Big Data Courses Lead B-Schools’ Efforts To Boost Digital Economy Careers

Programs on analytics, innovation, cyber security gain ground

With hyperbole around big data and digital analytics surging through firms everywhere, any business school worth its salt is bringing these tech tools to their MBA students.

Kellogg School, Imperial College, and China’s CUHK have all moved in this direction.

Yet analytics masters are just one of a swelling number of degrees geared toward the digital economy. As tech pervades management careers from sectors consulting and finance to luxury and the supply chain, business schools are being forced to innovate.

“We’re placing a big bet on it here,” says Wharton Professor Peter Fader, co-director of the school’s Customer Analytics Initiative. “It’s not just that analytics will be a big part of Wharton, but all business schools are saying the same thing.”

Demand from both students and companies for more programs and electives on trendy topics such as entrepreneurship, innovation, and cyber security is altering the MBA landscape.

At Stanford 10 years ago, investment management was the most popular MBA course. In 2015, it was interpersonal dynamics and how to manage growing enterprises.

“Education now is not about old versus new skills, but about old and new skills — for example both traditional management skills, but also new data science ones,” says Professor Theos Evgeniou, academic director of INSEAD’s data analytics research hub, elab.

A love of big data drew Steve Munson to the Global MBA program at Hult, which delves into analytics in electives from marketing to entrepreneurship. At the time, he managed cloud data centers for EMC, the $63 billion cloud storage maker. “I have a passion for innovation and technology,” he says.

Business schools are responding to the market. “Clients ask for subjects…such as business model innovations, strategy and leadership, as well as topics which are currently in vogue, such as big data and digital transformation,” says Daphné Schalbetter, director of executive education at Mannheim Business School.

Such intrigue has led a welter of schools to introduce digital transformation MBAs. DeGroote School’s has been one of the most hyped. “Digital innovations like the cloud, social media, big data analytics and mobility fundamentally alter the traditional way of doing business,” says Michael Hartmann, director of the EMBA in Digital Transformation, developed with SAS and IBM.

Cambridge University’s Judge Business School setup the Digital Business Academy, a UK government-supported online learning platform, with Tech City UK.

Jaideep Prabhu, a professor at Cambridge Judge, says companies are under pressure over digital from competitors.

“Many firms in the ‘old economy’ are being threatened not only by their direct competitors….but competitors outside their sector, the so called GAFAs — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple,” he says, which use big data to gain insight and leverage.  

With a shortage of digital-savvy executive talent, the prospect of lucrative careers at companies utilizing technology is further spurring the rise of digital degrees.

A survey of 600 companies by Accenture, the management consultancy, found that two-thirds recruited a senior figure to lead data management and analytics.

Mark Kennedy, director of the KPMG Centre for Business Analytics at Imperial College Business School, says those without the analytical skills sought by sectors like finance and consulting will be at a disadvantage.

“There will continue to be a need for people with the MBA who have some kind of technical background,” he says.

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