Big Data is creating a demand for university graduates who can make it work for companies, and universities are gearing up with full-time programs and executive education.
Dean Yi Deng of the College of Computing and Informatics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is leading efforts to develop informatics programs under the umbrella of “Charlotte Informatics Partnership” for a variety of vertical industries including financial services, healthcare and bio sciences. Charlotte is, after all the headquarters for Bank of America and, until it was acquired by Wells Fargo, for Wachovia, which still has a large presence there.
To be effective, a Data Scientist curriculum has to be closely linked to commercial and societal needs — so Deng is working with the college’s Industry Advisory Board on the program.
Deng said he realized about two years ago that universities needed to change the way they taught technology. For the last 50 years technology education has been about systems, technology, networks and communications.
“Obviously you can’t do information technology without data, but the focus has always been on the system. In the last decade, data has become equally important.” He set out to persuade people at the university and in the business community that they need to work together to be on the cutting edge in data education.
“The trouble was I couldn’t find a single comprehensive study to back me up. I would tell people you have to take my word for it. It is coming in a big way.”
Within a year, the picture changed. Comprehensive studies were published, companies invested in their own Big Data and acquired specialists with Big Data skills. The Economist ran a cover story on Big Data, while MIT’s Sloan School and IBM published studies linking analytics to business competitiveness. Last May, the McKinsey Global Institute released a comprehensive study about big data as the next frontier for innovation and productivity.
“Now you see Big Data stories almost everyday. The pace of the development is amazing.”
Education hasn’t kept up with development, said Deng.
“We are facing a huge deficit in people to not only handle big data, but more importantly to have the knowledge and skills to generate value from data — dealing with the non-stop tsunami. How do you aggregate and filter data, how do you present the data, how do you analyze them to gain insights, how do you use the insights to aid decision-making, and then how do you integrate this from an industry point of view into your business process? The whole thing is hugely important for the future.”
Deng’s College of Computing and Informatics is already offering Master’s and Ph.D. programs in Bioinformatics. Partnering with the College of Health and Human Services and the University Graduate School, they have developed the first Health Informatics Professional Science Master’s program in North Carolina. “This degree is to train people with solid skills of technology and analytics while being expert in the business of health and healthcare, and making the two working together.”
Now, working with the Belk College of Business at UNCC, the College of Computing is developing a new Professional Science Master’s degree in Business Analytics and Informatics, integrating big data and analytics with business process and management concepts. Their industry advisory group has attracted experts from Bank of America, IBM, SAS, Cisco, McKinsey, Lowes and Ernst & Young.
Because the university is still growing – the enrollment at Deng’s college has increased by 60% in four years – it is offered an opportunity to introduce new programs without ithreatening existing faculty.
“Our faculty are quite receptive to this idea and help to drive these developments,” said Deng.
They realize the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the integration of technology with vertical education in areas such as finance, banking, healthcare, medicine, energy or defense.
“I expect that in two or three years we will have a set of collaborative and interdisciplinary degree programs focused on data and how it integrates with business processes and key industry sectors.”
The university is also working on executive education programs to improve the skills of employees who have to keep up with fast moving changes in their business. The McKinsey study estimated that the US needs to retrain 1.5 million managers who can understand the value of data and know what questions to ask.