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American business schools can bring big improvements to big data

Paul Newman Archive

Business schools, like any other institutes of higher learning, are fiercely competitive in their quest to land more talented students, produce more distinguished graduates and improve their prestige and their national rankings. These schools have always had several reliable strategies for improving their images, but recently, they've discovered another: placing a greater emphasis on big data.

Data analytics is rapidly becoming a vital part of business. Companies realize that without gathering information about their customers and analyzing it to discover actionable knowledge, they'll never gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. Until now, executives have largely lacked the educational backgrounds required to use data effectively, but educators are now beginning to change that.

One example comes from the University of Iowa, where the business school is creating a new major for students to learn more about how data can apply to the corporate world. According to Newswise, the major will be called Business Analytics and Information Systems (BAIS) and will teach students to manage vast amounts of data and use it to strengthen their businesses.

Jeffrey Ohlmann, associate professor of management sciences at Iowa, explained that the BAIS field combines statistics with other relevant intellectual fields in an effort to enlighten students.

"In a sense, the BAIS major combines topics from computer science, industrial engineering, mathematics, and statistics and teaches them through the prism of business problem solving," Ohlmann told Newswise.

Courses are everywhere
You don't have to be enrolled at a prestigious university to learn more about big data. Courses are popping up all over the globe, providing curious minds everywhere with more opportunities to study the field. It doesn't necessarily require serious academic credentials and a five-figure tuition bill.

The Financial Times recently reported on the growing popularity of massive online open courses, or "moocs." Students who sign up for courses on open websites such as Pearson, Coursera or Udacity can learn more about emerging technologies on their own time, at their own pace. The news source estimated that over 160,000 students in 190 different countries had already signed up for the "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" course at Stanford, for example.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the number of workers needed to be trained in the field of analytics will grow 25 percent between now and 2018. That means the business world will need more people with the ability to gather information, ensure data quality and analyze everything they know. Those skills won't magically appear overnight, and the education system is only now beginning to develop them.