IBM-Yale Initiative Helps Move Business Analytics Capabilities from College to Career

May 03, 2011

Business leaders are inundated with data. To be successful, they must understand the data and use it to make solid business decisions. Business analytics provides that necessary insight. It is a growing area and a skill that current business leaders need to gain efficiencies within their organizations and obtain a competitive advantage.

To ensure that future business leaders are proficient in analytics, IBM and the Yale School of Management Center for Customer Insights last week announced a collaboration that will help MBA students acquire the management analytics skills they will need in the workforce. The announcement was made at the Yale University and IBM Smarter Education Summit at the Yale School of Management.

Rob Ashe, general manager of business analytics at IBM, explained how analytics can make business leaders and their organizations more effective by providing them better understanding about their data. He also spoke about a newer concept, social media analytics, "a new and rich untapped source of drive effectiveness." IBM also launched IBM Cognos Consumer Insight, social media analytics software.

The IBM Academic Initiative enables the Yale School of Management Center for Customer Insights to receive technology, training and course materials from IBM at no cost.

Ashe said that Yale's participation in the initiative makes IBM's analytics software available to students so those students "can teach the companies they go to instead of the other way around," said Ashe. "The students graduating today have an opportunity to make an impact [in their future organizations]." They will be able to use analytics to understand an influx of data made available through social media channels, providing key insight into customer behavior.

Current executives welcome the addition of new team members who possess strong analytics capabilities. When asked what skills they want, most mention communication skills, according to Ravi Dhar, professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management and director of the Yale Center for Customer Insights. However, Dhar said, over the last couple of years, they have also mentioned the ability to manage data.

Ivan Dremov, an MBA student at Yale, participated in a Center for Customer Insights project-focused class. He said the knowledge of the analytics software is valuable career skill. "Recruiters coming to campus demand analytical skills," said Dremov. "Future graduates of Yale will be much more skilled using this analytical software."

Henry Morris, Ph.D., senior vice president, software and services solutions research at IDC, noted how people now understand that analytics goes beyond IT, and that all business professionals need to understand it.

Mark Hanny, vice president of the IBM Academic Initiative, explained how IBM had been working within the computer science space and that working with business schools has been a positive addition. "Years ago, IT was in the back, running things [within organizations], but disconnected from the strategy," said Hanny. "Now IT is the center point of companies. It's a key point of the strategy."

Hanny noted how knowledge of business analytics is valuable regardless of the industry in which future students want to work. "You're going to see new, emerging areas in analytics," he said. "You're going to continue to see new uses in all industries during your careers. It's at the early stages."

Visualizing the Data

Mark Gorenberg, managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, explained the visualization component of analytics software that benefits users. "The software allows them to put data in simple metrics they want to see," he said. "We're starting to see companies doing a lot of infographics. It's becoming much more the norm."

Morris pointed to the importance of making data more interactive and "being able to show multiple dimensions."

"It opened our eyes to the sequence," said Dremov of visualization. "You need good training, software, good analytical skills and communication skills, and take what you've found and present it effectively. You have to get every chain in that sequence right."

The Future of Analytics

When asked if the bubble may soon burst on the advancement of analytics software, Gorenberg said no. "I don't think there's a bubble coming because it's producing revenue," he said. Gorenberg noted how there is software that helps with productivity, software that aids in compliance and software that "gives you revenue growth and that's analytics. It's got the legs to go the distance. This is one of the hottest areas."

"Our focus is to be at the cutting edge of innovation; for our students to be at the cutting edge," added K. Sudhir, professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management.