career services at W.P Carey School of Business.
Big data is starting to take hold of the financial services sector, says Alex Stremme, assistant dean for finance at Warwick Business School. “It’s an emerging topic.”
Accenture estimates that the US could see demand for analytics talent outstrip supply by more than 250,000 positions this year alone.
“Finding and accessing analytics talent will require innovative sourcing strategies to bridge the gap between supply and demand,” says John DelSanto, senior managing director for Accenture’s financial services group in North America.
Schools have hired analytics leaders – among them are Dr Yu Zhu, professor of finance at CEIBS who was a director of the modelling and analytics group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Stern's Professor Vasant Dhar, who pioneered the use of machine learning on Wall Street.
Pradeep Bath, of MIP Politecnico Di Milano, is like many of his MBA counterparts keen to talk up employment prospects for data roles. “[Data] made me think twice about my future goals, forcing me to transition my career to business analytics,” he says.
He studied an analytics course developed in partnership with IBM and landed an internship at the tech company this year. “Today I am working three years ahead of the time,” he says.
In a sign of things to come, the feverish demand for analytics programs has if anything intensified this year: since January Yale School of Management, and the Kogod and DeGroote business schools have announced plans to launch analytics and software courses. New data programs at ESSEC Business School, Amsterdam Business School, and CEU Business School will begin in 2015.
Professor Kyle Jensen, director of entrepreneurial programs at Yale, says: “Very few of these students will go off and write code. But almost all of them will be in organizations that are using, producing, or being disrupted by software.”