Deloitte Analytics and other companies have been pushing Canadian universities for years to produce more data-literate graduates to fill their talent needs. Their efforts appear to be paying off, with business schools ramping up their offerings in data analytics.
"Being a leader in the digital analytics area, [Deloitte] has encouraged schools to broaden what skill sets and competency sets we're looking for from graduates," says Anthony Viel, managing partner at the Toronto-based company that provides analytics services. "We have been telling them about this for the last five years, and that's why you see this proliferation now."
The proliferation of new offerings includes new MBA-level analytics concentrations at Montreal's McGill University and Ottawa's Carleton University. McGill is also in the process of approving a new master of management in analytics at its Desautels Faculty of Management.
The Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto and the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton are two more schools offering new concentrations in the field, which has become even more important as businesses are navigating through more data than ever in today's digital environment.
As much as companies want data literacy, so do students.
"We've seen over the years in the MBA program the interest has changed a lot more to MBA students being interested in data-driven analytical decision making," says Vedat Verter, an operations management professor at McGill. "They [students] were asking for courses in analytics, and to a large extent we looked at the market trends, and we saw the gap between the supply and the demand for more analytically-oriented managers."
In the Desautels MBA with a concentration in analytics, students take a five-course concentration that involves three sides: descriptive, predictive and a prescriptive.
"This gained more and more importance as data became more available to governments, companies and academics. Analytics is not a new field of science; it's a combination of statistics, computer science, information systems and operational research," explains Demetrios Vakratsas, the vice-dean of programs at Desautels. "It highlights the interdependencies between these fields rather than the fields working in silos. It's a new science that has developed, putting more emphasis on the integration. Our concentration brings out that integration."
In 2015, Ryerson University published a white paper titled Closing Canada's Big Data Talent Gap and, in it, the authors discussed six methods to close the gap.
"To date, closing this talent gap has posed a significant challenge – in large part because organizations typically have been looking for unicorns, those individual candidates with the perfect mix of technical, business as well as industry and functional knowledge and expertise," the report states. "As employers struggle to recruit, retain, and train enough of the right talent to collect, organize, analyze, interpret and communicate today's unprecedented volumes of data, Big Data and analytics are at risk of becoming a promise unrealized."
Universities hope to fill that gap.
With unprecedented amounts of data now available, the increase in analytics programs are showcasing that Big Data is not a passing trend and that core MBA competencies may not be enough today, according to Deloitte's Mr. Viel.
"A lot of the decisions that might have been made on gut feel [are] not good enough, and we need to be able to enable our graduates to handle and understand the techniques to analyze and to interpret large amounts of data," says Mr. Viel.
"An MBA graduate has some fundamental skills that are still going to be relevant, but it's how to deploy that skill set, and how it'll be defined and refined with the maturity of knowing what happened yesterday, and using that feedback to predict what's going to happen in the next minute, the next day, the next month, and the next year."
The message isn't lost on business graduates in the working world. Lorraine Dyke, the associate dean of professional graduate programs at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton, says graduates are coming back to school to just take business analytics courses.
They have the core competencies an MBA graduate would have, but now, working in the Big Data field, they are recognizing the importance of having even more specific skills.
"Every time we engage in a computer-mediated transaction, it generates a big whack of data," explains Dr. Dyke. "You can now access so much data about clients through the computer-mediated transactions, so of course businesses are going to want to use that. It effects how we market. And even at a strategic level, organizations are doing dynamic pricing and changing them as they respond to other peoples' initiatives to change price."
According to a report from the Ivey Business Journal, Big Data is becoming a "crucial" way for leading companies to outperform their peers. But until very recently these huge amounts of data have only excited a "few data geeks."
"We are constantly innovating and will grow as the market grows and innovates," Dr. Dyke says of Carleton's analytics program. "The [data analytics] concepts are relatively new. Applications [for the program] are going up every year, and growing. We have our first cohort graduating soon, and we're expecting them to do well."