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About three years ago, the new dean of SIU Carbondale's College of Business Terry Clark learned firsthand about the importance of having an analytics program from Saluki alumnus Rich Moore, the treasurer of Caterpillar.

Moore told Clark, “Your online MBA is plain-vanilla and doesn’t stand out compared to other programs. Businesses need graduates with an understanding of Data Analytics tools and techniques to drive business insights.” It was the first time Clark had heard the word “analytics” in that context. Although he felt deflated and discouraged, he was determined to find a solution.

Upon returning to campus, a chance meeting with Professor Jim Nelson, a specialist in Management Information Systems (MIS), changed it all. Nelson, although contemplating retirement, jumped at the opportunity to initiate an analytics program in the College of Business.

That was how SIU Carbondale’s College of Business began its journey into analytics.

What is analytics?

Analytics help to answer business questions, identify patterns in business data, discover new knowledge and predict outcomes. Analytics achieve these goals on vast and dynamic data sets, using applied mathematics, statistics, predictive mathematical models, machine learning and automated decisions.

In the past, constraints on data storage and processing speed imposed limits. Advances in technology as well as data collection and storage have overcome these limitations, making it possible for firms to gather, store and analyze enormous quantities of dynamic data, and to solve business problems unthinkable just a few years ago.

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Firms in healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, retail, financial services and hospitality are scrambling to tool-up their analytics capabilities to handle the data avalanche they are facing.

According to Harvard Business School Senior Associate Dean Jan Hammond, the ability to bring analytics insight into decision-making is powerful. Graduates combining business know-how with analytics capabilities will add the most value and have the greatest impact.

Critical shortage of analytics graduates

Yet, there remains a critical shortage of analytics-capable graduates. According to Forbes Magazine, analytics-related jobs will increase from 2.35 million in 2015, to about 2.72 million by 2020. Illinois ranks fourth among states experiencing the greatest demand for analytics-capable workers (behind California, New York and Texas).

SIU’s College of Business is poised to meet this demand. According to Clark, the college’s undergraduate analytics program is set to launch in fall 2020 and a graduate program is in the works.

A kick-off celebration for this initiative is set for the college’s Pontikes Center for Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence board meeting in Chicago in early November. Attending the kick-off will be representatives from Boeing, Caesar Entertainment, Caterpillar, CME Group, Deloitte, Edward Jones, Navigant, Nike and STATS.

We are poised to meet market demand by preparing our graduates with valuable analytics-related knowledge and skills — exactly where need is greatest and the modern business world is headed.

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Meera Komarraju is the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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