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Future Of Big Data: These Business Analytics Degrees Are Bridging The Gaping Skills Gap

For biz students, it's mandatory to leverage analytics

Tue Mar 8 2016

The big data wave is surging through every sector — and profound digital transformations are making it mandatory to leverage analytics. So says Massimo Beduschi, Italian CEO of WPP, the world’s biggest advertising behemoth.

“It has made profound transformations necessary in work processes and, above all else, in the training of new professional figures who are able to anticipate and lead the change,” Massimo exclaims.

The data revolution, which IDC reckons represents $41 billion in revenue opportunities, has WPP so hyped that it is investing in training digital leaders at a top European business school.

If the hyperbole around big data is to be believed, then the education of the world’s future business leaders must change — rapidly.

There is a savage shortage of digital talent, from consulting and technology to banking and finance, according to study by Capgemini, the consultancy. McKinsey estimates 1.5 million more data managers will be required by 2018 in the US alone.

That’s why the Sloan School of Management, at US university MIT, a cacophony of tech and science innovation, launched a master’s in business analytics.

“The time is right,” says Jake Cohen, senior associate dean at Sloan. “Recruiters have said they are looking for training in advanced business analytics — Amazon, Google and Facebook are looking for people who can take insight to action,” he says.

As big data re-engineers business processes and management, schools are racing to stay ahead of the curve. “Many schools have courses linked to digital technology, one way or another,” says Soumitra Dutta, dean of Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management.

Cornell, like MIT, is able to draw on its excellence in computer science. It’s working with Twitter and LinkedIn to bring analytics to its MBAs. But Soumitra believes the blending of tech disciplines and business management is not happening quickly enough. “Business schools themselves should be transforming the way they teach,” he says.


If programs do not evolve they risk irrelevance in an era where digital and data are at the center of all economic activity. “I applaud that we have universities tackling this, but we need to do it at a higher speed,” agrees Radhika Chadwick, a partner at Ernst & Young.

Schools do not lack incentive to embrace the forces of change. Maeve Richard is Career Management Center director at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. In the heart of San Francisco’s Bay Area, home to cloud and data leaders such a Salesforce and Google, Maeve says technology has been a strong sector for MBAs.

“It’s a particularly rich environment right now,” she says. “Most of the curriculum is about looking for opportunities to be transformative,” Maeve adds — MBA electives include digital competition, business intelligence from big data, and data-driven decision-making.

At Pennsylvania University’s Wharton School, students are offered a program track and Moocs on business analytics. “For years companies have said, ‘Let’s throw a lot of money at the IT people to build a CRM system so that great things will just happen',” says Peter Fader, co-director of Wharton’s analytics initiative.

“[But] now we have all this data, how do we actually build strategies? How do we use the data and the models to run businesses better?” he says.

Many schools are training MBAs to answer these questions. But the trend now is for specialist masters degrees focused on analytics. As an example of an early mover, Warwick Business School set-up its program with IBM and SAS in 2008.

Juergen Branke, professor of operational research and systems, believes a new type of education is needed for managing in the digital economy.

“Data availability has increased dramatically in recent years….This offers great opportunities for better management decisions, replacing gut feeling by thorough analysis, and allowing new business models and a better consumer experience,” he says.


Jeffrey Camm, chair in business analytics at Wake Forest University School of Business, which runs a specialist masters, says data has become a form of capital.

“Managers need to understand analytics, how it converts data to valuable insights, and also understand issues such as data privacy, and the ethical use of data and analytical models,” he says.

While most schools are enthusiastic about harnessing the power of data, they are held back by lengthy bureaucratic processes and a lack of expert faculty.

“There is a generational issue. Most senior deans and professors are not ‘digital natives’. They are baby boomers,” says Jim Hamill, head of digital leadership at University of Edinburgh Business School.

Schools are relying on partnerships to address the divide. Imperial College Business School, which runs a business analytics degree, partnered KPMG to launch the Data Observatory. “Big data is changing the way everyone operates and for businesses to compete in a globalized economy, they need to be able to make sense of all the valuable information,” says Imperial’s dean, G Anandalingam.

Juan José, director of the masters in business analytics at IE Business School, developed with IBM, says companies are struggling to fill their data science positions.

Tie-ups give them access to talent. “They have to recruit a lot of people every year,” says Gregory LaBlanc, faculty director at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which works with Accenture. “There is huge unmet demand for data science,” he says.