For years, Professor RP Raghupathi found that finances, time and training limited his lessons at Fordham University to theoretical data models and conceptual information analysis. But as the expectations of students in the business intelligence field exploded due to the changes in technology and managerial development, Raghupathi says the time had arrived for academia to refocus on real business challenges.

So, with the support of administration and backing by IBM, the New York City-based university recently launched its Center for Digital Transformation, an academic research and development incubator centered on business analytics. Fordham also announced two new master’s degree programs – a Master of Science in Business Analytics and a Master of Science in Marketing Intelligence – along with a handful of additional courses along the information management spectrum.

“From the teaching perspective and the university’s perspective, it’s not enough to walk into the classroom and just keep talking about the theories. In information technology in particular, students need hands-on experience,” says Raghupathi.

Education researches have noted a sizeable divide in IT and business departments at secondary institutions worldwide, with enterprises clamoring for more rounded, experienced graduates. Fordham’s announcements of a new approach toward better preparation with BI for knowledge workers joins other efforts in recent months at Marquette University, Yale and Northwestern University.

For a slide show of eight institutions moving in the right direction on BI education, click here.

The deans of Fordham’s business school and business graduate program emphasized the collaborative nature of the center with its BI students and executives and scholars in the growing field. While the stated goals of the center come off as lofty – transformation of individuals, business and society – its real-life applications come across as more practical.

“Our goal is to promote an open dialogue and transfer of knowledge about the role of analytics in solving key business issues,” says David Gautschi, Ph.D., dean of Graduate School of Business Administration at Fordham University.

While groups of students have been involved in recent months on extension work on data cleansing operations with large, publicly available health care information and modeling sets of professional baseball statistics, Raghupathi says the center provides more structural and human resources for the exploration of large and practical data pools, like those for transportation planning or energy efficiency.

With the new master’s programs, there is mandatory work for students on database functionality and data warehousing, as well as business analytics for managers and other business-side aspects of information. Electives in the course work enable more focused work on industry-specific aspects of analytics, as in finance, computer sciences or communications. It’s part of an interdisciplinary approach that, with access to easier to use, modern data tools and support from the IT and business areas at the university, Raghupathi says are expected to marry the ideas of business and information in the educational process.

“That interdisciplinary [coursework] finally reflects the nature of business, so that it’s no longer silos and the monolithic approach to analytics,” he says.

The analytics master’s program and the new, closely related marketing intelligence degree are set to take on their first 30 students in 2012. There may also be a degree in applied statistics in the future, all of which potentially include work in Fordham’s new digital transformation center. For both the center and in the expanding courses at Fordham, there are plans to do more data access and education in the cloud, an avenue of obvious growing interest but a big plus in terms of a university in a city where class space can be at a premium, says Raghupathi.

What are your thoughts on the state of business intelligence, analytics and data management in education? Click here to join our LinkedIn discussion group.

On IBM’s front, the analytics work with Fordham and BI investments at other universities is in part an investment in their own workforce, but also more than just a training grounds for Cognos or DB2, says Bob Bry, relationship manager with IBM’s Academic Initiative program, which supports institutions on these types of BI ventures. Last year, IBM awarded professor Raghupathi one of its Smarter Planet innovation grants for his work in analytics and the continued development of the relationship is squared up with the wave of BI and data management jobs rippling through all enterprises, says Bry.

“Analytics is one of those emerging topics in academia, but it’s been around a while” on the business side, Bry says. “There’s obviously a huge demand in the market for these types of [analytics] tools and a high demand for such skills.”

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