B-Schools and Big Data

Just what is Big Data? And how is it used to make real business decisions? Anyone interested in the burgeoning field of business analytics should check out this story in the Wall Street Journal on how the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania is expanding its offerings in this area and will now offer an MBA major in the subject.

The move comes as fewer students head to b-school with a career in finance in mind after graduation. According to the WSJ, 306 students in Wharton’s 2008 MBA class entered the financial-services industry right after graduation; last year, the school reports that number was 219.

While many professionals understand the technical side of business analytics, they don’t know precisely how to frame their business strategy. Companies need people who can also understand the business side and offer data-based solutions.

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Wharton Professor Adam Grant tells WSJ that the strengthened focus on analytics will train students in rigorous thinking and decision-making based on large data sets, rather than the isolated scenarios students encounter in a case study.

“We want to create a hub where evidence-based management is the norm rather than the exception,” says Grant.

But Wharton isn’t the only elite business school upping its Big Data game. NYU Stern School of Business and USC Marshall School of Business also offer specialist masters courses in business analytics.

In March, MIT Sloan School of Management announced the launch of a new, specialized Master of Business Analytics program designed to prepare students for careers in business analytics. The inaugural class will enter MIT Sloan in fall 2016.

“The professional opportunities for our graduates will be extensive,” says MIT Sloan Professor Dimitris Bertsimas, the co-director of the MIT Operations Research Center. “Companies from IBM to Dell to Amazon to Google are collectively investing billions of dollars in data collection to build models that help them make better, more informed decisions. This is a transformational moment in business and management science.”

Wharton administrators, meanwhile, have said the school has no plans to create a separate degree program, and aims instead to further integrate analytics content into its full-time MBA program.

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