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What's the big deal about big data? It's a big opportunity.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Data on a computer screen

You're online browsing Etsy or Pinterest or shopping on Amazon or Target and an ad suddenly pops up advertising a product or service that piques your interest. You almost can't help but click on it.

How do these companies know that you might be thinking about purchasing a new sofa, tennis shoes, camping tent, vintage bracelet, a splash proof portable speaker, or New York weekend accommodations through Airbnb?

Data Analytics

Data analytics is the coupling of the venerable discipline of statistics and business management. The method produces results in real time, allowing companies to quickly identify trends and make smart decisions for their business. More and more companies are using the emerging potent and influential tool of data analytics to uncover hidden patterns in customer behavior and optimize processes to reduce costs and grow bottom lines.

Analyzing data to predict outcomes actually isn't new. In the 1950s, long before anyone used the term "big data," businesses gathered data slowly and in small amounts. They presented and examined their findings manually on spreadsheets. As the field evolved, more business jumped on the bandwagon, knowing that they should utilize the new strategy.

But only a few knew how.

"I've got this really, big important thing here. Now, what do I do with it?" was the overwhelming cry of the majority of business leaders.

In 1994, BusinessWeek published a cover story on "Database Marketing." It read: "Companies are collecting mountains of information about you, crunching it to predict how likely you are to buy a product, and using that knowledge to craft a marketing message precisely calibrated to get you to do so"¦. Many companies were too overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of data to do anything useful with the information."

Today, this need has turned into jobs. Lots of them.

A New Degree at UNW

To meet the needs of this growing field, University of Northwestern will offer a new Business Data Analytics degree beginning this fall. The four-year program provides students with the fundamentals of statistics, business, and storage of data, as well as programming and predictive analytics.

If you have a passion for problem-solving, applied math, and business, you might want to consider a career in business data analytics. Data analysts can find jobs in areas such as accounting, finance, marketing, retail, banking, and healthcare.

Eric Nelson, who graduated in 2006 from Northwestern's School of Business with a degree in management information systems (MIS), is a data analyst for Wells Fargo. He loves his job.

Nelson says the kind of person who would be interested in a career in business data analytics enjoys gathering information, seeks to understand the relationships of the data to outcomes, and has the ability to present their findings in a visually creative way.

"Managers are expecting shiny dashboards that show live data in a visually appealing way and in five minutes be able to say, "˜Ah, that's what's going on today," he says.

Nelson says business leaders are increasingly looking for employees with data analytics skills. He says being able to mine, manage, and present data is a "flexible skills set" that adds value to employees. It's a differentiator.

"These added skills are becoming expected in business today," he says.

Innovation and Ethics

There's no doubt that technology has established its place in our lives and it's here to stay.

Get this: Ninety percent of the world's data has been created in the past two years. Whether we're using our cell phones, laptops, watches, iPads, or FitBits, our data is being recorded instantly and more rapidly than ever before.

This new fusion of data and business opens the doors to innovation and convenience but it also raises ethical questions of privacy. More than ever, the world needs professionals of integrity.

Philip Vierling, the chair of the School of Business shares this perspective, "Data Analytics could be perceived as 'Big Brother' if used wrongly. However, as Christians, we should be willing to engage in culture and use the technology that is available to us for good. We should be able to transform and redeem culture by using these tools. Just as the internet allowed Christians to advance the Gospel in places that we were never able to reach, does DA enable us the ability to understand the nuances of culture so that we can continually show the hope of the Gospel?

Special thanks to UNW School of Business student Nathan Runke for contributing to this blog post.

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