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Analytics Goes to the Head of the Class

Northwestern University and IBM have announced they are collaborating on new business and technology curricula to help students gain the latest skills in business analytics. The new courses of study, Masters of Science degree programs with analytics concentrations in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Continuing Studies, will better prepare students and current professionals who are seeking new analytics skills for today's competitive job market.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a 24 percent increase in demand for professionals with management analysis skills over the next eight years. The need for this specialized talent is being fueled by an increased use of business analytics by companies to better understand the explosion of data generated online, via social networks and mobile devices, or through real time sensors. With so much data residing within, and shared across, these digital sources, organizations are seeking new ways to understand, measure, act and even predict outcomes based on customer and social sentiment.

The demand for new higher education programs such as those at Northwestern illustrates the evolution of analytics. Once considered an area of focus for technology majors, that has moved beyond computers science and is now a required competency across businesses from finance and IT to human resources and marketing.

“Business leaders are faced with an enormous, and ever-increasing, amount of complexity,” says Julio M. Ottino, Ph.D., dean of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. “It is critical that we prepare the next generation of leaders with the skills to find trends and patterns in this vast amount of data. The field of analytics provides powerful tools to find meaning and opportunity amid complexity. We are committed to preparing students to excel in this emerging field, and we value the support of IBM in our efforts.”

The work between Northwestern and IBM is part of an ongoing effort to expand and strengthen education curricula to meet the growing demand of highly skilled analytics business workers of the future. As part of its Academic Initiative, a program that offers colleges and universities access to the latest advances in technology and business industry expertise, IBM is providing Northwestern with curriculum materials, project-focused case studies for students to gain hands-on experience in analytics, access to a wide spectrum of software solutions, IBM thought leaders as guest speakers, as well as faculty awards to accelerate program development.

"As data of all shapes and sizes swell at record speeds the need will continue to grow for those individuals with an advanced understanding of how to interpret and respond to this information,” says Deepak Advani, vice president of predictive analytics, IBM. “IBM is privileged to work with Northwestern University to help share the latest developments in analytics technologies and processes, and help prepare future business leaders to tackle complex societal challenges that increasingly will be addressed by understanding and responding to data instantly – from health care to retailing experiences to public safety.”

The collaboration extends a long-standing relationship between the two organizations. In addition to the focus on expanding analytics curriculums, Northwestern faculty are also working alongside IBM researchers at the TJ Watson Research Center to explore material science, engineering and computing innovations.

Harnessing the Power of Analytics

For those that have wondered how social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are able to identify acquaintances as potential friends, the core ingredient is the use of ‘prescriptive’ analytics, sophisticated algorithms help the system scan billions of bits of data and identify patterns that ultimately lead to long lost friends. This is just one example of some of the unique coursework that the new McCormick Master of Science in Analytics degree will challenge students with beginning in the Fall 2012.

Beyond social media applications, analytics offers enormous potential for world-changing insights. By applying these technologies in new ways, basic citizen services to complex systems can be transformed to work more effectively and efficiently, from electrical grids to healthcare to global trade.

"Business analytics is going mainstream, so it's important for us to integrate traditional study with interactions across the business community that allow students to see how these capabilities are impacting business," said Diego Klabjan, associate professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and director of the Master of Science in Analytics. "With this new program we are giving students the opportunity to learn by doing. The goal is to offer students an academic setting that closely mirrors the corporate environment they’ll jump into after graduation.”

The program combines mathematical and statistical study with instruction in advanced computational and data analysis, including forecasting, business intelligence and data mining, as well as simulation and predictive analytics techniques, and big data analytics. Students will learn to identify patterns and trends; interpret and gain insight from vast quantities of structured and unstructured data; and communicate their findings in practical, useful terms. In addition to fundamentals, students will engage in a unique gateway class involving case studies where analytics is used to develop a solution to a current business challenge submitted by U.S. based companies. Substantial importance will also be devoted to the business side of analytics so that the students are taught how to communicate the value of their work, lead a team, and cope with other business related issues.

The Master of Science in Analytics is a full-time, cohort program designed for students with undergraduate degrees in engineering, science or business. Housed within the highly ranked Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, the program will introduce students to professional situations through a summer internship and an industry-supplied capstone design project.

Mastering the Art of Predictive Analytics

Northwestern University School for Continuing Studies’ Master of Science in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) made its debut to 170 students this past September, far surpassing the faculty's expectations of numbers of applicants and depth of applicants’ experience and credentials.

“Our predictive analytics program is a true reflection of what makes Northwestern great — we develop leaders in cutting edge disciplines by providing access to world-class faculty,” said Joel Shapiro, associate dean of academics. “Our graduates will use analytics to help organizations maximize the value of their data and improve their performance.”

This fully online, part-time program is designed to help adult students, expand their existing skills or gain new capabilities to transition into new careers.

The two-year MSPA program offers students a thorough grounding in data mining concepts and applications. It also focuses on developing the strategic, project-management and communication skills that leaders utilize to effectively forecast and implement new initiatives. Advanced data analysis, advanced statistics, database management, web analytics, predictive modeling and marketing analytics are just some of the program’s areas of study. The program also includes electives in fraud detection and web analytics. For example, helping students learn how predictive analytics can root out fraud at insurance companies, predict energy usage, or improve customer buying experiences.

Working with Northwestern University faculty, IBM is providing technology and business industry expertise. IBM is also donating predictive analytics software, curriculum case studies and guest lecturers.

The collaboration is part of IBM's Academic Initiative that offers a wide range of technology education benefits to meet the goals of colleges and universities. As a member of this initiative, participating schools receive no-charge access to IBM software, discounted hardware, course materials, training and curriculum development. Nearly 6,000 universities and 30,000 faculty members worldwide have joined IBM’s Academic Initiative over the past seven years.

This press release was provided by IBM.