Big Data Study: Is It Really A Business School Essential?

Big data: a 21st Century challenge and opportunity

Big data: a 21st Century challenge and opportunity

A little more than a year ago, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt was talking big data at the 2013 Minds + Machines Conference in Chicago. His words captured an inescapable reality: these days, you can measure damn near everything – and if a business doesn’t capture, analyze and interpret all the data relevant to its operations and market, its competition will. “The physical world and the analytical world,” Immelt said, “can no longer be separated.”

GPS tracking provides data on customer behavior. Sensors in employees’ badges can show bosses how often workers are interacting with teams, and how often they’re working alone. Sensors on packages and shipped goods show the supply chain in real time. Data, when effectively analyzed and interpreted, grants tremendous power.

And that means company executives have to understand the analytical world. Often, says McMaster University professor Michael Hartmann, they don’t. “As you go up the organization, typically the level of digital literacy goes down,” Hartmann says. Ignorance about the rapidly developing digital arena – in which every business today must play – has an increasingly powerful downside the higher up the ladder it’s found, Hartmann says. “The ability to stop what you do goes up . . . the ability to push back against new modes, new processes, innovations.”


Business schools have been moving aggressively within undergraduate, MS and MBA programs to respond to the melding of the analytical and physical worlds, and the consequent need to teach business students skills in data analytics. In 2013, NYU Stern School of Business unveiled a one-year part-time MS in business analytics, to teach “the study of data through statistical and operations analysis, the formation of predictive models, application of optimization techniques and the communication of these results to customers, business partners and colleague executives,” according to the school. The University of Rochester Simon Business School just revamped its full-time MS program in business analytics in response to “rapid change in the ever-growing ‘Big Data’ world,” the school reported in December. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business offers MBA majors and minors in business analytics. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business offers an MBA program concentration in “analytic management.” A host of other business schools offer MS degrees in analytics, including those at Michigan State, the University of Minnesota, and Arizona State.

Florian Zettelmeyer, Kellogg School of Management

Florian Zettelmeyer, Kellogg School of Management

Generally, however, MBA program officials are dropping the ball on big data, says Florian Zettelmeyer, marketing professor and director of the Program on Data Analytics at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. What future managers must know about business analytics “requires much stronger immersion in data than a traditional MBA offers,” Zettelmeyer says. “The business problems are owned not by the data scientists, they’re owned by the businesspeople. At the end of the day, a lot of the decisions on analytics need to be made by managers. They don’t get made and shouldn’t be made by data scientists.”

Zettelmeyer believes data analytics should be taught in every business school, “as intensively as today maybe we are teaching marketing or we teach finance.” And working executives “need to get themselves up to speed really fast. it’s absolutely crucial,” Zettelmeyer says.

And as Hartmann, of McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business in Canada, points out, many managers are woefully unprepared to take advantage of the opportunities big data provides. That’s why the school is launching an EMBA program focused on analytics. The 15-month “Digital Transformation” EMBA is touted as the first of its kind.


“We were being told by organizations that there’s a need, and we noticed there was a gap in terms of what’s being offered currently,” Hartmann says.

The program is aimed at working professionals with seven or more years of experience, who should come out of the EMBA understanding of data analytics, and possessing the ability to communicate it across their organizations.

“The topic areas look quite similar to other courses in EMBAs, but it’s the context, the examples that are going to be filtered through the focus of big data, and data analytics,” Hartmann says.

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