Quest for Big Data Jobs Inspires Enhanced Business Analytics Curriculum

Big data MBA

This article is sponsored by Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Learn more about BC’s MBA programs.

A cell phone company assesses its customers’ creditworthiness not by payment history or debt ratio, but by phone usage. A large wine producer predicts sales for its newest offering before a drinker sips a single drop. A car manufacturer moves from billion-dollar losses to profitability the same year competitors face bankruptcy. How? Using data-driven analysis.

These companies benefit from business analytics, an artful science that predicts the future by examining the past. The discipline applies the business fundamentals of data analysis to big data. It relies on creative talents who can transform complex calculations into understandable conclusions.

Business analytics is an increasingly popular specialization for MBA candidates hoping for the skills demanded by 21st century employers. “I noticed that there were plenty of talented ‘data’ people and plenty of the talented ‘business’ people; however, the people who could do both were extraordinarily valuable to the firm and to my team’s ability to solve problems,” business analytics student Haley Hubbard, told Forbes, recalling her time working for PWC. “That really got my wheels turning, and I started thinking about what other problems I might be able to solve if I knew more about analytics. My passion became clear: I wanted to tell stories from data.”

To learn more about this evolving discipline, TopMBA.com spoke to Marilyn Eckelman, assistant dean for career development, graduate management career strategies at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. BC has recently revised its business analytics curriculum. We also talked to recent grad, Zach Hussain (MBA 2015), who specialized in business analytics and will be joining Pfizer this summer as a finance rotational business analyst.

What is business analytics?

To understand the evolving specialization, it’s important to understand what business analytics is. “While there are many ways to define business analytics,” says Hussain, “I view it as the process of analyzing data to help make smarter business decisions.” 

Business analytics is defined on the Carroll School of Management’s website as,“The scientific process of transforming data into insight to improve management decision making. The field takes its basic methods and tools from management science and statistics and applies them to forecasting, predictive modeling, optimization, and ‘big data’ decision analysis.”

“Business analytics covers a lot of different aspects and means different things to different people,” Hussain notes of the ‘real world’. “One example of business analytics is creating models to help make better decisions. While examples vary, one would be using data to determine pricing based on fluctuating factors such as date, time and supply and demand.”

Big data jobs

In 2012, Gartner Inc. made a bold prediction. By 2015, the tech research company believed that some 4.4 million IT jobs globally would be created to support big data, some 1.9 in the US alone. Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner and global head of research, also noted in the 2012 report that, “In addition, every big data-related role in the US will create employment for three people outside of IT, so over the next four years a total of six million jobs in the US will be generated by the information economy.”

Three years after the report, the predictions appear to have been borne out. The number of big data jobs has increased by 90% last year, a trend that appears to be ongoing. Examining hiring trends provided by Wanted Analytics, a leading provider of workplace data, Forbes contributor Louis Columbus noted that, “Demand for big data expertise across a range of occupations saw significant growth over the last 12 months.” This included a 123.6% jump in demand for information technology project managers with big data expertise.

The challenge comes in providing appropriate education for tomorrow’s big data jobs. According to Gartner’s Sondergaard, “There is not enough talent in the industry. Our public and private education systems are failing us. Therefore, only one-third of the IT jobs will be filled. Data experts will be a scarce, valuable commodity.”

At Boston College, Eckelman agrees that educational programs must respond to the changing environment. “Much like any business has to keep itself current and relevant to the needs of their clients, business programs have to do the same. This requires having faculty who understand the language of business and can be flexible and responsive. It all starts with the classroom and how students connect what they are learning to future professional possibilities.” 

Meeting the demand for big data jobs is a challenge, partly because of disagreements over the proper direction of education for business analytics. Some have argued that an understanding of big data and its applications should be foundational, as grammar is to any course of English studies. Others worry about a narrow skill set that may be obsolete in five years.

This challenge has motivated curriculum updates. At the Carroll School of Management, Eckelman explains, faculty “researched and evaluated what makes MBA students profession-ready, so in addition to all of the theoretical and strategic knowledge that the curriculum provides, what practical tools can help them succeed. For the entering class of 2017 we are focusing three areas; MBA MATH, a self-paced math and quantitative skills program to prepare students to meet the challenge of a rigorous MBA curriculum, SAI (Strategy, Analytics, Integration) to contribute to providing frameworks and practice to identifying and solving critical business issues, and public speaking to help students further enhance turning their ideas into actionable presentations and strategies.”

Eckelman believes that the ideal business analytics students are those who can “identify critical issues, think independently and creatively on possible solutions resulting in developing data supported strategic and tactical recommendations that can be operationalized/implemented. The qualities of the students might include those with an aptitude to be quantitative and qualitative as well as look to be among the leaders of ideas in the future.”

A career in business analytics

Zach Hussain may have been an ideal business analytics student. He grew up in Denver, Colorado but left for Maine to pursue a double major in math and creative writing at Colby College. He still enjoys writing, mainly short stories, but pursuing a career in business analytics means applying his creativity to big data.

With a background in financial reporting, he hoped an MBA from the Carroll School of Management would help him acquire not only strong technical skills but also how to apply them to business situations. “The business analytics specialization allowed me to accomplish this by teaching me how to use quantitative skills to solve business challenges,” Hussain explains. “I was surprised by how quickly I was able to pick up certain skills and then apply them to real business challenges.”

Besides the skills and enduring friendships he acquired at BC, one piece of advice stuck with Hussain. “If you’re invited to the table, act like you deserve to be there because you do.” After graduating in May, Hussain achieved his dream of a career in business analytics – starting in a finance leadership development rotational program at Pfizer (pharma) this July in NYC. “I plan on remaining in the biotech and pharmaceutical arena” Hussain explains, “where I hope to continuously build my skills!”

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

This article is sponsored by Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.


Written by John Bankston

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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It is good to see business schools being such responsive to the emerging needs in this area i.e. Business Analytics. Yet I think there is some confusion in the concepts regarding the definition of the discipline here in this article, too. Here is why I think this way: It is mentioned in the article that "(business analytics) takes basic methods and tools from management science and statistics and applies them to forecasting, predictive modelling,...". However, the science of Statistics itself entails among its aims forecasting and predictive modelling. To give a very simple example, the well-known basic linear regression is a statistical analysis method, with one of its potential aims being forecasting or prediction. Actually, many statistical analysis techniques are for prediction, forecasting, or estimation, by the definition of Statistics itself. It is all about parameter estimation, potentially leading to models for forecasting and prediction. In my view, what comes with Business Analytics is the business domain knowledge (e.g. finance, telco, HR, etc.) and some information systems and/or computer science knowledge to be combined with Statistics, which forms the core. Of the latter two I mentioned, the more weight would be on the business domain knowledge for Business Analytics, and on Computer Science for Data Science. Regards,