Making Sense of Big Data in an M.S. in Business Analytics

Several dozen schools have rolled out M.S. programs in business analytics in the past year alone, capitalizing on high demand for professionals in this field. But will the market reach saturation soon?

Tweets. Facebook posts. Online shopping trends. Amazon reviews and Ebay purchases. And soon, data from everyday appliances such as toaster ovens, cars and bridges.

In the wake of the digital revolution, there's an overwhelming amount of information to be gleaned from all of these new sources, information that can shape and direct business strategies, and companies know it. That's why McKinsey has recently predicted that by 2018, demand for data scientists would exceed supply by sixty percent.

And that's why dozens of business schools have implemented M.S. in Business Analytics programs in the past year alone.

"In listening to corporations, it's clear that demand far exceeds supply around analytics," says Associate Dean of Business Analytics Jeffrey Camm of Wake Forest University School of Business, which will roll out an M.S. program in analytics in July of this year. "The move to start an analytics program was a market-driven decision completely."

Wake Forest is not alone. The list of schools that have planned or implemented such programs in the past three years includes Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business, Syracuse UniversityCal Poly, UC San Diego, the University of Dallas, and Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business. Schools outside the US that have announced similar programs include Amsterdam Business School and France's ESSEC Business School.

And that doesn't count the schools that offer business analytics concentrations within already-existing MBA programs.

Why do an M.S. in Business Analytics Instead of an MBA?

These emerging specialized analytics degrees target a different group of students than traditional MBAs.

"Students will be taking much more in-depth coursework [in an M.S.] than they would in the MBA," says Don Harter, associate dean of masters programs at Syracuse's Whitman School of Management, which will launch an online and in-person M.S. in business analytics this year and also recently announced the launch of new business analytics concentrations in its MBA programs.

"The MBA is a much more well-rounded general degree. The M.S. is a specialist degree."

See the Top 10 Business Schools for a Career in Analytics or Big Data

MBA and M.S. programs also differ in terms of their entrance requirements. M.S. programs usually don't require work experience, which means they happily accept students directly out of undergrad, whereas MBA programs tend to recruit students with at least two years of work experience.

Wake Forest’s Camm says he would always recommend that students who are interested in business analytics pursue an M.S. instead of an MBA, since the M.S. will give them the analytics-specific skills that they need to succeed in this burgeoning industry.

Bridging the gap between data and business

Officials say that although there are plenty of students and professionals who understand the technical side of business analytics, the industry needs people who also understand the business side, who can offer concrete suggestions and prescriptive data-based solutions.

"A lot of students I talked to could be in industrial engineering, but they don't know how to write a business case. They don't know how to frame their business strategy," says Linda Oldham, executive director at Virginia Tech's Pamplin, whose program will roll out later this year.

"A lot of the corporate executives I've been talking to tell me the same thing. They say that they have a lot of business scientists on their staff, but they come to them with fancy graphs and different kinds of descriptive analytics, and the executive says, ‘what should we do with it?’ And they say, ‘we don't know.’"

The class requirements at these programs help bridge the gap between business and science. Wake Forest's new program, for example, requires students to take classes in topics such as Analytics in the Board Room and Data Analysis & Business Modeling.

When students graduate from programs like this, they can work as analytics managers, consultants, in healthcare research, in marketing or in finance, as well as in a host of other fields where data is important.

"We see opportunities for students to have tremendous placement opportunities," Harter says. "A variety of opportunities are appearing on the horizon."

Too many programs?

With several dozen programs rolling out in the past year alone, will the M.S. in business analytics market quickly reach a saturation point?

Not yet, officials say.

Camm says he and his colleagues at Wake Forest initially wondered whether they were too late in rolling out their program, but ultimately concluded that there's still a demand for these programs and for analytics experts.

"The number of companies that have contacted me has been phenomenal," Camm says. "We're still in a situation where demand far exceeds supply. That's not to say that in the next five to ten years, we won't see programs that aren't as strong as others fall by the wayside. But the market has showed no signs of slowing down as far as I can see."

On the contrary, officials say that they think these programs and demand for data scientists will only increase in the coming years as the Internet of Things—which entails placing electronic sensors on everyday objects so they can gather data too—permeates society.

"It's a bell curve, like with anything. There will be a leveling off at some point, but I don't think it will happen quickly," says Virginia Tech’s Oldham. "The shortage is pretty severe, and also because of the Internet of Things, our homes, our cars, and our toaster ovens are now cranking out data. People are building smart homes, smart bridges.”

“I think that is going to escalate the opportunity [for analysts] beyond what we could imagine right now."

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