Why HBS Is Getting Into Business Analytics

Professor Karim Lakhani is leading the new business analytics program at HBS

It’s rare for a week to go by without another business school announcing a new specialized master’s degree in business analytics. So it may come with little surprise that Harvard Business School yesterday (August 7) said it would weigh in with a competitive offering in this hot area.

But as it often does, HBS is coming to market with a novel approach. Instead of putting together a new degree program, Harvard will offer a $50,000 certificate in business analytics starting in March of 2018.

To deliver the program, HBS is collaborating with two university schools, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) as well as the Department of Statistics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It also is partnering with an outside vendor, 2U, Inc., the online education provider that the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School uses to deliver its long-distance MBA program.


Finally, the nine-month-long analytics offering will be mostly online, requiring between eight to ten hours a week to complete, with a pair of two-day immersions on campus. HBS and its partners are developing seven new courses in the curriculum, each with three hours of live instruction by faculty, with the majority of the learning self-paced online by participants.

Behind the novel HBS approach is the notion that digital technologies have moved front and center in every organization. “There’s a broader recognition both in the faculty and our interactions with business leaders that analytics, data and algorithms are becoming increasingly important,” says Karim Lakhani, the co-founder of the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. “What used to be at the periphery of organizations is now moving to the center. The new tech firms and the old-line firms are now finding this is the place where business decisions and business strategy is now based on.”

Lakhani, who specializes in technology management and innovation at HBS, has been quietly working on the project for nearly a year. “It’s unique in the sense that it is not just HBS but is Harvard wide and 2U ended up being the technology provider,” he says. “With the engineering school moving closer to us, we have been finding more reasons to work together and collaborate. As we are thinking through what could be an executive ed offering in this space, it made sense for us to collaborate together on this certificate program and do it in a comprehensive way and online.”


David Parkes, a computer science professor in the engineering school, is working with HBS to design the program

The HBS professor says the program is being designed for post-MBA or technical managers who currently have analytical roles in their organizations or who are expected to get them. “This is no longer about the technology industry,” he says. “Every industry is now being impacted from retail to media to industrial goods. The fact that GE is making sure that all the entrants to its management programs learn how to program shows you that this is now an economy-wide concern. There will be two sets of folks we’re appealing to, those in these roles and those who see that their careers will involve in many ways a mastery of these skills and will want to invest in that.”

Over the nine-month, three-term timeframe, participants will take no more than two courses at a time, with four courses on business analytics and three on analytical foundations. The 90-minute live sessions will be determined based on enrollment but will likely occur first thing in the mornings or early evenings. The on-campus immersions will be held between terms one and two and at end of term three for cohort building and advanced topics. Much of the learning will occur through case studies, including a series of new video-based studies being prepared for the program.


“At any given point, you are taking two courses and you will have two live sessions,” says Lakhani. “I am so jazzed and excited about this curriculum. It takes the best of both worlds and merges them together. Business and anlytics will now become the cneter of the organization. It is about prospective prediction not reflective analysis.”

Every participant will get a grounding in programming in the first of three terms. A course on digital strategy and innovation is intended to help participants think about how a company’s business model changes when more primacy is placed on data and analytics. A course on leadership and change management is in the mix because, adds Lakhani, “much of this technology is going to change the organization fundamentally so participants need to understand how to drive this change.”


There also will be a course on 21st century operations and supply chain management that will be offered concurrently with a class on quantitative foundations that includes deep dives in regression analysis and machine learning. “Then we will have another short course on people analytics, how data and analysis are driving changes in the HR function and leadership function. And then the final set of activities will be courses around data-driven marketing and what we are calling developing and managing the data science pipeline.”

HBS decided to partner with 2U rather than build on its own HBX online platform. “These things take time to figure out,” explains Lakhani. “There is an explosion in new ideas in online learning and hybrid learning and I feel that 2U has shown itself to be a proven provider of technology and services to universities. We have to learn to understand the technology, the content and the student experience. If a company is ready, it complements our existing efforts.”

The professor says that 2U will work with HBX on the new offering, with HBX also providing support on the recruitment of students for the certificate program. “HBX has a lot to do with this,” he says. “It will drive the enrollment process and the student management process of it and also work with the faculty on pedalogical development. We will also use HBX live facilities.”

HBS expects the first program to have 60 participants and gross revenue of $3 million at $50,000 in tuition for each student. Some 15 faculty members will be involved in delivering the curriculum–a factor that limits the number of students in the program. “My hope is that this is the first of many things we do in this space in the hybrid model,” says Lakhani. “You clearly see these trends emerging and we want to be the leader of them.”


Why not offer a specialized master’s degree in the field like most other business schools? “From an HBS point of view, we have one master’s program and it’s the MBA and that has been our strategy,” says Lakhani. “The master’s degrees being offerred typically require a residential commitment and a one or more year commitment. We designed this so that working professionals and executives can access these materials in a way that exposes them to the best ideas and pedagogy and to the faculty as well. Taking time off from work to dive deep into these materials was something we didn’t want to offer.”

The HBS professor is also looking forward to working more closely with David Parkes, his collaborator from the university’s school of engineering which is being relocated near Harvard Business School in 2020. “We are going to learn a ton in working together,” he says. “Some things can’t be taught by the case. What we are going to insist on and try to do is make the technical courses business relevant. Managers need to understand regression models and how to think about causation but it is going to be within the framework of business concerns and needs so when you learn soething it is not an abstraction.

The uniqueness of this program is that this will really blend the tech and science side with the business side. We see the future of business now as being technology-centric and the best managers, executives and entrepreneurs will understand both the scienece and tech side and the business side.”



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