Published on 2016/10/05

Responsiveness and Collaboration: Developing a Distinctive, Holistic, Market-Driven MSBA

The EvoLLLution | Responsiveness and Collaboration: Developing a Distinctive, Holistic, Market-Driven MSBA
When developing a new program in a competitive marketplace, it’s critical for leaders to work with key stakeholders inside and outside the institution to ensure the program meets industry needs and market demand while also staying true to the institution itself.

What does it take to develop and launch a successful master’s program from scratch on an accelerated time frame? The brief answer may be obvious: committed university and school administration, an agile and dedicated faculty and staff, and an area of study in high demand.

At the Wake Forest University School of Business, we had all of these components as we developed our new Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program, but there is much more to the story.

The Wake Forest School of Business prides itself on being market relevant. We continuously monitor market demand/trends and compare that demand to our curriculum and portfolio of programs. The market continues to plead for analytics professionals who can solve business problems by turning data into insights. What is driving the demand for analytics? Cell phones, social networks, retail scanners, sensors, and the Internet of Things—all of these are continuously generating vast amounts of data. Companies seek analytics professionals who can turn these data into valuable insights for making better decisions. Better decisions lead to increased productivity, better allocation of resources, better understanding of customer needs, and increased innovation and effectiveness.

In response to this demand, Wake Forest created a unique, market-driven Master of Science in Business Analytics program that launched July 2016.

Our Development Process

Collaborating and Imagining

In August, 2015, we formed an interdisciplinary curriculum team with representation from the School of Business, as well as the departments of mathematics and computer science. The team, which met weekly, sought input from industry partners, benchmarked current programs, and involved faculty and staff throughout the process.

During September and October, using a survey instrument we developed to ensure consistency, members of the curriculum design team interviewed 15 industry partners, many of them Fortune 500 companies, across a variety of segments including banking, consumer goods, retail, energy and consulting. The message from employers was clear: Industry wants graduates who are technically competent, but can also communicate, collaborate, lead and have business domain knowledge. In their experience, these four additional traits were often lacking in analytics program graduates.

Simultaneously, we benchmarked more than 30 existing programs in analytics and business analytics. This effort confirmed that, in peer programs, very few credit hours were dedicated to people skills or business domain knowledge. This study also showed that to be competitive, our full-time program should be one year or less.

Informed with industry input and data, the curriculum development team constructed several curricula for consideration and iterated with input from key faculty stakeholders. The benchmarking informed our choice of technical coursework, including courses such as data management, data visualization, predictive analytics and data mining, forecasting and prescriptive analytics. Business domain knowledge would differentiate our program with coursework in business metrics and applications-based courses in marketing, operations and supply chain, finance and human resource management.

Identifying Differentiators

In this phase of the curriculum development, we assessed program differentiation from the peer programs we had examined. We then considered the key strengths of Wake Forest University that could be leveraged for program distinctiveness. Embracing the Wake Forest University reputation as a leading liberal arts university and its motto “pro humanitate” (for humanity), including unique courses such as Analytics in Society (data privacy and ethical issues) and Analytics in the Board Room (written and oral communication skills). This ensured that we are staying true to the University’s mission of educating the whole person. These courses also address the people skills mentioned by our strategic partners. Furthermore, an innovative three-course sequence called Business Analytics Practicum provides our graduates with experiential learning and exposure to real corporate clients. All of this is accomplished without adding the time an internship would require.

We also leveraged key strengths specific to the School of Business. In particular, the School has a history of successful master’s programs targeted at pre-experiential students who are generally directly out of undergraduate school or have two years or less of work experience. The School of Business is also home to the Wake Forest Center for Retail Innovation, which has partnered with corporations through its Retail Learning Labs to collect retail scanner data for use in research and teaching.  These large data sets are being integrated into our courses in data management and predictive analytics, further supporting our goal of providing as much true experiential learning as possible in our program.

Getting Continuous Feedback from Key Stakeholders

In November, several faculty and staff “sneak peeks,” allowed faculty and staff to preview the curriculum and provide candid feedback as the program was evolving. The curriculum was approved by faculty in early December, Board of Trustees approval was granted in late January, and recruiting and interviewing began in earnest. While the program is new, we are committed to adapting and evolving as the market changes. For guidance, we have created a fifteen-member corporate advisory board, including representatives from CVS Health, Exxon Mobile, Macy’s, and Procter & Gamble.

What We Learned

On July 11, 2016, we welcomed our first class of 39 students. This class has an average GMAT of 703 and is 46 percent female. They will become the program’s first group of graduates in May, 2017. Interest in hiring our graduates has already been strong and we are excited to see employment outcomes for this inaugural class.

What are the lessons we learned from this program launch? A focused strategy, dedicated people and a data-driven approach (program benchmarking and industry interviews) allowed us to quickly create and launch a market-driven, high-demand program. Leveraging the distinctive strengths of the university and the school enabled us to create a program that is not only market-driven, but unique and true to the mission of Wake Forest.

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