What's the hottest trend in consulting? Big Data and analytics, according to American University's Consulting Club and the Kogod School of Business, which kicked off a series of panel discussions last week.
Steve Touw, panel moderator and CTO of software design company 42SIX, asked the audience of almost 150 if they ever use Google search for spell checking purposes. When a majority of the room raised their hands, he said that was just one of the many examples of Big Data analytics.
"They keep track of everyone's typos," Touw said of Google. "They see what link you click on after you have typed in your typo, and then remember all those clicks so they can predict what the next person who types that typo is actually looking for."
Touw uses this anecdote to express just how much data is available, waiting to be collected, and all of the creative ways it can be used to help a business.
The Benefits of Big Data
Data can go a long way in improving a business' profitability if used correctly. Michael Rahm, product manager at MicroStrategy, referenced an MIT study during the discussion that revealed companies using Big Data are five to six percent more profitable over a year.
"[That] may not seem like a lot," said Rahm, "but when you're a billion-dollar company, and you can gain that five to six percent over your competitors, that can mean huge dividends."
According to panelist Fernando Davila, director of the Enterprise Architecture Group at Marriott International, the hospitality company has been collecting data on its customers for a very long time. Features like whether or not guests order breakfast, and how much they paid for their room; though until recently, the information was only used for refund purposes.
"We actually never ran any analysis on it because we didn't have the proper tools," said Davila. "But with the advent of Big Data and the availability of hardware and software, we have gone from just one terabyte of data to 80 terabytes…and more importantly, we're now able to ask 'how can we increase revenue?'"
Davila said that data analysts at Marriott have identified countless trends in customer behavior. For example, those who rent a movie at night are much more likely to order breakfast in the morning.
Gaining an Edge
Professor William DeLone has been teaching information systems at Kogod for 27 years, and provided insight into how valuable data analytics skills can be for students entering the workforce.
"One of the challenges when you go out into the business world is 'what value do I add as a green MBA or BSBA just coming out of school, when this company has people that have worked here for 10 or 15 years?'" said DeLone. "Well, what you can offer are skills that [those employees] didn't learn when they were doing their MBA—mainly data analytics and Big Data."
DeLone believes that data analytics will drive future decision-making in the business world, and students who capitalize on that will have an advantage in the job market.
Kogod offers three courses to train business students in the area: Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, and Database and Big Data.
"If you can bring that skill, you can add value to an organization," DeLone said. "That's why this is something you should really focus on, because it will be a differentiator for you the day you step into your first job."
Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) sponsored the event, which was organized by student leaders Chelsea Smith, MBA/MA '14, Sivan Sax, BSBA '15, and Mark France, BSF '15.