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The power of numbers: New Master of Business Analytics equips students to drive strategy with data

When Boeing opened their business analytics office in downtown Vancouver, the decision was influenced in part by a desire to tap into local talent, says the company’s Director of Advanced Analytics Dawen Nozdryn-Plotnicki. With its new Master of Business Analytics UBC Sauder aims to meet a growing demand for leaders who can make data-driven decisions.

The rise of analytics

Nozdryn-Plotnicki, a UBC Sauder alumna, says that when operating in an industry as complex and massive as aviation, knowing how to make strategic business decisions based on data is the key to getting a competitive edge. From her Vancouver office, Nozdryn-Plotnicki and her team help the American multinational's customers make billion-dollar decisions to economise on parts, logistics and fuel.

“It ultimately means people can fly and connect faster and more cheaply,” she says.

And it’s not just global corporations who are looking to inform their strategies with analytics. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, by 2018 there will be at least 1.5 million jobs in the United States for analysts with the skills to use data to make informed business decisions across almost every industry.

“Analytics is definitely taking off right now,” says Nozdryn-Plotnicki. “We’re the cool kids on the block. Every company now needs people like us to bridge technology and the business community, so that executives can understand it in their language.”

Focused on industry demand

Responding to the need for people trained in business analytics and building on a global reputation for teaching and research in the area, UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School is launching the nine-month Master of Business Analytics (MBAN). Offering rigorous technical training in data interpretation and a deep understanding of business from marketing to operations, the MBAN prepares students to bring exceptional decision-making skills to organizations.

“UBC Sauder has long been established as a world leader in business analytics, working with major industry partners to solve their business challenges and teaching a generation of students who have gone on to become leaders in the field,” says Professor Darren Dahl, Director of UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School. “The MBAN allow us to greatly expand what we offer to provide more students with the data science and business acumen they need to become real game changers for organizations.”

UBC Sauder grad Tony Guo, a member of Nozdryn-Plotnicki’s team at Boeing Vancouver, credits the school for giving him both the hard and soft skills necessary to make a difference at the firm. He says the school prepared him to work with overwhelming amounts of raw data and communicate clear insights to help make informed business decisions.

“I found it so useful that my program covered all the new hot analytics topics like machine learning, predictive analytics and simulation. But, what was invaluable to me was learning business skills like stakeholder management, marketing and project management,” he says. “Let’s face it, to work in this field, it’s a given that you’re smart. But unless you can work collaboratively and make sound business recommendations, you’re not doing your job.”

Experience on the job

The UBC Sauder MBAN offers consulting internships for candidates to gain real-world work experience and tap into the industry partnership network offered by the school in areas such as aviation, tech, healthcare and telecommunications.

For Guo, his consulting internship was key to getting his job at Boeing. “Interning at Boeing and being able to deliver valuable customer insights through a social media data mining project was definitely the highlight of the program for me,” he recalls. “After the project, Boeing Vancouver asked me in for an interview and offered me a position.”

Tony Guo Quote

Data science for big brands

UBC Sauder grads who focused on business analytics in the Master of Management in Operations Research -- the program to be expanded on with the MBAN degree -- have gone on to work for massive industry players like Microsoft, Tesla Motors, Deloitte and EA Sports, demonstrating their versatility and the available opportunities.

Recent grad Haider Shah is now a Business Analyst at EA Sports, where he is working to optimize some of the world’s most high-profile videogames. “You need to know your stuff before coming into this industry,” says Shah. “I had a pretty strong technical background but UBC Sauder definitely helped me in defining a business problem, selecting the most up-to-date tools to solve them and learning how to win over large groups of executives.”

Future success backed by a history of excellence

Associate Professor Harish Krishnan, academic lead for the MBAN program, says the success of grads is the result of a proven history of excellence in analytics education.

“UBC Sauder’s MBAN builds upon an award-winning tradition of business analytics education and research that has established the school as a major global centre in the field,” says Krishnan, who notes the school won 2015 UPS George D. Smith Prize, the highest honour awarded annually to graduate programs in operations and advanced analytics.

“It is our hope that MBAN candidates will continue the successful tradition of our alumni who have almost all secured employment within three months of graduation – an excellent achievement and indication of the very high calibre of students who pursued the program.”

Nozdryn-Plotnicki, who graduated from UBC Sauder in 2007, anticipates the strong connection Boeing has with the school to continue into the future. “The reason we keep hiring from UBC Sauder is because not only can business analytics grads do the math, modelling and programming, but crucially they have the business savvy that we’re looking for – to understand a very complex industry.

“Certainly opening our office in downtown Vancouver,” she continues, “was a strategic move to be in a better location to capitalize on the talent produced from local universities.”