Do Not Wait To Design Programs in Data Analytics

Preparing students for the growing workplace demands of analytics.

When the Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business introduced two three-credit courses in data analytics to our undergraduate business core in 2011, it was in direct response to what we were hearing from our stakeholders. Our industry advisory board members and individual business leaders told us that they were looking for a different set of analytical skills from our students—they wanted students who could gather data, analyze data, and make decisions with data. Simultaneously, we had several faculty conducting research in areas such as big data and analytical modeling.

Given these factors, we knew we had to do—and could do—a better job preparing our students for the growing workplace demands of analytics. We made room in our core for the two analytics courses by eliminating our courses in statistics and business calculus, incorporating the relevant elements of each into the new offerings. We also have found that we need to do a good job of explaining the new programs to students (and their parents) because many do not understand the field of analytics—but we believe that those who excel in it will be poised for great careers.

In fact, analytics has become a core part of every business, and it will continue to grow in importance over time. As the volume, velocity, and complexity of data increase, organizations will be under greater pressure to effectively harvest the value that information represents. Business analytics is likely to be integrated into the core of all business schools, and unlike some business trends in the past, I do not anticipate oversaturation in the foreseeable future.

Even so, I urge business school administrators not to wait until the field of analytics is universally defined. If business schools don’t produce the needed graduates, other disciplines on campus are likely to take on this challenge. However, graduates from those programs will be missing a key ingredient—the business knowledge necessary to make better business decisions. The best way for business schools to get started with analytics is to learn from others, either by contacting schools that already have tackled analytics or by attending conferences to exchange ideas for designing analytics programs with other educators. At Auburn, we certainly are willing to share our analytics curriculum map, course syllabi, and other materials with other schools interested in getting started.

Bill Hardgrave is dean of Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business in Alabama. He is a presenter at the “Building a Data/Business Analytics Program” at AACSB International’s Deans Conference[TB1]  in Miami, January 31 to February 2.