When you think of data do you imagine something beautiful and poetic? That is how researchers in the UTSA College of Business describe their relationship with the new world of Big Data.
Big Data refers to data sets that are so large and complex that traditional information technology and analytical techniques are inadequate. Researchers use characteristics like the three “Vs” to describe the data created by this phenomenon: volume (amount of data), velocity (speed of information retrieval and processing) and variety (types of data).
The world is becoming a virtual sea of real-time digital data and everything we do leaves a digital trail behind us. Data is constantly being tracked through credit card transactions, social media interactions, websites and smart phones.
But, more importantly, this same data has now become an important tool to spot new trends and uncover hidden value in organizations. The ability to transform data into knowledge results in competitive advantage, strategic business intelligence, enhanced forecasting and improved decision making.
“Leveraging UTSA’s strength in cyber security, cloud computing and statistical analysis, the College of Business has identified Big Data as a key strategic priority and academic initiative,” said Wm. Gerard Sanders, dean and Bodenstedt Chair in the College of Business.
Given the nascency of this field, the demand for trained, experienced data analysts with advanced problem solving skills far exceeds the supply. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000-190,000 individuals with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts capable of analyzing Big Data and making decisions based on their findings.
The College of Business is uniquely positioned to become a leader in data analytics. The college’s academic structure includes multidisciplinary programming in cyber security, statistics and consumer behavior—areas not commonly found in a business school, but critical in developing a data analytics program.
“Data science is about making sense of the world using data,” said Daijin Ko, professor of statistics. “It is a new word for work that statisticians have been doing for a long time, but the quantity of data has changed everything.”
Ko has been teaching data mining courses in the College of Business since he arrived at UTSA in 2003.
“Data analytics courses teach students to reframe business challenges as an analytics challenge; apply appropriate analytical techniques and tools to analyze Big Data; create statistical models; and identify insights that can lead to actionable results,” he said.
Recognizing the value of data analytics, the college hired Max Kilger, formerly the chief behavioral scientist at Simmons/Experian, a global leader in data-driven marketing, to direct the college’s new data analytics program.
“The challenge is for researchers and analysts to make sense of this Big Data coming down the pike,” said Kilger, a sociologist by training who holds a patent for integrating disparate data sets. “It is a fire hose of information, but it’s useless unless you can analyze it and harvest value.”
With a strong background in understanding the relationship between people and technology, Kilger has always been on the cutting edge of technology.
“New technologies have encouraged the creation of these large data sets, and our task is to teach students strategies and techniques to create new visions and value from them,” said Kilger.
The college’s first initiative is to launch a one year Master of Science in Data Analytics degree program, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This new program will produce highly-skilled and educated data analysts who can transform Big Data into usable information for decision makers across a variety of disciplines including business, healthcare and national security.
Slated to begin in Fall 2016, the full-time master’s degree will focus on traditional business intelligence oriented analytics as well as provide students specialized expertise in the areas of data science management and data analytic algorithms. Students will learn to analyze data sets and develop communication and visualization techniques to share these insights within organizations.
“We’re looking for students who have good quantitative skills and a passion for analyzing data,” said Kilger.
Drawing upon experiential learning, students will learn the latest tools, techniques and technologies used to transform data into meaningful information. Further, they will apply their education by performing real world data analytics through intensive practicum coursework with local strategic business partners.
“There is a huge demand across the nation for individuals with this skill set,” said Kilger. “We can help students create significant economic value for themselves and the organizations they lead or work for.”
The college is also partnering with researchers across UTSA who are addressing Big Data in a variety of ways. Last spring through a partnership with the 80/20 Foundation and industry sponsors, UTSA launched the Open Cloud Institute. The institute will provide educational opportunities for students; facilitate faculty research in cloud computing and Big Data; and foster industry collaboration in open cloud technology.
“We’ve been working closely with the Open Cloud Institute to leverage their technology for our data analytics program,” said Yoris Au, chair of the Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security.
“Our students will need to utilize the cloud infrastructure as part of their work platform.”
Additionally both Kilger and Ko have been collaborating with Les Shephard, director of the UTSA Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, to help build the database architecture to study energy usage on the smart grid.
“Big Data is teaching us how to look at our world in new and unique ways,” said Kilger. “I love this field, and I can’t wait to share this accumulating body of knowledge with our students.”
For more information on the Data Analytics program, contact Max Kilger at firstname.lastname@example.org.