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From baseball to banking, the ability to mine data on performance, customer preferences and other trends is the new must-have for the corporate bottom line.

But still too rare, say employers, is the analyst who combines technical expertise to delve into "big data" and communication skills to explain the findings in everyday language to colleagues and senior managers.

That's one reason why several Canadian business schools, often with corporate support, are jumping on the analytics bandwagon with specialty degree programs and research agendas.

This fall, HEC Montréal introduces a new certificate in business analytics on effective statistical practices in management, with full-time students given up to 18 months (and part-time students up to four years) to complete the 30-credit course. This month, the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario offers its inaugural class in data analytics, one of three specialties of the 16-month master of science in management.

Meanwhile, Smith School of Business at Queen's University, one of the first in Canada to offer a master-level degree in analytics in 2013, is expanding its footprint in the field with backing from a corporate donor.

This month, the school holds a ribbon-cutting event for a new centre for customer analytics, with $2.2-million given over four years from Bank of Nova Scotia. The donation will supplement research on advanced analytics by existing and additional professors, support paid internships for postdoctoral students and, in some cases, generate projects between the school and the bank on harnessing data in a fast-changing competitive landscape.

"Five years ago, we would have implicitly understood that [our] competitors were really other banks down the street," says Michael Zerbs, executive vice-president and co-head of information technology and enterprise technology at Scotiabank. "Now the competitors can come from left field and they may be existing financial services firms, a new financial services firm or they might not call themselves a financial services firm."

He adds that analysts with technical savvy and communication skills "are very hard to find," with new demands on them to assess data without waiting for the information technology department. As important, says Mr. Zerbs, analysts and top management need to communicate effectively with each other to capitalize on the power of big data.

Graduating students who combine technical and communication skills is one goal of the Queen's master of management analytics, says Yuri Levin, the inaugural director of the program who also serves as director of the new Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics.

"We are now in a situation where companies have a lot of customer data," says Prof. Levin. "The question is what can they do strategically to generate value from these data? They need analytics professionals who are comfortable with the technical side, the business side and the communication side of analytics."

Like employers, students are keen to pursue specialty training. Prof. Levin says he has received more than 1,500 expressions of interest (a mixture of inquiries and applications) to date for the July intake of the master of management analytics, with only 110 seats.

He says plans for the new centre include a national competition in analytics (with an international version to follow), a biennial conference for Canadian and U.S. financial institutions and workshops, including some for consumers. "We want to make consumers more sophisticated to understand the basic concepts of analytics," he says, citing people's privacy concerns. "Their personal information has a lot of value."

Ultimately, says Prof. Levin, "we want to invest in analytics and big data to make Canadian financial institutions more competitive on the world stage and come up with research on new technology and methodology to make it operational."

Five Canadian schools make FT top-100 MBA list

As discerning readers of MBA rankings understand, lists are only one factor in a student's decision to select a graduate business program.

In the 2016 Financial Times ranking of the top-100 global MBA programs, the London-based newspaper notes that just 180 points separate the school in first place – France's INSEAD muscled out Harvard Business School this year – and those in a four-way tie for 98th spot.

This year, five Canadian schools made the list (with 2015 ranking in brackets): University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, 60 (53); McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management, 85 (100); Ivey, 88 (97); Smith, 93 (86); and University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, 96 (81).

Of the Canadian schools, Desautels climbed the most in the FT rankings because of gains in major categories, especially salary increase after graduation, career progress postdegree and research.

School marks a fundraising milestone

A record-setting fundraising campaign by the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary has raised $53-million, the school has announced, with $5.2-million earmarked for scholarships and bursaries. An additional $6.2-million goes to research chairs, professorships and other faculty support with other funds to support several research centres and specialty programs at the school.

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