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        Business Analytics Program "Responds to the Needs of Industry"

        April 21, 2014

        All News


        Allison Jones-Farmer
        Allison Jones-Farmer, C&E Smith Associate Professor of Statistics and Business Analytics, said, "In order to succeed in the information age, you’re going to have to have some ability to analyze data and make sense of it."

        The business world has a looming shortage, and the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business is outfitting students to fill it.

        By 2018, the U.S. will face a potential deficit of up to 190,000 professionals with sharp analytics skills – as well as another 1.5 million managers and analysts who understand how to apply “big data” to effective decision making, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. There’s more -- according to IBM, 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years.

        Who is going to harness this data? Who is going to analyze it and give industries the information they need to move in the right direction and succeed?

        “Currently, they (companies) are forced to grow their own,” Harbert Dean and Wells Fargo Professor Bill Hardgrave wrote in a recent column published online by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “They will take an IT person and develop the analysis and interpretation skills. Or, they will take a statistician and develop the IT and interpretation skills. Or, they will take a good business analyst and develop the analysis and IT skills.

        “Here is our (business schools) opportunity: we must respond to the needs of industry to prepare our students for a big data world with the proper business analytics skills.”

        In spring of 2012, the Auburn University Board of Trustees did just that by approving the Business Analytics Major – Auburn’s answer to the business analyst shortage. The major earned the approval of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education in March of 2013.

        “In order to succeed in the information age, you’re going to have to have some ability to analyze data and make sense of it,” said Allison Jones-Farmer, C&E Smith Associate Professor of Statistics and Business Analytics in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business.

        This need can be filled at Harbert College with the introduction of the new Business Analytics Program, where students can earn undergraduate degrees in Business Administration with a major or minor concentration in Business Analytics, and earn an MBA with minor in Business Analytics.

        “We’re training the client-interface people that can go in and frame a business problem, say ‘Here’s the question and here’s the data that we need,’” said Jones-Farmer, who noted that industries in this market include supply chain/logistics, direct marketing firms, health care, transportation, information technology, insurance and consulting. “Either it’s a simple analysis that can be handled, or I can get it to that PhD-level analyst properly framed and then feed it back to the customer.”

        According to, the national median salary for a business analyst I with less than two years of experience, or entry level, is $52,700. Those described as a business analyst V earn a median annual salary of $104,297 and have a bachelor’s degree in the area of specialty with at least eight to 10 years of experience in that job.

        What exactly is business analytics? It involves studying data, simplifying it and harnessing it for the benefit of an organization.

        “The idea of business analytics is not new,” Farmer-Jones said. “Organizations have been using analytical tools to support decision making for many years. What is new is the widespread availability of large amounts of data and relatively inexpensive computing resources to process and analyze that data. 

        In the Harbert College of Business, we view business analytics as a cycle that includes framing a business question analytically, gathering and storing the right data to address the business question, retrieving and processing data for analysis, analyzing the data to answer the question, and communicating the analysis results to the appropriate audience. The context for the questions may be in finance, marketing, supply chain, or any functional area of a business.

        The Business Analytics Program prepares students for careers that use data to support strategic decision making. Students in the program will develop skills in a natural progression, including the management of data, the discovery of patterns in data, the development of predictive models and the use of these models as guides in decision making.

        Major courses involved will include Business Analytics I and II, Big Data I and II, Predictive Modeling I and II, and Communicating Quantitative Results in Business. Approved courses in other business disciplines are also recommended.

        Jones-Farmer said she wanted to see this program become “one of the go-to programs in the Southeast.”

        “I don’t believe anybody else is doing what we are doing,” she added. “Other schools are re-branding existing programs. They may have a program called management science and they are renaming it analytics. Or they may have an information technology program that they are rebranding analytics. We built ours from the ground up using a skill set that we thought that students needed based on our industry involvement, industry surveys, and so it’s really in a way a research-based program where we are using the best knowledge in the field. We started this because companies came to us and started saying ‘We need people with these skills.’”

        For further information about the Business Analytics Program, contact Allison Jones-Farmer at or (334) 844-6513, or Norman Godwin, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at or (334) 844-6255.