Analytics-driven decision making is becoming the ‘new normal’

This November 24th we launched our new “Introduction to Big Data and Analytics” course, destined for the Bachelor students. You may wonder whether we are digressing from the important business topics to be taught at a business school. Surely, Big Data is just an IT concern? And our students don’t aspire to become data scientists? So why bother?

Well, the reality is much more nuanced. How to deal with Big Data and Analytics is directly linked to success or failure of companies, as they continuously seek competitive advantage. What insights are they able to extract from their data to support the implementation of their business strategy? The access to, and storage of, data is no longer the issue, and as available data continues to grow exponentially (double every two years) the playing field is no longer level. Those companies and public institutions that don’t follow will very quickly fall behind and become uncompetitive.

It all boils to down to how large and varied sets of data, gathered and analysed in near real-time, can help companies make better decisions. Those companies that ‘get it’ continue to set the pace and it is fast! Their company strategies and unique differentiators are clear, and they focus all their Big Data efforts on helping them make the most competitively compelling decisions. Examples include Uber optimizing supply and routes based on your location; your telecoms provider adapting their promotional offers to your personal consumption profile; your supermarket dynamically changing stocked products and prices based on external factors such as meteorological data, social media data and local upcoming events; your city installing sensors on lampposts, garbage bins and traffic lights to maximise urban infrastructure efficiency; your car communicating proactively with its manufacturer to predict upcoming technical problems and servicing needs.

Every single industry vertical is affected by Big Data and Analytics and the numbers are mind boggling. Walmart alone processes 2.5 petabytes every hour (that’s 2.5×1015 bytes = roughly 1.3 trillion printed pages) with over 200 streams of internal and external data. Our digital universe doubles in size every two years, and there are more bits of info than there are stars in our physical universe. Only about 5% of all our data is analysed today. With about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created every day (= 10M Blu-ray discs) and bad/poor data costing US businesses roughly $600Bn every year, there are literally no minutes to lose on working out how to use large, varied and real-time data sets to drive competitive advantage. 

At BSL, we are taking a sector approach to teaching Big Data and Analytics. During our 2016/2017 Winter term, we will have six prominent guest speakers from six different industries to help make concrete data science business challenges come to life: Public Healthcare, Financial Services, High Tech, Transportation, Smart Cities, and HR/Recruitment. This will also give the students an invaluable insight into the core business model questions of each industry sector. They will better understand how decisions are made and why, as well as the trade-offs that companies and public institutions always need to consider.

My hope is that this class will become redundant over the years, as Big Data simply becomes the “new normal” and is fully integrated into the overall curriculum of business schools. In the meantime, we will prepare our BSL students well for a world in which understanding, analysing and applying big data sets has become a minimum entry requirement.

Author: Anja Langer Jacquin,
Professor at BSL

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