Regardless of your sector or particular line of work, your career will be affected by the increasing technological complexity of the modern world, and particularly the vast (and rising) amounts of data that fuel every industry today.
As being able to understand and analyse data becomes ever more important in non-specialist roles, MBA programmes – business management degrees designed to give students a solid, general understanding of what it takes to thrive in business today – are making data ever more central to their courses.
“Understanding data analytics will become more and more crucial for business leaders, as data analysis is a key skill for companies in virtually any sector now,” says Juergen Branke, professor of operational research and systems at Warwick Business School. While interest has increased particularly in the public, healthcare and retail sectors, he sees growing focus across industries.
As Adam Rennison, student recruitment manager at Durham University Business School, says, “companies need talented indiduals capable of interpreting mass data for the benefit of their organisation.”
For prospective MBA candidates who want a change of direction, there is no better time to futureproof their CV, according to Branke, who says that “apart from the general shortage of people with skills in analytics, there is specifically a shortage of team leaders with sufficient skills in all these areas, such that they can successfully manage the project.”
According to research by The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), in the past year, 72 per cent of employers indicated their intention to hire recent business school graduates to fill data analytics positions, making it the third most in-demand job function overall, following marketing and finance.
“Even in the creative industries,” says Erica Hensens, MBA programme director at London Business School, “data analysis is critical.”
Plainly, developing a strategic mindset means going beyond being able to read a data-set. But would-be leaders with an MBA in mind shouldn’t be preoccupied with getting to grips with complex methodologies and technical intricacies. “The best leaders know how data can drive value creation,” says Hensens. “But you don’t need advanced mathematical skills to feel comfortable in a data-driven environment.”
Rather, most business schools are focused on giving students the confidence to probe data-sets, and to question any analysis based on them. “Managers need to have the ability to understand the assumptions and limitations behind the analytical insights presented to them”, says Branke.
Hensens agrees – the focus is shifting from internal concerns to a more macro understanding: “the ability to create opportunities out of digital disruption and digital business models is just as important as being able to handle data,” she says. “Employers have shifted their focus to graduates who understand the impact of ‘digital’ and ‘data’ on companies and markets.”
Business schools are on the ball when it comes to satisfying the current – and future – needs of students and employers.
London Business School, Hensens says, has responded to business demands by introducing core and elective courses such as Customer and Marketing Analytics and Data Mining for Business Intelligence, which enable MBA students to consolidate their skills in these areas.
Warwick has a module in Modelling and Analysis for Management which “gives the students an understanding of the potential and pitfalls of data analytics so they can have critical conversations with modellers – the people who do the data analytics,” says Branke.
For those interested in achieving a greater level of depth and detail, a masters in business analytics could be an option. Warwick, which has offered this course since 2008, teams up with IBM and SAS, giving students the opportunity to drill down into the latest software and gain insight into the needs of large business.
We’ve really only “seen the tip of the iceberg of big data applications and opportunities,” says Branke. The key for most MBA students won’t lie in technical understanding, but in becoming consumate “critical consumers”, he adds – anticipating pitfalls and making better decisions for customers and the organisation.