ODU Educating Future Analytics Professionals
by Ron Powell
Originally published November 29, 2017
Jeff, what is a university dean doing at a conference that is focused on analytics and big data?
Jeff Tanner: As dean of the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University (ODU), I have to stay up to date on what is happening in data because it is so critical to the future of businesses and to our students. Because we are a university that is one-fourth military and located adjacent to a major Navy cybersecurity area, we have a lot of cybersecurity activity going on in our region as well as other activities like digital engineering for shipbuilding and AI and machine learning for analytics. All of that requires that our students come out with a very solid understanding of data, analytics, information technology, the Internet of Things and cybersecurity. I’m here because I need to know about all of these things and to create opportunities for my faculty to do valuable research that then enhances their teaching and ensures that our students have opportunities to do great internships and then get great jobs. So, on that front, it’s very important.
But then data is also important in how we manage schools. We’re making decisions on who we recruit as students. We’re using predictive modeling to determine what interventions need to be done with what students and when so that they can be successful. It helps us with our enrollment management and makes us efficient because we have to keep our costs down in order to be affordable. And all of that is a data play. So I’m here as an administrator but also as a business decision maker, making sure that I understand the potential of the opportunities for us.
You’ve now been at ODU for two years. How have you seen the curriculum start to change as a result of what is happening in the data world?
Jeff Tanner: I actually started at ODU in May of 2015 and had no student or faculty involvement to speak of for my first three months, so I was able to go out and meet everybody in the business community – over 400 people – in that first 100 days. What I learned is that the Hampton Roads/Norfolk/Virginia Beach region is like many others. There is a lot of need for people who have analytic skills and, in particular, IT and analytics combined, but also business unit skills – marketing, management, finance and accounting.
I brought together groups of business people who could advise us on our curriculum, review it and give us direction. What I have seen is some fairly accelerated changes in the analytics and IT space, new tracks like digital marketing and analytics as well as forensic accounting, which is all based on data-driven analytics. Typically universities don’t move very quickly, but when business and faculty get together and collaborate on the needs, it’s amazing what can happen.
Let’s talk specifically about using data within the college – do you have big data?
Jeff Tanner: We may not have big data on the order of Coca-Cola or Walmart or Amazon, but the principles are the same—building a strategic model that allows us to identify the factors we believe may be important and then test those relationships with the data we have. It’s all the same that I’ve done with clients like Cabela’s. It’s the same process.
How does operational research fit in with analytics? Is that core to the program or is it a whole new area that colleges are embarking on today?
Jeff Tanner: Operations research has actually been an important part of colleges and universities for a long time. We’ve actually had an operations management faculty as well as a business analytics faculty for decades. But, just like any other part of business, we didn’t have the computing power or the data to really be able to get the benefits. One of the things that is cool about ODU is that we’re in Norfolk, Virginia, home of the world’s largest naval base and also the world’s largest port on the east coast. So we have all this tremendous data coming in related to the port maritime area supply chain and also military applications. That’s giving our operations people an opportunity to do things that nobody else can do like we can. In fact, we have the only master’s degree in port maritime trade in all of the Americas. It is made possible by the fact that we have the relationship with the port and we have the data. We can combine that with the analytics and operations expertise that we can bring to it.
I have one last question for you. Every student going to college wants to have a job after they graduate. What would be your advice for the careers that students need to focus on today?
Jeff Tanner: Ernst & Young says that six years from now over 60 percent of our students will graduate and go into jobs that don’t yet exist. I think that’s probably an exaggeration. I believe the reality is that anybody who can combine technical skills like analytics with soft skills like understanding strategy and how people operate is going to be in high demand. We know, specifically, that in the Hampton Roads area there are 3,000 cybersecurity jobs going unfilled. We know that there are at least 17,000 of those jobs in Virginia that are going unfilled. We are placing every port maritime trade student we graduate. The key for us is helping students make those little decisions earlier so they can accelerate their success later. But one of those little decisions is marrying something that is technical – like analytics or information technology – with a business area like marketing or accounting. If they will do that, they’ll see at least a 30% increase in their first-year earnings and accelerated progress after that.
Jeff, it is always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for spending time with me for this interview.
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