Growing Emphasis on Data Analytics in MBAs

Technical know-how and an understanding of data strategy are two factors that can improve MBA graduates’ career prospects

Data analytics is becoming an increasingly important and prominent aspect to consider for many MBAs. A recent study conducted by MBA Roundtable revealed that the majority (61 percent) of schools surveyed intend to overhaul their curriculum in the near future, putting a greater emphasis on analytics.

It is reasonable for business schools to aim to equip graduates with the skills demanded by the modern labor market as a response to recent changes in the business environment. Modern businesses have no choice but to employ data experts, such as data architects, data engineers, data scientists, and other technical staff, in order to survive and succeed in today’s market. There is, in addition, a need for communication between the business and technical aspects of any business — an excellent opportunity for MBA graduates to occupy this middle ground.

Gregory La Blanc, a lecturer at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, believes that graduates who can add an understanding of data strategy to their business credentials will reap the rewards with greater job opportunities.

UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business requires its first-year MBA students to take a course on data analytics. Source: Haas School of Business University of California, Berkeley

MBA courses have begun to reflect this sentiment, offering students a thorough grounding in the emerging technical and data-oriented aspects of business for them to thrive in their future roles. However, La Blanc emphasizes that MBA graduates will still need to continue developing their traditionally generalist skill sets along with up-to-date technical skills and understandings.

Business schools highlight that it is hard to find, in today’s work environment, any role that would not benefit from analytics expertise. Yet, the business sector currently experiences a shortage of skilled employees who can fulfill such needs. Jan Hohberger, associate Dean at Esade Business School, says that data analytics knowledge is increasingly being considered a part of the “general” skill sets of all MBA graduates, rather than a special skill honed by only a few.

Hohberger elaborates, “MBAs do not need necessarily become technical experts, but have to understand tools and methods to see their potential for the business area, and are able to work with experts.”

Sudipta Dasmohapatra, professor of the practice in data science and business analytics at Georgetown McDonough School of Business in Washington D.C., links this new expectation of MBA graduates to the emerging economic environment. She explains that due to technological advancement, numerous companies, not just international mega-companies, can now manage large data sets. She says, “These are being recognized as valuable assets with the capability to drive strategic business decision-making and propel business growth.”

A Growing Demand for Data Analytics-savvy MBA Graduates

The exponential growth in data technologies and the relevant markets means that companies increasingly rely on employees who can handle data in a sophisticated manner: the ability to analyze, parse out hidden trends, and make predictions based on data sets.

Georgetown McDonough School of Business provides its students with opportunities to immerse themselves in data, aiming to equip the students with the understanding required to visualize, analyze, and strategically execute projects based on data. Source: Georgetown McDonough School of Business

Georgetown’s business school has responded to this demand by putting more emphasis on data analytics in its curriculum. Dasmohapatra says, “The focus is primarily to understand sources of data and how the analytics concepts, techniques, and tools can be applied in practice across various business functions.” She elaborates that the business school guides students to learn how to apply knowledge of data analytics to business problems to maximize business opportunities.

These technologies have been used as a part of many businesses for more than 15 years. What has changed is the cost; with significantly less cost to maintain computer power to access and manage data and to develop and test algorithms, many more companies are now able to benefit from these technologies. Such trend, in turn, has made data analytics a “key competitive factor” virtually across all industries, according to Willem-Jan van Hoeve, professor of operations research at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

The main potential benefit of this technology to business lies in understanding how data analytics — which utilizes techniques from data science, statistics, and machine learning, to name a few — can create business opportunities. Van Hoeve says that students must, therefore, understand data science profoundly enough to apply it meaningfully in practical situations. He points out, in addition, that students should “learn how to communicate and lead teams to implement solutions that are driven by analytics and data science.”

He also highlights the usefulness of data analytics in seeking out new business opportunities, describing it as a “key tool for decision-making.” The role of business analytics experts, he concludes, partially lies in bridging technical support and the business management side of any business. For those reasons, he predicts the knowledge of business analytics will “continue to be useful as a foundation while people develop their careers.”


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