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Future Of Big Data: Rapid Growth Of Business Analytics Degrees Eases Skills Crunch

Specalist programs help future executives master business data

By  Seb Murray

Mon Oct 26 2015

The advent of big data is creating billions in value for business and countless jobs in analytics. “Data is almost the currency of the future,” says Mazhar Hussain, director at KPMG Digital & Analytics, and at Imperial College Business School.

But the demand for the hottest data roles continues to stymie companies, who are demanding that managers become masters of data analysis.

There has been a shift in the education and training of future executives, who will need to use business data to create market advantages and enhance operational performance.

“Companies are increasingly data-driven and there is a vast need for professionals who are able to analyze that data and translate it into meaningful business outcomes,” says Robert Sullivan, dean of the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, which launched the Master of Science in Business Analytics this summer.

The proliferation of specialist degrees in business analytics has been salient, agrees Arne Strauss, associate professor on the MSc Business Analytics at Warwick Business School. Over the past few years, scores of top business schools have announced the creation of analytics degrees. These include programs at USC Marshall, Melbourne, and the McCombs School. More have said privately that they are developing data initiatives.  

And with the gaping shortage of analytics talent failing to abate, these programs have become among the fastest-growing business masters degrees. “We plan to further expand based on demand from working professionals,” says Jana Stern at W. P. Carey School of Business, one of the first to run an MSc in Business Analytics.

Meanwhile, the rise of analytics courses within MBA programs has been rapid, seen at the likes of Wharton, HEC Paris and Chicago Booth business schools. Many have teamed up with companies blazing a trail in big data, such as IBM and KPMG.

“The only way for MBAs to really learn how to handle big data is to actually work with it, and to interact with student engineers and data scientists,” says Greg La Blanc, lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School, which created a big data curriculum with Accenture.

While MBA students need not become data scientists, organizations’ strategies are increasingly being shaped by the use of analytics. “You need to be technical enough to speak the language of data science,” says Roy Lee, assistant dean of global programs at NYU Stern, which runs an MS in Business Analytics. “But you also need to know how to use data to solve business problems and deliver results.”

Meanwhile, the top schools have partnered with digital learning providers to offer business analytics degrees online. Data analysis is already among the most popular Moocs, or massive open online courses. “We have seen great interest in data analytics courses,” says Nancy Moss, director of communications at edX, a leading Mooc platform.

Wharton, Duke University and UC San Diego recently launched a series of online degrees focused on big data with Coursera, one of the world’s biggest online learning companies.

Anne Trumbore, director of Wharton Online, says that online education is critical in closing the analytics skills gap, particularly as the data science field is so rapidly changing.

Yet there is a “missing link” between having data and creating strategy with that data, she says. Theos Evgeniou, professor of decision sciences and technology management at INSEAD, says: “Being open to innovations that may be coming from bottom-up instead of top-down may be a challenge for many organizations.”

Today any business school worth its salt is thinking about how to address these challenges. The answer for many it seems is a data management degree. “In the near future we will all need to develop analytical skills in order to succeed in our jobs,” says Juan José Casado Quintero, academic director of the Master in Business Analytics & Big Data at Spain's IE Business School.