IT, supply chain and business analytics: Preparing for an exploding field

November 15, 2012

Two top-ranked programs at the W. P. Carey School of Business have joined forces to launch an accelerated and specialized master's degree program in the fast growing field of business analytics. Classes will start in the fall of 2013, and applications are being accepted now.

The school's information systems and supply chain management departments worked together to develop the new the Master of Science in Business Analytics degree. The program is full-time, and students will earn their MS in Business Analytics after one academic year.

"We believe there is considerable demand for a master's degree program that is focused on developing the ability to integrate data, analyze data, visualize data, and to build models that can use data effectively," said John Fowler, chairman of the department of supply chain management.

Business analytics is a field that cuts across industries. Organizations of all kinds are looking for individuals who know how to exploit the massive amounts of data being generated today.

"The students will be immersed in the field," said Michael Goul, chair of the department of information systems. "This is aimed at people who know that they want to find a high level position after they graduate - and who then want to advance quickly in their careers."

 

Learning to harness data for better decisions

In recent years, the amount of data in the world has exploded, presenting both challenges and opportunities for businesses and other organizations. Revolutions in computers, communications, storage, and related fields are responsible for what has come to be known as "big data."

In 2010, enterprises stored more than seven exabytes of new data, while consumers stored more than six exabytes of new data on their computers, smart phones and other devices, according to MGI, a global alliance of accounting and consulting firms. One exabyte is more than 4,000 times the information stored in the US Library of Congress.

Businesses that know how to use big data stand to gain competitive advantage. "This is one of the areas of IT where solutions can change a company," Goul said. "After you find out what your data is telling you, you may actually change your corporate strategy."

Finding individuals who understand how to analyze data is a major challenge for organizations. The supply of talent has not kept up with the demand.

According to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, global data is projected to grow 40 percent per year, while the growth in global spending on information technology is projected to increase only 5 percent. The resulting demand for jobs will be 140,000 to 190,000 new deep analytical talent positions and 1.5 million more data-savvy managers, McKinsey & Company reported.

Fowler said that the supply chain management department's advisory board -- the Network for Value Chain Excellence -- has been calling for the training of more high-level business analytics experts.

"The network has representatives from companies in a range of industries, from energy to manufacturing to services–and they all are saying the same thing," Fowler said. "They all need the capability to analyze big data sets and to be able to build models that would help them run their organizations better."

Goul says that the information systems department Executive Advisory Board has also been calling for an increase in business analytics education. “In the most recent meeting, the Board reviewed the proposed curriculum and provided important insights that need to be reflected as we build out each course. They were intent on ensuring the courses prepare graduates to advance rapidly after their initial placement.”

While many business schools are beginning to recognize the need to develop new talent in this growing field, the W. P. Carey School is one of only about a dozen to offer a full-time master's program in business analytics. Others that have master of science in analytics or similar degrees are Northwestern University, Michigan State, NYU, and North Carolina State.

From two top programs, a new degree

When John Fowler became chairman of the department of supply chain management in August 2011, he and Michael Goul of the department of information systems began discussing the possibility of launching an advanced degree in business analytics.

"We had casual conversations at first, and then about seven months ago, we began talking in earnest," Fowler said. "We both saw the potential. For our supply chain undergraduates, this degree could replace a couple of years of work experience."

Said Goul:"Graduates from this program will be able to apply analytics in not only supply chain, but also sales, service, and many other areas of a business. By having our two departments work together, we can give students perspectives that cut across the value chain."

US News & World Report ranks the graduate supply chain management program at the W. P. Carey School fifth in the nation. The information systems program at the graduate level is ranked thirteenth.

"The rankings matter," Goul said. "It verifies the fact that the faculty who will be delivering the program are very high quality. The caliber of the departments and their rankings will carry over for the students after they graduate. They will inherit the best of both worlds from these two departments."

A nine-month, full-time program

The program is designed to attract applicants who are recent college graduates, however individuals who are employed but are looking to give their careers a boost will also be considered, according to the W. P. Carey School Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment, Ruthie Pyles.

"We believe that most individuals interested in this type of degree will come from a quantitative background, with either work experience or academic training in a quantitative field," Pyles said. "However, we would not exclude anyone who was for example, a humanities or a social sciences major, it just means we will be looking for demonstrated potential in quantitative areas." In fact, humanities and social science students with a quantitative bent are likely well suited to an emerging area of analytics in the social media space.

Said Fowler: "This program will be very useful for anyone with quantitative skills in a wide range of disciplines. For individuals with a mathematics degree, this program will provide a context for their work. In addition to learning how to analyze data and build models, they will learn how to do all of this in the context of business problems."

Classes will be held during the day. "Because of the intensity of the program we will advise students that they should not work while they are pursuing the degree," Pyles said.

The nine-month course of studies will consist of 10 courses—four and a-half taught by information systems faculty, four and a-half taught by supply chain management, and one taught by a faculty member from another W. P. Carey School department. Among the course titles are Introduction to Enterprise Analytics, Introduction to Applied Analytics, Data Mining I and II, and Data-Driven Quality Management, and Analytical Decision Making Tools I and II.

Pyles said the school expects to launch the program with a charter class of about 40 students. "It will be a small, intimate group in which in which there will be personalized attention and one-on-one contact," she said.

The program will be attractive to recent college graduates who are exploring career options, according to Pyles. "If they majored in engineering,math,technology or science and are looking at ways to jumpstart their career and quickly make an impact within an organization, this is certainly one direction they could take," she said.

Pyles said she expects the program to draw ASU graduates, as well as graduates of other colleges and universities and individuals who are currently employed. The school plans to market the program to current undergraduates at Arizona State and at graduate school fairs at other universities.

Job opportunities abound

Those who receive the Master of Science in Business Analytics can expect to find many opportunities for employment, according to both Goul and Fowler.

Goul said he recently went to a tech job website, typed in the word 'analytics,' and got nearly 4,000 job postings.

"They include everything from web analytics to analytics in a particular domain, like environmental or energy. Every sector has its own analytics. Marketing has a big set of them. Social media analytics has been popping up a lot lately. It's just everywhere," Goul said.

For undergraduates who majored in supply chain management or computer information systems, finding a job after graduation has not been a big problem lately. "This master's degree will help those students get a higher level job," Fowler said.

Goul sees MS-BA graduates moving quickly into management positions. "Companies have a talent pipeline for managerial and leadership roles," Goul said. "We think we can speed up that pipeline. With this program, individuals will move up and advance faster."