Training is Crucial
Mark Hanny, vice president of academic initiatives at IBM, said when he earned his MBA a few decades ago, IT was disconnected from the business strategies of most companies. However, "today IT is a big part of the strategy; and analytics can help transform industries." Yet, not all analytics solutions or strategies are the same. Henry Morris, senior vice president of software and services solutions research at IDC, said IDC looked at many factors that seemed to separate one organization from another. "And the key factor is training, training in analytics," he said.The Yale School of Management and its Center for Customer Insights in collaboration with IBM is addressing the need for students to build strong analytics skills with a first-of-its-kind "Customer Insight" project-focused class. Students benefit from the class by learning more about the advances in analytics and the corresponding new job opportunities that use analytics to help tackle complex business and societal challenges, ranging from predicting and better understanding customer buying trends to improving retail sales, helping brand managers gather vital feedback on the success of a marketing campaign to building an efficient health care system. The class gives students the opportunity to apply analytics skills to real business scenarios. For example, through social analytics capabilities, if a business is not providing the level of customer service required during peak season or peak hours, they can now look at reports from the social data collected that will support the hiring of extra workers to better serve their customers, and to avoid any negative comments associated with their brand, IBM officials said. "We rely on students having to analyze data, and we refer to this as raw data as opposed to coked data," said Sharon Oster, dean of the Yale School of Management. "But you need a framework and some kind of theory, and some kind of structure before you start hacking on that data," she said. And that is where IBM's technologies come into play, she added. Ivan Dremov, a second year MBA student at the school, said he gained a lot of hands-on applicable experience working with IBM, in particular the use of IBM's sophisticated SPSS analytics software. "Recruiters that come in want to see knowledge of the tools of the trade; and not just Excel, but other statistical tools," he said. Dremov also quipped that IBM might bring its Watson, the Jeopardy-winning computer system, to campus "to compete with our very bright students and professors in business trivia or at least to help us with our homework. "Business analytics is going mainstream, and the explosion of data from the social networks is a sign that the tides are shifting. It's important for us to energize the classroom, and that calls for integrating the latest technology into our curriculum in order to prepare students for high-value job opportunities," said Ravi Dhar, a professor and director of the Center for Customer Insights at Yale School of Management. "With this collaboration with IBM, we are giving students the opportunity to tackle real-world projects. The idea is to focus on learning by doing, and with this type of real training under their belts, students can be productive a lot sooner in their new job roles." The collaboration between IBM and Yale is helping the business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow develop valuable analytic and critical thinking skills while drawing on their personal experience with social media. "The students graduating today have a great opportunity to make a great impact," IBM's Ashe said. "They'll likely know more about social media than their boss on their new job, than their boss's boss and even the CEO." By combining the students' understanding of social media with business context, the IBM/Yale project aims to meet the growing industry demand for analytics-savvy employees. This will enable students to learn managerial decision-making and how predictive analytics technology can improve the effectiveness of key business functions such as marketing campaigns and leveraging customer opinion on the Web. "Analytics skills are no longer just a requirement for the IT professional," Ashe said. "The business world continues to become more complex, and information is at the center of all its challenges. Analytics has quickly become one of the most important skills required to prepare our business leaders of tomorrow. The Yale School of Management and its dedicated Center for Customer Insights is pioneering the way by exploring new ideas that bring business and technical skills together that will be a significant engine of growth for our economy." And analytics offers vast opportunity to entrepreneurs. Mark Gorenberg, managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, said even though analytics is one of the hottest areas in the IT industry now there is no reason to fear that there is a bubble on the horizon that might burst. "Analytics have always been hot, and it's getting hotter and hotter as there's more data to be analyzed. I don't think there's a bubble coming because there is so much revenue to be made." Gorenberg said two of Hummer Winblad's biggest successes were analytics companies-Arbor Software and Omniture. Arbor Software merged with Hyperion Software to become Hyperion Solutions, which Oracle acquired in 2007 for $3.3 billion. And Adobe acquired Omniture in 2009 for $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, now, as a member of the IBM Academic Initiative, the Yale School of Management Center for Customer Insights will also receive no-charge access to IBM technology, course materials, training and curriculum development. Yale School of Management faculty and students will also have the opportunity to collaborate with IBM and gain hands-on expertise from IBM researchers and developers on innovative projects. This collaboration is part of IBM's work with thousands of universities around the world to develop and encourage future generations of business leaders and entrepreneurs, bringing innovative technology, access to experts and Watson technology to students around the world. In the last five years, IBM has made 25 acquisitions in analytics, investing more than $14 billion. IBM has also dedicated more than 8,000 business consultants worldwide, and more than 200 IBM mathematicians focused exclusively on analytics. IBM is projecting $16 billion in business analytics and optimization revenue by 2015. Meanwhile, the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management is dedicated to helping leaders in business develop superior insights into customer buying patterns and preferences.
"If you look at these analytics offerings they vary from company to company and it takes a significant services component to deal with that," Ashe said, giving a plug to IBM's analytics services group, which boasts more than 8,000 practitioners.