There are things to love about every season, but shopping season most of all – especially for retailers. Between Black Friday and Christmas, retailers average more sales than at any other time of the year, with some companies doing as much as 40 percent of their annual sales during the holiday season, according to the National Association of Retailers.
For this reason, retailers want to know exactly what their consumers are doing during this time period – what they spend, what they buy and why they buy it. They spend millions of dollars on data software to find the answers, but collection is meaningless without interpretation by data analytics professionals. And the McKinsey & Company reports that there is a growing workforce shortage of “deep analytic talent.”
In the spring of 2012, the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology will work to fill that gap by offering a Master of Science in Business Intelligence and Analytics (BI&A). The BI&A degree is designed to train students not only to analyze retail data, but data from other industries as well, in order to allow companies to better utilize the information they collect. It will be the only such masters program in the New York Metropolitan area and one of only a few in the entire country.
“Most large companies today collect hundreds of trillions of characters of data. This data is used in many industries, from finance to marketing and advertising,” said David Belanger, Chief Scientist of AT&T Labs, who took part in the creation of the BI&A program at Stevens. “Getting full business value from the data requires not only the ability to use the tools of data management, data analysis and visualization, but, at least as important, the ability to frame the right questions, understand the domain of use and clearly articulate the findings. This program will give students that training.”
According to Linda Pittenger, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at the Howe School, the BI&A program is geared toward students with highly analytical and quantitative undergraduate degrees such as mathematics, computer science, physics and finance. The program offers the most advanced curriculum available for leveraging quantitative methods and evidence-based decision making in support of business performance. It has been reviewed by some of the leading scientists and industry professionals in the world, and also includes a practicum, ensuring students get real world experience.
“Our corporate partners will give students real data and real problems and they’ll have to solve them,” said Pittenger. “The belief is that if a student works for company ‘A’ during the program, that company will grab him or her up upon graduation. It’s a win for both students and the companies where they train.”
The program includes courses in databases, data warehousing, data mining, data visualization, risk modeling and more. One of the more unique courses will focus the analysis of social media.
“We’ll teach students how to extract and analyze social networks,” said Jeffery Nickerson, associate professor, director of the Center for Decision Technologies at the Howe School, and the social media analysis course instructor. “From these networks it is possible to analyze trends, and sometimes to predict the trajectory of their growth. This is a big deal. If you understand networks, you can target your message to those who are ready to buy.”
Pittenger and Nickerson said that every industry needs analytics, and Stevens is working very closely with a variety of industries to give students a wide array of opportunity. But the retail industry especially, with a rapidly growing reliance on in-store and on-line customer data, stands to benefit from the BI&A program creating more knowledgeable data analytics professionals.
“We buy things for many reasons, and when companies can understand why, the consumer wins by getting marketing messages that match their current interest,” Nickerson said. “Businesses benefit, too, as they can present specific messages to those who are ready to act. Moreover, each person who now takes the message to heart also ends up passing more information around to other consumers, so that good products become known quickly. Sales can increase: if the network is dense, and the product is compelling, then a few well-placed initial promotions can create an information cascade that leads to fast sales.”
The 36 credit BI&A program is a total of 12 courses. It is open to full or part-time students. Classes are offered on campus one day a week for 15 weeks or a tailored program at off-campus sponsor locations.
For more information on the Stevens Masters in BI&A program please visit stevens.edu/BIA-MS.