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New Business Analytics Initiative Combines Data, Innovation, Leadership

The Poole College of Management is already a leader in entrepreneurship and data analysis in business. Now, its Business Analytics Initiative is propelling the college even further as a hub for data analysis in business through education, research and thought leadership.

By Deborah Strange

The Business Analytics Initiative incorporates critical programs for students, researchers and professionals. Its mission is threefold: improve analytics pedagogy and create new educational programs, promote research and encourage faculty members who engage in research, and support the dissemination of thought leadership in the industry. It will act as a guide in business analytics at the university level. 

“There’s a lot of research going on and a lot of thought leadership in this space at the Poole College,” said Bill Rand, executive director of the center. “It was time to put that under one umbrella.”

The initiative includes a new MBA certificate program through the Graduate School, an undergraduate honors program in business analytics, practicum opportunities for students, support for faculty research and relationships with industry partners.

The Poole College of Management has an advantage in business analytics, having been home to the Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS) since 2000. A virtual research center, CIMS has fostered collaboration between industry leaders and university researchers to find new ways for businesses to grow. Its services, including its Big Data Analytics Platform, will be rolled into the Business Analytics Initiative. 

And while NC State University has several data and analysis programs — including the Institute for Advanced Analytics, the Bioinformatics Research Center, the Center for Geospatial Analytics and a master track in data science — the Business Analytics Initiative focuses on a different part of the analytics pipeline. 

“Raw data starts on the bottom and gets transformed in various ways to create information,” Rand said. “That creates knowledge — patterns that exist, relationships that exist. Wisdom uses knowledge to make decisions. Our focus in business analytics is that top level. How can we create business analytics wisdom for companies that have to make decisions?”

As technology continues to evolve, data analytics is a growing necessity for businesses. In the past, an employee with the most experience or knowledge on a topic would often pick a course of action for a company, Rand said, but such choices are increasingly driven by data. 

There are more decisions to be made quicker than ever before. What we’re finding is it really varies from consumer to consumer and from user to user in terms of what does better.

Case in point: A person reserving a hotel room in Orlando for two adults and two children during a weekend will have different priorities from a person reserving a hotel room for one adult during the middle of the week, Rand said. Having that insight allows businesses to use more personalized advertisements in an instant.

But business analytics goes beyond profit. An essential aspect of the Business Analytics Initiative is using data for good. It’s partnering with the Clinton Health Access Initiative to study how analytics can help people navigate a pandemic like COVID-19. And analyzing data in North Carolina can help businesses improve welfare closer to home.

“We’re helping out not just the world as a whole but also our state specifically to make better decisions,” Rand said. “We have a unique set of responsibilities and skills to do that.”