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MSU program introduces students to analytics using IBM Watson

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Michigan State University recently announced a new master’s degree program in business analytics to help prepare students for the jobs of the future. IBM is assisting the program with its analytics software and support for experiential projects where students will apply analytics to real-world business problems. The degree includes coursework in the Broad College of Business and the Colleges of Engineering and Natural Science. Further, as part of the university’s mission to enhance analytic thinking among all students, plans are underway for undergraduates in the Broad College to participate in the first-ever IBM Watson case study curriculum.

The new collaboration between IBM and MSU is part of an ongoing effort to expand and strengthen student skills and understanding of big data and analytics in order to meet the growing demand for highly skilled analytics workers. IBM has begun hosting Watson case competitions and has established project focused classes with universities. IBM has also recently completed the first-ever Watson internship program during which students experimented with new ways the Watson system could be applied to societal challenges.

“Recognizing that a practical understanding of analytics is key for 21st century jobs and firm competitive success, we wanted to be among a group of universities that is truly at the forefront in developing a top-notch curriculum in this area that will launch our graduates into successful careers,” explains Stefanie Lenway, Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean of the Broad College. “These new programs come as a response to demand for students with a greater depth of knowledge in the area of analytics and cognitive computing. Therefore, establishing partnerships with the business community is a priority for the Broad College of Business. Our collaboration with IBM creates opportunities for our students to apply what they learn in the classroom to solve significant business problems and to prepare themselves to hit the ground running when they begin their careers.”

The new program addresses a growing need in the marketplace for analytically savvy business leaders, giving graduates a distinct competitive advantage in the job market. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, an estimated shortage of 1.5 million managers and analysts with the expertise to use analysis to make effective decisions is expected by 2018 within the US alone.

Since its historic victory on Jeopardy! last year, IBM Watson ushered in a new era of computing called cognitive systems. The new class of analytical systems is set to transform business decision-making by providing recommendations and actionable insights. With a combination of natural language processing, hypothesis generation and evaluation and evidence based learning capabilities, Watson is designed to process information like the human brain and can respond to questions with a certain degree of confidence – learning and becoming more accurate over time.

The new curriculum will align cognitive system computing with the existing business school syllabus through an integrative real-world case study learning experience on the commercialization of Watson. For example, Watson topics in a marketing class could include: How can Watson be applied to personalize the consumer experience? What information would be used to shape the desired outcome? How would marketing resources be realigned?

“Given the large amounts of new data created every single minute, analytics skills are no longer just a requirement for the IT professional, they are becoming increasingly important for the business professional as well,” says Deepak Advani, vice president, business analytics, IBM. “The business world has steadily seen analytics become one of the most important skills required to prepare our business leaders of tomorrow, and we are pleased to be working with a top university like Michigan State to help them explore new and innovative ways to bridge business and technical skills together.” After completing these new programs, graduates will enter the workforce with a unique set of skills giving them an early advantage as the next era of cognitive computing and analytics continue to impact every facet of business.

The increase in demand for analytics skills in a variety of disciplines is being driven by companies’ need to learn more about their customers, including buying habits and preferences. With the ever-increasing stream of unstructured data from a variety of sources, many organizations are seeking employees who possess data analytics skills to make sense of the data and turn it into actionable business decisions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a 24 percent increase in demand for professionals with management analysis skills over the next eight years. Regardless of the industry, the ability to use technology to analyze large volumes of data to better understand business challenges can be a significant competitive advantage. Students that understand analytics and how it can be put to work will be better positioned for success regardless of their field of study.

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