Nov 20, 2012 (04:11 AM EST)
Big Data Classes For CXOs
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
No longer an arcane topic of conversation among computer scientists and academics, big data is now discussed in executive boardrooms everywhere.
But do CEOs really understand what big data means? And if they don't, where can they go to learn?
In addition to a slew of online sites, books and YouTube videos on the subject, there are a now a handful of executive-level educational programs, offered by universities and commercial entities. More are in the planning stages and should arrive next year.
The programs all share one characteristic: The target student is a business executive.
Yuri Levin, a distinguished professor of management science and operations management at Queens School of Business in Canada, is now in his third year of teaching a two-day big data workshop for non-IT executives.
The class, <"http://business.queensu.ca/executiveeducation/programs/strategic_analytics.php">Strategic Analytics: Creating Competitive Advantage Through Analytics is offered four times a year, and is meant for managers "interested in evidence-based, data-driven decision-making," Levin said in a phone interview.
"Most of these people don't have a technical background," said Levin, who built the class with his Queens School colleague Jeffrey McGill.
"These aren't the people who'll implement [the big data solution], so we're teaching them how to build and organize in general to become more analytical, and what kind of talent is required and where to get that talent." In other words, the goal of Levin's class isn't to teach the executives and managers how to model. "Rather, it's to bring awareness of the techniques," he said. At the same time, Levin is expanding the business school's offerings for technologists, too. In June 2013, it will launch its Master of Management Analytics graduate program. The 10-month program will be taught in QSB's downtown Toronto classroom on evenings and alternate weekends.
Rocco Saverino, CFO at Art Gallery of Ontario, took Levins' big-data class for managers in October. "We struggle with pricing questions, especially around what to charge for [different] membership levels," he said. "Dynamic pricing and revenue optimization are the kinds of things we'd like to explore."
AGO, one of the largest museums in North America, isn't a complete stranger to predictive modeling, and has been using an Excel-based pricing model built a dozen years ago with the help of University of Toronto MBA students. But what Saverino wants to know now is more complicated. "How do you convert a one-time visitor to a member, and move them up through the membership chain to become supporters?" he asked.
He said his ambition is larger than just creating a customer relationship management program, and that now is a good time to rethink how the museum handles data because AGO just announced a reorganization and consolidation of its IT, new media, and Web units.
In the U.S., calls for executive programs about big data are growing louder. "We've been asked by several companies, and we're deliberating how to offer this," said Diego Klabjan, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and director of Northwestern University's master of science in analytics program.
At the moment, Klabjan envisions two tracks: One to bring a company's existing IT personnel up to speed about big data and data analytics, and another aimed squarely at the executives. "We'll start the training program early next year," Klabjan said, adding that the executive program is going to require more planning. Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management already offers students an optional data analytics course, Klabjan said.
Another school considering an executive program is George Mason University, which has graduated some 200 Ph.D.s from its computational sciences and informatics (CSI) doctoral program, founded in 1992. "We're rapidly assembling a program," said Kirk Borne, professor of astrophysics and computational science at George Mason University. Meanwhile, course content is morphing to be less physics oriented, he said, "so we can talk to the business school." Borne was an attendee at the recent Chief Data Scientist Summit in Chicago.
Yannet Interian, another attendee at the event, is a data scientist at Google with a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Cornell University. Interian said she is preparing to teach a class at the University of San Francisco, which she said has reached out to professional practitioners like herself from the business world.
Although big data is in the spotlight now -- thanks in large part to the volume and variety of data gushing out of social media channels -- getting non-IT business executives to pay attention to data isn't a new problem, said Carla Gentry, a 20-year industry veteran and founder of consultancy Analytical-Solution.
But Gentry is dubious that a two-day seminar will make a difference to business leaders who continue to fly by instinct.
"Do we need to get rid of the prima donnas who think they know better than the data? Yes," she said in a phone interview.
Big data advocates from the technology sector have been busy, too. IBM's Big Data University, for example, has spent the past year building partnerships with Fordham University, Yale University, Northwestern University, Michigan State University, University of Montana and others. Significantly, these efforts to develop big data analytics curriculums have involved, primarily, the business schools.
The MIT Sloan School of Management is offering a new executive education program, Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler, launched in March. "Many managers undervalue the worth of data, but really it is like money in your bank account and you should be getting a return on it," Professor 'Sandy' Pentland, who directs MIT's media lab entrepreneurship program and also teaches the two-day session, said in a statement. "This program will show managers how to capture the benefits of data such as creating better customer analytics or capturing real-time consumer preferences."
Meanwhile, at North Carolina State University, which launched what might have been the nation's first advanced degree program in analytics in 2007, the business school is working big data and big analytics into its curriculum.
Other business schools with graduate programs include The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, New York University's Stern School of Business, the Dearborn College of Business at the University of Michigan, and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Predictive analysis is getting faster, more accurate and more accessible. Combined with big data, it's driving a new age of experiments. Also in the new, all-digital Advanced Analytics issue of InformationWeek: Are project management offices a waste of money? (Free registration required.)