Study: World's colleges lack BI, analytics concentration

Students aren't ready to handle the world's 'big data' challenges

Relatively few colleges and universities around the world offer dedicated degree programs for BI (business intelligence), despite the rapidly growing popularity of analytics technology among businesses, according to a study announced Monday.

BI courses are being taught in a number of disciplines, such as computer science, statistics and accounting, according to the study by Barbara Wixom, an associate professor of IT at the University of Virginia, and Thilini Ariyachandra, an assistant professor of MIS at Xavier University. Wixom is also co-executive director of Teradata University Network, an educational portal sponsored by the vendor.

The fragmented nature of BI course work means that students aren't necessarily getting a well-rounded understanding of BI from both a business and technical perspective, the authors found.

Undergraduate BI degrees are offered at three of the 129 schools surveyed: Augusta State University, St. Joseph's University and Stuttgart Media University.

Twelve in the sample have a graduate-level BI program, including Augusta State University, the University of Denver, Stuttgart Media University, Sofia University, North Carolina State University, Singapore Management University, Xavier University and the University of Muenster.

The survey garnered answers from 339 students at 62 schools.

Some 150 students said they were taking a BI course because they were majoring in a program where it was required, compared to 90 who said they planned to make a career out of BI.

Other responses suggest that schools are having a hard time giving students practical, hands-on training versus textbook lessons. "More/better real-world software" and "more/better real-world data sets" were the top two areas student respondents cited as areas for improvement in their education.

The study was sponsored by the Business Intelligence Congress II, an event for BI educators and professionals.

Its conclusions emerge following a report released last month by McKinsey Global Institute, which estimated that the United States alone needs up to 190,000 additional people with "deep analytical skills" as well as another 1.5 million "managers and analysts to analyze big data and make decisions based on their findings."

Another expert also sees the BI job market as red-hot.

"All major corporations are hiring BI talent," said Forrester Research analyst Boris Evelson via e-mail. "All large BI vendors and service providers are struggling with finding and retaining BI talent. I hear of horror stories about competitors stealing BI talent from each other by offering 50 percent salary increases."

For any student interested in a career in BI, "a basic, intuitive understanding of statistical significance" is most important, said analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research. "If you're looking at an apparent trend, is it real or just random variation? Also crucial are general analytic and quantitative problem-solving skills."

"The more analytically oriented should add basic programming skills, and basic knowledge of SQL," he added. "While SQL's utter dominance is ebbing a bit, it still will be with us for a very long time."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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