Data Analytics

Analytics Education Must Center on Learners

IBM has unveiled an array of new skill-building initiatives to help information technology professionals, professors and students get the technical skills they need to succeed. These new resources are designed to help reduce the critical technology skills gap outlined in IBM’s 2012 Tech Trends Report. In his comments below, Professor of Performance Management and Director of the IBM Centre for Business Analytics and Performance Gregory Richards suggests that the key to analytics education is to focus on learners’ practical requirements.


Today, analytics education is found throughout a typical university or college curriculum.  Poets and musicians learn to analyze syntax and rhythm, historians learn to analyze text while looking for core themes, and analysis forms the foundation of pure sciences (physics and chemistry for example). Analytics education is all around us, and it has a common base – using data to make good decisions.

Yet, when I look at the results of IBM’s new Tech Trends report, there is an apparent gap between our education system and industry needs. According to the research, only one in 10 organizations report that they have the skilled employees they need to benefit from advanced technology. To make matters worse, the lack of skilled people is now impeding adoption. According to the same report, businesses cite a lack of analytics skills as the top barrier to use of the technology.

How can analytics be so pervasive in the classroom, but in such short supply in industry? What can we do to produce enough graduates with market-ready skills in this area? In part, I believe the answer lies in our ability to make the learner our filter for designing learning programs for business analytics.

To address this challenge, we take an integrative analytics approach in our MBA and EMBA course at the Telfer School of Management. The rationale is that learning programs are typically designed based on three factors: the context, the subject matter to be learned, and the learners themselves. Today, managers have a lot more information available than ever before. But we have to ask: How much of that streaming social media data is really critical to decisions we make on a day-to-day basis in our organization? Establishing data relevance is imperative.

The vast territory covered by statistics, operations research, information sciences and mathematics has been expanded even further with new tools related to social media analytics. The field of study is massive. All the more reason why the learner has to be our filter for designing learning programs for Business Analytics. Managers don’t need to become statisticians; statisticians might not want to become managers. Therefore, when we talk about business analytics education, we open up the enormous subject matter area and ask what our students will do with their new knowledge.

For our business programs at Telfer, we concluded that managers need to understand about data (data types, levels of measurement, etc.), the use of business models to define core measures, and basic cause-effect modeling to allow them to manipulate data to better understand what is happening in their organizations. Managers also need to understand the “art of the possible” by being exposed to – although not necessarily becoming experts in – more sophisticated techniques such as regression modeling, data mining and structural equation modeling. These topics are covered in a number of courses across our MBA and EMBA curricula. Specific courses geared towards Business Analytics integrate the various analytics competencies and introduce the use of technologies such as Business Intelligence, Big Data, and social media analytics.

In other words, analytics programs should cater to the needs of learners. What people should learn about analytics depends entirely on what we expect them to do with the knowledge, but it is important to understand that business analytics applies to all organizations – including government, private businesses, and healthcare.

Continued partnerships with industry should help accelerate the design of thoughtful programs like these that cater to the needs of learners and produce graduates with the right market-ready skills to immediately benefit their new employers.

Gregory Richards, MA, MBA, Ph.D., FCMC, is currently Professor of Performance Management at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management where he teaches courses on Managing Organizational Performance and Business Analytics. He is Director of the IBM Centre for Business Analytics and Performance and conducts research into the use of Business Intelligence and analytics in public sector and health care organizations.

Related Resources:

DOWNLOAD: The 2012 IBM Tech Trends Report


IBM Skill-Building Initiative

To Make the Most of Today’s Technologies, We Need to Fill a Yawning Skills Gap

Educators and Employers: Working Together to Meet IT Skill Needs

U.S. Competitiveness: Addressing the Skills Crisis

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