The Big Picture In Business Analytics

The Wharton School is placing a big bet on business analytics

At Wharton, the decision to not offer a MSBA degree doesn’t mean the school is rejecting the prevailing winds of change. In fact, says Eric Bradlow, faculty director and co-founder of Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative, it means the opposite — that the school is “pushing all the chips behind data analytics. We have chosen to make it one of our pillars. And our dean has not taken the shortest path to the dollar but one that is consistent with our brand in the long-term. We want to be on the Mount Rushmore with finance and entrepreneurship and marketing. We are not looking to kick off anyone from Mount Rushmore, but we think analytics is as important as any other business discipline today.”

Wharton’s decision not to offer a specialized master’s in the field has been a conscious choice, says Bradlow, a passionate advocate for the importance of business analytics. “Let’s take the following two facts: Do we agree that there are a significant number of MBAs who graduate each year? Yes. And given the number of analytics degrees, there also are lots of people who are graduating from those degree programs.

“But here is what companies want,” he adds. “They want people at the intersection. Companies tell us the secret sauce is that they want people with business knowledge who understand analytics. That is why Wharton has chosen to integrate it into the mother ship. That is the way we run it. I am not going to say we will never have a master’s in analytics. But for now, I believe Wharton has chosen the right positioning for Wharton. We want business leaders who know analytics. That is our positioning. It is entirely consistent with our brand as an emperical school.”

The focus on data analytics, a natural given the fact that Wharton is one of the few business schools with its own statistics department, has resulted in a wave of innovation at the school. Bradlow says that 30 to 40 new courses in analytics have now been developed by Wharton faculty, and as many as a third to half of Wharton’s faculty have what Bradlow calls “at least one foot planted in data analytics,” with some 50 full-time professors in the field.


Georgia State’s Richard Phillips. Courtesy photo

What does demand look like from the front lines of new biz analytics programs? In reporting on the trend over the last two years, Poets&Quants has talked to a number of deans and program directors who all paint a similar picture.

We started this … with the recognition that businesses are going to be transformed in the short term to be data-driven in their decision-making,” says Ravi Bapna, chair in business analytics and information systems and academic director of the Carlson Analytics Lab at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “It’s almost a perfect storm right now, not just in terms of data but also with huge advances in computing and tools. I think there is finally recognition among senior executives and leaders that going by ‘gut feel’ is just not good enough. You have to leverage the data to get new insights.”

At Babson College, a school best known for its entrepreneurship programs, the focus of the analytics degree has been more on intrapreneurship, targeting working professionals — people who are three to 10 years into their career and who have a demonstrated educational or practical foundation in quantitative or technical fields. “We want at least three years of work experience,” William Lamb, former dean of the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, told P&Q, “and my guess is we’re going to average somewhere around 10 years of work experience. What we heard from executives the most is that they have talented people who need to add analytics to their capacity but don’t have it in their background. Maybe they do things that are quantitatively oriented, but they need the analytics skills.

“One of the things we heard loud and clear is that they are not able to hire as much talent as they need by going out into the market and bringing in new people — it’s too competitive a space. So they wanted a program they could point people towards who are still working at the company and want to move toward a more strategic role within the company, where they’re not just working with the quantitative information but they’re helping the company make good decisions with the information.”

Adds Dean Richard Phillips of Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, which has seen its business analytics degree program grow from three students to more than 50 since launching in fall 2014: “We want students that come out of the business school to be able to read a white paper produced out of the research and development shop at Google that was produced by somebody that has a Ph.D. in statistics or computer science or econometrics. We want our students to be able to read those papers, understand why it is that they’re important, understand that there is no canned software solution that already allows you to implement that methodology, and be able to go and program it up natively and be able to deliver the solution for the company.

“The other thing that we’ve done is, we are strategically building relationships with business partners to bring us their data-oriented and information-oriented problems, and then we run applied research projects called Insight Sprints. Insight Sprints are eight- to 10-week projects that have very clear questions that students and faculty are asked to answer, and they have to deliver the answers to at the end of that 10-week time period. The intention is to act very much like a capstone project, except as a student you need to be hired onto the project. You need to want it, and you need to prove yourself on it if you want to get on a second Insight Sprint later on.”


And what does the international scene look like for business analytics master’s opportunities? Decidedly mixed. The vast majority of degree seekers hail from Asia, according to GMAC, and U.S. schools seem still to be the primary destination for large majorities. Little wonder. INSEAD does not offer a biz analytics degree; nor does London Business School, despite its copious research in the area, Oxford Saïd, Cambridge Judge, or IESE Business School at the University of Navarra in Spain.

International biz analytics seekers do have options. IE in Madrid, Spain, offers a 10-month, full-time Master in Business Analytics and Big Data that promises to “mold future data scientists ready to help their companies become data-driven businesses by extracting relevant insights from data and using advanced analytics to drive decision-making processes.” The program, with intakes in October and April, is divided into three terms that combine subjects from four areas of knowledge and skills needed for professionals in data science and analytics. The English-language program is 90% international, though mostly European, with 36 nationalities represented.

HEC Paris offers a Master of Data Science for Business in conjunction with Ecole Polytechnique, a program that lays out three main objectives: to train students in a combination of mathematic modeling, statistics, IT, and visualization; to give students the tools to understand the newest data distributing structures and large-scale calculations; and to create “data managers” capable of making “strategic decisions at the heart of our changeable businesses.”

For Anglophiles, Imperial College London recently announced the launch of its own Master of Science in Business Analytics, to launch in September 2018.

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