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School of hard facts: Universities turn out analytics champions
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  spss ibmsoftware baforum cognos business_analytics
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Today's feature is part two of our look at the new IBM Centre for Performance Management, a joint venture between IBM and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. In this article, we look at the components of the new curriculum and hear from some of its students. Attendees to Business Analytics Forum at Information on Demand 2010 can expand their own analytics acumen by taking up to three courses for free.
Used to be that performance management was something you learned on the job.
Maybe you were an IT person asked to extract data from disobedient systems. Maybe you were a business person trying to base a decision on that data. Either way, both the technology and practice of analytics were a puzzle for employees to untangle.
Now, with the ubiquity of analytics in the workplace in some form, performance management (PM) concepts are more mainstream. A discipline, even. And as evidence, PM is now more formally part of the curriculum at business and IT schools.
A case in point, the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management has been turning out cohorts of business students with dedicated PM courses under their belts for several years. This fall, the school also plans to hand out Business Analytics certificates to students who pass five PM courses.
It seems the age of reason is upon us.
Talking reason to power
Fresh-faced students are hitting the workplace with a vision. A vision of a workplace where decisions are based on fact, not the opinion of the highest rank. Where people know the right questions to ask. Where answers can be found, and they spell out the best course of action. These graduates will become the new PM evangelists. Sadly, they will face the hordes of gut-feel decision-makers and traditionalists who stand by broken processes. But happily, they will have the ear of the executives.
For U of O Professor in Performance Management Dr. Greg Richards, having the data to make and defend decisions lets people “talk reason to power.” It ends the day-long meetings where opinions fly but the highest rank wins.
“Analytics is about reducing uncertainty in deci
Business and IT: Co-ed teams
U of O’s academic partners in analytics include Fordham University in NYC and the University of South Australia, whose PM courses reside in the Information Systems department.
The fruit of this new intimacy between IT and business approaches? Students learn both the technical side of data manipulation (like crunching process standard deviations for Six Sigma) and the business side (like fine-tuning strategy on the basis of real-time insight). On the industry side, the University of Ottawa recently teamed up with IBM to found the IBM Centre for Performance Management. An investment in analytics excellence, the centre enhances the real-world applicability of U of O’s research and education.
The view from the top
“The PM courses are very practical, very hands-on,” says Claire, a French exchange student. “First we learn how to deal with the data, then we learn how managers would use it—the high-level thinking.”
Dr. Richards makes sure that students keep an eye on the big organizational goals.
“When you’re learning analytics, it’s easy to get lost in the data. Students need to learn to ask the right questions. They do that by not losing sight of their (albeit fictional) organization’s strategy, its story, why it exists, how it will improve its customers’ or constituents’ lives.”
During the 12-month-long MBA program, the students also apply their learnings in management consulting placements with real local organizations.
Finding the pearl
The PM courses use a series of data sets from make-believe public and private organizations. Each data set reveals a number of truths, if students know where to look.
Sometimes a company’s marketing spend is out of line with sales. Or an agency’s strategy and operations are working at cross-purposes. Sometimes students spend too much time analyzing irrelevant data. New data sets in the fall will represent issues in alternative energy, carbon capture and the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit).
“Many organizations thrash about trying to make decisions on the basis of badly-behaved data,” says Dr Richards. “Step one is to make the data behave. Step two is to ask the right questions of it.”
Wayward data, meet your new masters: apprentices trained in analytics from detail to big idea.