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Gift from software giant SAS seeds Moore School's new analytics initiative

January 23, 2013

Data science may just be “the sexiest job of the 21stcentury.”  That’s what Harvard Business Review calls it in a recent assessment of growth opportunities in the field. And thanks to a generous gift from North Carolina-based SAS, a global leader indata analytics software, increasing numbers of students at the Darla Moore School of Business will be poised to become leaders in the data revolution.

Data science is “sexy” because of its rapid growth and importance to business.  A 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute notes that 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month, while HBR observes that Walmart now gathers more than 2.5 petabytes—the equivalent of some 50 million filing cabinets—of data from its customers every hour. 

Managing this much data—not just processing it, but knowing exactly what to do with it—is no small feat. But the benefits of effective data management are huge:  HBR estimates, for example, that the most data-driven companies are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors, and the McKinsey Institute projects that retailers who fully leverage all the data available to them can increase their operating margins by up to 60%.

The biggest challenge for companies that seek to join the data revolution is finding theright people to lead the way.  The McKinsey Institute projects that, in the United States alone, businesses will need to create 140,000 to 190,000 “deep analytic” positions and hire a full 1.5 million managers who are well-trained in data analytics if they want to capitalize on all the information that is at their disposal.

That’s the challenge SAS and the Moore School will address through the Analytics Initiative.  Seeded by a gift from SAS and housed in the Moore School’s Management Science department, the Initiative will, among other things, help prepare students for data-related careers by giving them hands-on experience with analytics.

“Big data represents a fundamental shift in the business world,” said management science professor Mark Ferguson, “and we want our students to be on the front end of it, not behind.”

That goal puts the Moore School very much in line with SAS, which sees universities as key to creating a new generation of data analysts who can make the most of all the information that’s available to them.  “What industry is looking for is people who can hit the ground running and solve problems,” said Jerry Oglesby, SAS’s Senior Director of Global Academic Programs and Global Certification.

SAS has a long tradition of collaborating with universities to create tools the talent industry needs. Partnering with the Moore School, Oglesby said, was particularly attractive for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, housing an analytics institute in a business school instead of a statistics or computer science program means it will produce graduates who are doubly marketable because they combine deep understanding of data analytics and general business skills. 

More notably, said Oglesby, “the interest is there at Moore to create a program that’s really new instead of just modifying an existing program.  That’s an opportunity to create something that’s more relevant in today’s market.”

Ultimately, said Moore School management science professor Michael Galbreth, the Initiative’s goal is to make analytics more accessible for all Moore School students.  “Training students to use data analytics software will be just the starting point,” Galbreth noted.  “We also want to help all of our students, from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates, see what’s possible and be comfortable with data-driven decision making.  Eventually, we hope the initiative will touch all programs and degrees in the Moore School.”


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