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Analytics theory meets practice in a new centre of excellence
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  business_analytics cognos ibmsoftware baforum spss
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Today's feature highlights the new IBM Centre for Performance Management at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Business, where MBA students will acquire the necessary analytic skills to succeed in today's economy. To brush up on your own analytic skills, IBM Cognos and IBM SPSS customers can can take up to three certification courses free of charge at Business Analytics Forum @ Information On Demand 2010.
Right now, it’s just a room. But the new IBM Centre for Performance Management in the University of Ottawa’s sleek Desmarais building will soon fill with high-performance equipment and enquiring minds. Operational this summer, the centre will have two tasks. “The centre will bring together industry and academic researchers to apply performance management (PM) to some critical topics,” says U of O’s Professor in Performance Management Dr. Greg Richards.
“And it will offer resources for students learning to apply analytics in their careers in business, government and non-profit.”
Teaching and research being a university’s two imperatives, the international centre underlines the university’s renewed focus on business analytics excellence.
The centre was born of a partnership between IBM and the U of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. The partners are investing more than $4.8 million in cash and in-kind goods and services: hardware and software, R&D, and IBM consulting and support staff time. The Telfer School will also establish a new $1 million endowment fund to support the centre and students over the long term.
Big data answers big questions
U of O academics and researchers from the IBM Centre for Advanced Studies have set an early agenda for joint research. “The questions we’re trying to answer affect not just business or government, but society as a whole.” Subjects include distributed environmental intelligence, social capital, and health and energy data mashups to find what Dr. Richards calls “the long causal chain.”
“Analyzing huge data sets lets you see things you couldn’t see before. Normally, to find the drivers of big societal problems, we fish in non-integrated data pools, if you’ll pardon the bad pun. We want to find out if integrating, say, health and transportation data gives us a better sense of what factors actually influence some of these issues.”
Analytics in (best) practice
To teach performance management, you must define it. The Telfer School’s research leans towards the descriptive to get to the prescriptive, offering evidence for best practices. The research partners surveyed 400 organizations to see what people are doing with data, what’s working and what’s not, and how people are presenting information for good decision-making.
Dr. Richards feels that most organizations “thrash about trying to make decisions on incomplete or incorrect data.”
“Hot groups,” on the other hand, use analytics to set and stay on strategy, moving steadily towards goals. “They keep the thermometer in the water, constantly marking their own progress and taking readings on external factors.”
Fine-tuning the machine
An important area of focus for the Telfer School is mapping processes to identify high value activities, the best route and the nodes that cause queues. Queuing is often found between functional groups. “The very nature of an organization is different people doing different things,” says Dr. Richards. “The only way to make it work is communication. And the basis for communication is shared understanding: of goals, of process, of performance, of data.
Thoughtful analysis of “well-behaved data” gives you this common foundation. “You can find and fix problems, set and adjust yardsticks. You have confidence.”
When teaching performance management methodologies such as business and process-level analytics, Dr. Richards always returns to the big goals. How can PM sharpen an organization’s focus on improving the lives of citizens and customers? At the University of Ottawa, researchers will continue to ask this question, and graduates will bring the answers to the real world.