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Next Steps for Analytics in the Big-Data Era

December events set agenda for education on analytics, business intelligence and data warehousing. Universities reset curricula.
Setting a New Agenda

Back in 2001, when the Teradata University Network was first organized, most business schools hadn't given data warehousing much attention. They were just beginning to peer into database issues related to database design, normalization and the writing of SQL queries. Today, business intelligence and analytics studies are fast replacing more generic Information Systems (IS) course work at universities.

"Between the dot-com failures early in the decade and the offshoring trend, enrollments in Information Systems have been declining," says Michael Goul, professor and chair of the Department of Information Systems, W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University. "As faculty started to look for non-commodity IT skills that students would need, BI became the hot topic because it crosses the business world with the IT world. The feeling is that it's not something that companies will quickly take offshore."

The first-ever Business Intelligence Congress has been organized to explore ways academia can provide theory-based methods and design sciences to advance BI and analytics while also giving industry a platform to steer research toward the most significant challenges. The network, which now counts more than 2,000 faculty members and 1,000 institutions from 75 countries among its members, has already done informal surveys on the topic and Goul says the group has several prospective topics on the agenda.

"Some schools are weaving business intelligence study into general business courses while others have developed targeted BI-specific courses, so that's one topic we want to discuss," he says. "We're also going to have panels on buzz topics like sensor networks, managing large volumes of data, and in-database analytics and what implications that has for the analytics development life cycle."

Keynote addresses at the Business Intelligence Congress will be offered by Tom Davenport, the well-known researcher and author of "Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning"; Hugh Watson, management information system professor at the University of Georgia and one of the founders of the Teradata University Network; and Scott Gnau, Teradata's chief development officer.

Next-Wave Jobs

To consider the next wave of jobs requiring analytic talents, IBM has invited a gaggle of business, government and academic leaders to a December 9 RSVP event at a Fordham University conference hall in Manhattan. Attendees will include Kamal Bherwani, CIO, New York Health and Human Services; Evangelos Simoudis, managing director, Trident Capital; Jonathan Bowles, director, Center for an Urban Future; Ambuj Goyal, general manager, Business Analytics and Process Optimization, IBM; and the deans of the Fordham College of Business Administration and Fordham Graduate School of Business Administration.

According to a recent study by IBM, 83 percent of executives ranked business analytics -- "the ability to see patterns in vast amounts of data and extract actionable insight" -- as their top priority. IBM's report suggests that if training and education programs don't follow, "we may see a skills shortage as the economy rebounds and the technology needs of both the private sector and government agencies increases."

For those who can't wait for the next generation of college graduates to meet current demands, analytics expert Neil Raden suggests that corporations set up self-study programs aimed at developing the required math skills. "There is nothing so special about most 'advanced analytics' that someone with adequate training could not do," Raden writes in this blog post . "I'd urge companies to set up such a plan with an eye to ripening experts over a two- to three-year period with time at work to study."

The upshot of growing academic interest in analytics seems to be that more data-savvy analysts and business leaders are on their way to the job market. But for the problems practitioners may face over the next few years, Raden suggests that with a bit of continuing education, the best candidates may be the business-experienced people "standing right in front of you."