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December 2012

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Program: Michigan State’s New MS in Business Analytics 

Launch date: January 2013

Enrollment: About a dozen students to start with, building to about 30 in 2014.

Who’s behind it: MSU’s Broad College of Business, College of Engineering, and College of Natural Science.

Approach: Multidisciplinary and practical, with students working with live data sets to build hands-on skills extracting and interpreting data.

Structure: A one-year, three-semester program consisting of 30 credits.

Content: Ten courses include business strategy, data analysis and mining, statistics, and marketing technology. An MSU law professor teaches a class in ethics, intellectual property, and privacy; a professor of practice coaches students in writing and speaking.

Guest Column: Better Decisions Through Business Analytics

Why and how Michigan State developed its new master’s program for data-savvy students.

By Vallabh Sambamurthy

A Georgia school district used a new management paradigm to figure out the most important predictor of graduation rates among high-risk students. National retailers used the same approach to discover new ways to boost lagging sales of trousers. Now we at Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business are using these and many other success stories as the basis of a new program to guide students toward smart decision making and new careers.

This multifaceted paradigm is business analytics—also known as business intelligence, big data, and predictive analytics. In January 2013, the Broad School is launching a Master’s of Science in Business Analytics that will both meet an important business need and change our business school’s approach to changing times.

The case for business analytics is clear. In the past, managers based their decisions on a combination of human experience and intuition. But today’s business leaders recognize the need for fact-based decision making rooted in the volume, velocity, and variety of granular data that the digitization of businesses and social media have enabled. Analytics can provide telling details, challenge conventional thinking, and promote an organizational culture that looks for—and responds to—counterintuitive findings.

We know of at least 10 business schools joining the trend toward launching business analytics programs (See News Briefs column, Biz Buzz). Our analytics program is designed to:

  • Marshal relevant resources from three major academic areas. The program is a joint effort among business, computer science, and statistics. Not only are these the three significant legs of the analytics platform, but the collaboration also responds to our president and provost’s increased emphasis on cooperation and innovation across the several colleges in the university.
  • Prepare students to solve practical problems in the workplace. We want to improve students’ technical skills with data management and analysis; enhance their integrative thinking to make sure they’re not solving the wrong problem and missing the big picture; and help them learn to collaborate, communicate, and adopt a global outlook.
  • Provide a strong experiential component. Student teams will work on real-world analytics projects through which they serve as informal consultants to companies where they develop insights from analytics and then try to sell their data-derived ideas to management.
  • Promote partnerships with corporations. In addition to using our experiential projects in their own analytical efforts, 10 to 15 companies will be part of a corporate partnership board to serve as a sounding board on our curriculum and offer career opportunities.

It’s a happy coincidence that GMAC perceived the same need for proficiency with data and integrative thinking and launched the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT in June 2012. We expect candidates’ IR scores to be valuable to us in several ways. They’ll help us identify candidates who are most likely to succeed in our business analytics program. And they’ll help us tailor our program to fit the knowledge that admitted students bring with them and grow their skills by the time they graduate.

Admittedly, launching a program like this has its challenges. As we weave together the best of MSU’s expertise, we have to contend with the inevitable silos that build up in every university. To make sure students adopt the best of the new without abandoning the old, we also have to urge them not to discard intuition and experience but rather combine these with data-based insights.

But throughout our work, we’re reminded of that popular mantra for analytics, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” For our students who’ll become the business leaders of tomorrow, this is truer than ever.

Vallabh Sambamurthy is faculty director of the Master’s in Business Analytics program, chairman of the Accounting and Information Systems Department, and Eli Broad Endowed Professor at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business.

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