Six years after launching its popular MS in Business Analytics, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School announced a new version geared to working professionals. Emory’s Master of Science in Business Analytics for Working Professionals (xMSBA) will welcome its first cohort in Fall 2023 with in-person and live virtual classes on weeknights and weekends.
The school is also introducing a new AI in Business track for students in the current full-time program.
“We have observed a need in the industry from current working professionals in the areas of business, technology, and data, and what we are offering is fundamentally different than other possibilities that these people have right now,” says Ramnath Chellappa, associate dean and academic director of Goizueta’s MSBA.
“Our xMSBA has been fine-tuned to provide immediate benefits to how working professionals work in their organizations,” he tells Poets&Quants. “We hope that not only will individuals see this as an opportunity, but firms will see this as an opportunity to almost get free consulting from professors. It is their employees who are going to be solving these data problems.”
The xMSBA is geared toward people with five or more years of work experience in business analytics or related fields and who already possess basic data and programming skills. The goal is not only to upskill the students’ core abilities, but to also provide better understanding of how the advanced topics of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing can be applied to problems their industry and company might face.
In the program’s analytics practicum, students will work on a real data-intensive business problem faced within their organizations.
“Firms that send employees will have the opportunity to unravel a particular real-world problem they’re facing, using their own data. Often, the legal teams at large organizations road block access to this proprietary data due to liability and intellectual property concerns. However, through the xMSBA, only the students from that firm will have access to the data, and they will be guided through the process by the expert hand of MSBA faculty members and Managing Director Scott Radcliffe,” says Chellappa.
Poets&Quants spoke with Chellappa, professor of Information Systems & Operations Management, about Goizueta’s new xMSBA and its new AI in Business track. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Goizueta launched its full-time MSBA in 2017. What kind of demand have you seen that led to the expansion of the program?
It used to be that back in the day, there was a business guy and a tech guy, and they could never talk to each other. The story soon became that there’s a business person, a tech person, and a data person, and those three people can’t talk to each other. MSBA programs across many universities really stemmed from the business school rather than the engineering or computer sciences focus to address that very particular problem.
We developed our program from scratch with the idea that we will be as technical as a computer science program, and we will be as quantitative as a data science program, but never forgetting that, first and foremost, we solve business problems. That defines what we do with the MSBA program at Emory. If you think of a Venn diagram with three circles – business, data, and technology – where they meet in the middle fundamentally speaks to the goal of our program.
We are in our sixth year, and we’ve been very successful. We normally take about 45 to 50 students, but we get close to 600 applications. We’ve always had 100% job placement, and the median salary now is close to $100K, even though the majority of our students do not have work experience.
It’s a 10-month program, and it’s fairly technical, so we need students to be prepared to come in. We also developed a joint dual degree program where undergrads in the BBA program could go on to do the MSBA in their senior year.
Has industry demanded more MSBA candidates as well?
I would say the crown jewel of the program is what we call the analytics practicum or the capstone project. We work with a number of different industries, and we do projects in any functional area: from HR to marketing to finance. These are not play projects. We only engage with firms that actually want a real project to be done because we operate like a consulting firm.
During that process, one of the things that we observed is that even firms that have acquired good amounts of data are having a hard time putting it to work. Say, for example, you rent a thriller movie from Amazon. Back in the day, they might have used cross-product selling and segmentation to suggest that you might like a horror movie next. Now, if you look at Amazon’s recommendations, basically it says people who have bought this thing have bought this other stuff as well. They’re not trying to explain, they’re not trying to get into the whys of it so much as they are letting the data speak.
What we are observing is that even HR firms, which used to be primarily a touchy-feely kind of subject, are realizing that they need to use data they generate to better aid decision-making. Sometimes data might provide a perspective that is different from what gut feel suggests, or they might validate. On the whole, firms are realizing that even for very well-established functional domains, data machine learning and all these other techniques can provide valuable recommendations and insight.
Who are you targeting for the new xMSBA?
The xMSBA is for people who are working in business analytics or related fields and who are looking at their firm’s problems may be somewhat in a traditional way. We have developed, based on our extraordinarily successful curriculum, a format that works for the working professional. We want to attract those that have at least five to seven plus years of experience, and who already have some basic data and programming skills.
Our goal is to do business analytics. Data science is the way to do business analytics, and programming is required to do data science. We’re not a software engineering program, so we don’t necessarily teach programming.
Normally people with this level of work experience would go on to do an MBA, which is more about people management. Our goal in the MSBA program continues to be for those folks who want to go up an organization but continue to want to have hands-on involvement in these types of analytics projects. One of the ways in which we approach the client problem is that students take a business problem, convert it to a data problem, come up with a data solution, and then convert it back to a business solution. That is the formalized process that we actually teach in the program.
What is the format of the program?
The format is set up to not disrupt their work life too much. Classes will be offered on alternate Wednesday and Friday evenings, and on Saturdays. We start and end with a six-day residency in Atlanta, and we have two international residencies in between. So essentially, it means that the people who are working don’t need to take off more than six to seven days in a calendar year.
It’s a 10-month program, so who we attract is very important. It is very targeted. The goal is for people working in an organization to learn the relevant skills that can make a difference in that organization. In the summer and fall, they’ll primarily learn the techniques and tools, and the spring semester will all be about the application of those in the capstone project.
We find that, with a lot of these purely online programs that are distributed across many semesters, many students don’t even finish. So, it’s an intensive program over 10 months.
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