Powerful new technologies are now enabling companies to collect vast quantities of data that reveal critical information about trends, opportunities and risks. But in order to make sense of "big data," companies need trained analytics professionals to do the complex work of interpreting that data and making business decisions based on their research.
Now Stevens Institute of Technology has stepped into this vital area.
During “The Future of Analytics” event on May 15, Stevens formally celebrated the spring 2012 launch of a new Master of Science in Business Intelligence & Analytics (BI&A) program, which was created to meet the rapidly growing demand for analytics professionals. Part of the Howe School of Technology Management's graduate curriculum, the 36-credit Stevens BI&A master's program is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.
"Insightful analysis and strategic utilization of 'big data' are critical in today's business environment," said newly appointed Howe School Dean Gregory Prastacos before the event. "This new master's program positions the Howe School at the very forefront of this emerging area. We are confident that industry will eagerly embrace Stevens graduates equipped with these important skills."
The May 15 celebration brought together BI&A faculty members with leading experts in business intelligence, performance management and information management for an exploration of analytics trends and technologies. After a reception in the Babbio Center, participants moved to the Howe Center for a formal dinner and classical music from a quartet of Stevens students.
Stevens President Nariman Farvardin and Linda M. Pittenger, associate dean for Howe graduate programs, welcomed the dinner attendees. Farvardin noted that the analytics program is the first such program in the tri-state area, and that the time is ripe for analytics to become a key component of everything from business operations to public safety. Provost George Korfiatis discussed the long history of innovation at Stevens, beginning with its founding family — once known as “America's First Family of Inventors.”
Prastacos followed, explaining how the Howe School would shortly be unveiling a strategic plan, new research initiatives and retooled graduate offerings. He then introduced the BI&A program, which was created with significant corporate and industry input. The recent rise of analytics, Prastacos said, marks a significant change in management thinking from intuition-based decision-making to fact-based decision-making.
Entertainer and actor Joe Piscopo contributed a video clip from Los Angeles during which he spoke approvingly of Stevens' creation of the program, pointed out that he had personally visited the Stevens campus while a high school student, and concluded of Stevens, "This is the best of New Jersey".
Keynote speaker Brenda Dietrich — an IBM fellow, vice president and chief technology officer of business analytics and mathematical sciences at IBM’s famed T. J. Watson Research Center — then took the podium to discuss IBM's many uses of big data. Fast Company magazine once called Dietrich "the top math manager at arguably the biggest and most important math department in corporate America."
Dietrich discussed the need for new mathematical models and computing systems to handle the recent explosion of unstructured enterprise data.
"I define analytics broadly," she said, "probably more broadly than most."
Dietrich then discussed a wide range of current research topics related to her work at IBM.
She explained how errors can be introduced into data analysis in many ways, including human input error in the data, sensor error and reliance on unverified models; how IBM can use data about its sales teams to predict their eventual sales success; how the “holy grail” of marketing research is to discover intention to purchase items via social media and other signals before purchases are actually made; and how modeling human factors presents new challenges.
Dietrich finished by discussing IBM’s Watson computing system, made famous when it defeated numerous human contestants on the game show Jeopardy! in 2011.
The same technology that enabled Watson, Dietrich said, can be adapted to solve much more complex and important problems in such areas as finance or healthcare if additional variables can be fed into the computations by, say, doctors questioning patients — something not allowed in the Jeopardy! format.
"Instead of answering a specific question, we can give it a medical record and ask, 'what do you think?'" Dietrich said.
She added that Watson's computations can become better as more evidence and clarifications are included in the data sets: medical tests and family histories, once obtained by a doctor, would provide important feedback in Watson's learning and recommendations, as would policy guidelines and best-practices literature.
The evening concluded with dessert and gifts of Stevens-branded Rubik's cubes.
The Stevens BI&A master's program is geared toward graduate students interested in careers in analytical fields – finance, pharmaceuticals, underwriting, manufacturing, information technology, telecommunications, and the like – and teaches the collection, analysis, and interpretation of vast quantities of data to help support business performance. For more information, visit stevens.edu/BIA-MS.