February 22, 2013 – University BI educators are spreading their partnership and course opportunities as part of the effort to close the analytic skills gap, and students are translating that into a positive outlook on a diverse range of careers, according to new results from the BI Congress III.

The BI Congress, an educational collaborative event that seeks to “align academia and practice” of business intelligence, recently finalized its “The State of Business Intelligence and Business Analytics in Academia 2012.” The survey, its third since 2009, encompasses responses on BI and analytics education challenges and expectations from 319 professors, 614 students from 96 schools, and 308 BI hiring businesses.

When professors were asked their “greatest challenges” in delivering a BI and analytics curriculum, there were signs of lingering problems. Access to data sets (45 percent) led the problems, with other challenges related to sources of data and modern tools and techniques ranking near the top. Barbara Wixom, program chair for the BI Congress as well as an associate professor at University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and program, says the disassociation between software providers and universities remains an issue, though one that has gotten better as both sides attempt to address the skills gap with data careers. 

“We have seen a big uptake on the vendor academic alliance programs, so clearly professors see the vendor academic offerings helpful for addressing these obstacles. I think this is because vendors are doing a better job of not just serving up cases and data sets, but they are working with – and even funding –  professors to help package those with ... assignments, teaching notes and other pedagogy to make it more consumable for instructors,” Wixom says. “So, my advice to vendors, particularly smaller ones who don’t have as deep experience with academic alliances as the big enterprise vendors, is to give instructors a complete toolbox to teach with your software, not just a hammer by itself.”

By a 3-to-1 margin, university IT and MIS disciplines were in charge of delivering BI and analytics coursework. That, too, reflects change from recent years, Wixom says, as more BI is being taught through finance disciplines (9 percent), marketing (19 percent) and accounting (10 percent). In terms of individual courses that touch on BI and analytics, data mining/predictive analytics was the top class, offered by 46 percent of professors. That was followed by an introductory BI or analytics course (45 percent), statistics (44 percent) and quantitative analysis or modeling (41 percent). On the low end of the course offerings spectrum were performance management (11 percent), independent studies in BI or analytics (13 percent) and big data (13 percent).

The vast majority of students either “agree” or “strongly agree” that there are rampant job opportunities for them, though their interest in those roles was scattered. In terms of job roles students anticipated upon graduation, more than 40 percent pointed to business analyst, IT professional working with analytics or some type of “data savvy” business role. Twenty-two percent said they’re looking to transfer BI skills into a specialized marketing position, and another 19 percent were looking at specialized financial analysis. “Data scientist” was pegged by nearly 16 percent of students, while another 11 percent expect to work in a role “unrelated” to BI or analytics, according to the survey results.

In December, the BI Congress held an event in Orlando with academics and students, which is where some of the survey results were culled. The topic for this year’s event was “Driving Innovation through Big Data Analytics.” Big data as an isolated topic area ranked low or not at all in some of the survey results, even as it was a hot topic of discussion at the Orlando conference. Wixom said the lack of direct focus on “big data” reflects an interest by professors “in developing skills around data-based decisions ... [over] differentiating big data and addressing it as a one-off.”

“Big data-type needs are getting addressed across the board – from new analytics approaches in the BA course, to new data sources in the data management course, to new statistical methods in the stats course,” Wixom says. “Additionally, the computer science and statistics departments are happily developing heavy quantitative folks, as they have been doing for years. Now, they are simply getting more intake and more excitement about their offerings.”

As the year progresses, Wixom and the BI Congress III team plan to comb over survey question details and analyze text for additional trends as the basis for reports. For more information on the BI Congress III and forthcoming results, click here.