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Academic Overview: Business Analytics
(full story below)
Here’s the third and final of our academic overview blogs for the M.S. in Commerce’s newest track: Business Analytics. Analytics positions are on the rise, making them one of the “it” jobs (not to be confused with IT jobs, but that difference will be described below). They are growing as companies increasingly recognize the importance of data-driven decisions. There are currently 34 of us in the track. Lucky for you guys, I’ve been your guinea pig and am here to shed some light on the newest track.

What is business analytics?

To give you guys a big picture overview of business analytics, I sat down with Professor Ahmed Abbasi, who is the Director of the Center for Business Analytics at McIntire. We’ll start off with defining business analytics, which Professor Abbasi boiled down to: “Business analytics is the use of statistical and other analysis methods to drive insights for data-driven decision-making to gain business value.” The whole field of business analytics really isn’t as complex as its usually made out to be. It’s simply solving classic business problems, except now we’re using some more powerful tools.

Why was business analytics added as a third track in the MSC program?

Why exactly is business analytics popping up in publications like Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review? Why is it becoming the next craze to sweep across industries? More importantly, why is business analytics a good field or track to consider? Competing on data and analytics is no longer enough to differentiate companies in their competitive space. On the contrary, data is becoming the language or currency of the business world. It is a necessary means of transmitting ideas and concepts across the world. As businesses are increasingly seeing the shift from intuition to data-driven decisions, it is important to teach people how to interpret the data to find meaningful information to help businesses make sound decisions.

What is the schedule like for a business analytics (BA) student?

One of my favorite things this semester is that your schedule is a lot more stable. Unlike fall semester, when it seemed like every week was different, there is now a much bigger sense of consistency. As Ryan mentioned in his post on the Marketing & Management track, all BA Track students are signed up for same classes and have the same schedule. So without further ado, here is a sample BA schedule* for the first part of second semester:

*After spring break Cloud Computing and Customer Analytics courses replaced Advanced Quantitative Analytics and Big Data, so the schedule changes slightly

What courses do BA track students take?

Here are the descriptions of the classes we’ve been taking second semester (these will most likely vary slightly each year):

-Digital Analytics: This course is all about how online relationships and platforms affect business and focuses on web analytics, social media analytics, and paid search. Professor Brent Kitchens teaches the class; he also taught our Introduction to Business Analytics class in the fall. We spend about half of the classes in the lab working on different programs, including SQL (which everyone is introduced to in the Systems course fall semester) and Tableau. We’ll even be developing our on dashboards so that we can analyze Twitter accounts for one of our projects.

-Foundations of Global Commerce: This is the only class shared by all three tracks and is taught by Professor Peter Maillet. This class has a different feel from the other BA classes, for obvious reasons, but is really good at challenging you to connect everything that’s happening in the world and get a better handle of how to interpret the news and what is happening around you. In that regard, it actually fits in nicely since it’s expanding on the analytical skills you’re developing in the other courses.

-Advanced Quantitative Analytics: Professor Rick Netemeyer teaches this class, which is held in the computer lab and is a continuation of the Quantitative Analytics class taken by all students in the fall semester. We are expanding our experience and knowledge of different analytics tools such as R, SAS and SPSS. I would say that this is the most technical class that we take, but it does offer practical applications, using tools that many companies deal with on a daily basis. Our major project this semester is working with a major hotel chain’s employee survey data. We’ll be analyzing company data to find insights and then presenting our business implications and recommendations to the hotel’s executives.

-A Customer Analytics course took the place of this one from spring break through the end of the year. This is a research-oriented class that examines how firms can use analytics to gain actionable insights about customers both internal to the firm (employees) and external to the firm (consumers) to create, manage, and grow their business and brands.

-Big Data: Here come the buzzwords. Taught by Professor Li, whose impressive resume includes helping to develop the recommended system for Xbox 1, we’re learning how companies are dealing with all the new types of data (social media, tweets, and likes) and the immense amount of data being generated (all that real-time data coming from your Fitbits). One of the main goals is understanding the trend of data technologies and the different software vendors. This way, we have a better idea of the types of solutions we will be recommending to companies and clients in the future. We’ve also been able to discuss Netflix, self-driving cars, and artificial intelligence.
A Cloud Computing course took the place of this one from spring break through the end of the year.

Who should apply to the BA track?

Usually when I hear people talk about business analytics, they think you have to be some sort of tech genius, and I can’t tell you how wrong this is. I have never considered myself to be tech-savvy. In fact, I consider myself the opposite; I’m usually the one who needs help figuring out why something on my phone or computer isn’t working. Yes, you will be working with computer software, but the majority of students in the class haven’t used the software before, so you’re all learning step-by-step together. I’ve really enjoyed challenging myself by learning something new, and I think instead of being a tech whiz, you just need to have patience, know how to problem solve, and enjoy learning new skills.

Wondering if you would be a good fit BA track? Time for a little personality test:

-Do you have a core foundation in business skills? Check. After all, that’s what the entire first semester in the M.S. in Commerce Program provides. The rest of the questions you’ll have to answer on your own!
-Do you have strong communication skills and do you enjoy communicating with a variety of different audiences?
-Do you enjoy finding evidence for your ideas and solving problems?
-Do you get excited about driving valuable insights or making discoveries?
-Do you want to be able to use a lot of buzzwords and sound smart? Just kidding—although you will be throwing around terms like “big data,” “cloud computing,” “Hadoop,” and “NoSQL.”

If you answered “yes” to some of those questions, it’s definitely worth checking out the BA track.

Where do business analytics students typically end up?

There really is no set career path for someone studying business analytics. After all, think of how many job titles contain the word “analyst” (hint: It’s a lot). Opportunities to use business analytics are abundant in almost every field. Market research is an example of how marketing firms use business analytics. Financial services companies use analytics to improve fraud detection, as well as to evaluate loan customers. In health care, big data is being used in disease management and to improve health outcomes and accuracy in diagnoses. Business analytics skills are highly transferable, as you are learning ways to identify and solve problems. Communication skills are a key component of the track and a large part of what makes BA students good consultants (many current BA students have already accepted offers in the consulting field).

A common misconception that I hear a lot is that you’ll end up working in IT or as a data scientist. Most likely, you won’t be doing either of those. Studying BA doesn’t mean you’re studying IT or data science. There are already programs out there for that and graduates from those programs to fill those positions. Data science and IT work are more about methodologies and solving data and IT problems; there is a lot more emphasis on programming. What you will be doing, on the other hand, is learning how to interact and mediate between the IT and data scientists and another audience. You’ll be explaining the importance and meaning behind the data to managers or other business-minded individuals to enable them to make more informed decisions. You’ll be a professional problem solver, and excellent communicator.

How do I learn more about the business analytics track?

Business Analytics is all about data-driven understanding and making more informed decisions that lead to action. If this sounds like a field that interests you but you still want to learn more, I recommend scheduling a visit to sit in on one of the Business Analytics classes. During your visit you’ll also have the opportunity to meet with current student ambassadors in the track to learn about their experience so far. Can’t find a class visit date that works for you? Reach out to Kelsey Stone to set up a custom visit.

I am so happy that I chose this track and I cannot recommend it enough. Thanks for reading!

–Jordan Smith

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