This article was originally published in early 2016. It was reprinted in the College of Business News & Views magazine in winter 2017.
All over the world, businesses are swimming in customer data—who they are, what they’re buying, even what they’re saying to their friends on social media about their purchases.
The glut of data requires an army of analysts trained to unlock the answers hidden inside. To meet that growing demand, Illinois State’s College of Business has launched a new analytics minor and sequence that is teaching students from across campus how to make data-driven decisions.
“We’re training students to not only ask the right business questions, but also to be able work with the data to generate answers and useful insights for decision making,” said Horace Melton, an associate professor of marketing who is teaching one of two new courses being offered, Introduction to Marketing Analytics (MKT 245).
So far, 27 students are enrolled in the analytics minor (for any student) or sequence (for marketing majors), which formally launched in 2015. Like the faculty who spearheaded the new curriculum, those students know there’s a demand; a study from McKinsey & Co. found that by 2018, the U.S. will face a shortage of 1.5 million managers who can use data to shape business decisions.
Senior Reilly Atkinson wanted to pick up the analytics minor—so much so that he delayed his own graduation to 2017 so he could finish it and improve his job prospects.
Atkinson was a student in Melton’s inaugural Introduction to Marketing Analytics course in fall 2015. The self-described “giant nerd” relished the opportunity to dig around a real insurer’s customer database, looking for insights into how to price policies for younger vs. older drivers. He learned how to use cutting-edge, high-end software that makes Excel look like an abacus.
Hands-on experiential learning—often with clients—is a hallmark in the College of Business, and the new analytics class took it to the next level, said Atkinson.
“That was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had so far at ISU,” said Atkinson, a transfer student. “I had a blast in that class. So much of the material I learned I didn’t know there was to learn.”
In some organizations, the big data revolution has left a chasm between tech-savvy IT staffs and business-driven marketing chiefs. Students like Atkinson will graduate with the expertise to bridge that gap.
That need exists outside the business world too, in fields such as health care and environmental health, said Peter Kaufman, an associate professor of marketing who helped create the new curriculum. The analytics minor is open to students from all majors.
Illinois State is one of only a few universities offering analytics education at the undergraduate level. Atkinson’s textbook for MKT 245, for example, was published for graduate-level learners.
“That’s a big point of differentiation for us moving forward,” said Kaufman.
Analytics beyond marketing
Though the Department of Marketing is ground zero for the new curriculum, students can also take courses in the School of Information Technology and Department of Geography-Geology. The Department of Marketing recently teamed up with the School of Communication for their second Social Media Bootcamp, in which students from both areas work together to help Bloomington-Normal businesses. The event is hosted in Illinois State’s new Social Media Analytics and Command Center.
In the Department of Accounting’s 1-year-old Introduction to Business Analytics (ACC 271) course, students dig into three cases—in insurance, web analytics, and accounting. Students have responded well to the class, with one group even taking their heat-mapping skills to a national competition.
The business information systems program began offering a separate business analytics certificate last year.
“These are skill sets that employers are expecting (from our graduates),” said Matt Nelson, associate professor accounting and business information systems. “We teach them how to solve business problems. That’s heart of it.”
Atkinson is now enrolled in Advanced Marketing Analytics (MKT 345), offered for the first time this semester. He’s glad he decided to add the analytics minor, even though he already has two majors (integrated marketing communications and business administration) and another minor (organizational leadership).
“People with this background are going to be really marketable,” says Reilly.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.