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A Sample Graduate Business Intelligence Program

Originally published March 3, 2009

There are only a handful of graduate business programs in business intelligence. Of these few, some are on-campus programs and some are online. In one instance, an institution is offering its program in both online and on-campus formats.

I feel it prudent to share what one of these programs looks like so that other business schools that may be thinking of offering such a program will have an existing model to work with as a baseline. The example I have chosen is the program being offered by my own institution, Saint Joseph’s University. This business intelligence (BI) program is in its third year.

Before listing the courses in this 10-course MS BI program, I think it is prudent to also share what we have learned relative to the types of students seeking an MS BI degree. Some of these students already have an MBA and a lot of them have IT-related jobs. Hence, many students already work in business. However, there are some students who do not have a business background and many who do not already have a graduate degree.

Our experience has been that initially, many students think that business intelligence is about learning new software tools. While tools are important, they do not define what BI is! Hence, our program consciously emphasizes to students that business intelligence is foremost about understanding business; BI’s focus is on using analytics and data to support decision making; and that software’s role is simply to facilitate BI efforts.

Again, BI software is used to enable and facilitate a process – it is not the objective of business intelligence per se! Many students with IT backgrounds especially need to be (re)focused on this fact. Otherwise, they will maintain their potential preconceived idea that the program’s objective simply will be to teach them new BI application software.

We also think that some students do not initially appreciate the difference between the curriculums of a graduate academic business program versus a professional certification program. We have found that it is in the best interests of the program and the students that this potential conflict be addressed in a proactive manner; otherwise this misunderstanding may result in the program experiencing student retention issues.

We have also learned that it is critical to be sure that students see the logical flow between courses – that they understand how one course affects subsequent course objectives. Moreover, it is critical that instructors understand this as well so that they are not replicating content offered in an earlier course.

Here is the latest listing of the courses offered in the Saint Joseph’s University MS BI program.

A Sample Graduate BI Program

1. Introduction to Business Operations

The survey course examines the functional areas of business using the value-chain approach, stressing supply-chain and customer-chain relationships as well as internal operations. Decision making at the strategic, tactical and operational levels are presented as well as a discussion of the information systems that support these operations.

2. Developing Decision-Making Competencies

This course focuses on the basic concepts of technology, data warehousing and online analytical processing (OLAP), and how to make it easier to get organizational data. The modeling process of identifying, analyzing, interpreting and presenting results so as to transfer the data into decisions is examined. Students learn how to utilize advanced managerial decision-making tools such as optimization and simulation, to analyze complex business problems and to arrive at a rational solution. For each of the analysis techniques, the methodology will be developed and applied in a real business context.

3. Concepts and Practice of DSS Modeling

Building on the background of Introduction to Business Operations and Developing Decision-Making Competencies, this course extends the use of spreadsheet modeling and programming capabilities to explore decision models for planning and operations using statistical, mathematical and simulation tools.

4. Database Management Theory and Practice

Business intelligence rests on the foundation of data storage and retrieval. In this course, students are presented with the theory of operational database design and implementation. The concepts of normalization, database queries and database application development will be introduced using contemporary tools and software for program development.

5. Enterprise Data

Traditional database design concentrates on the functional areas of business and their database needs. At the strategic and value-chain levels, we look at data across the enterprise and over time. The issues of enterprise data in the data warehouse, data marts, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM) and customer relationship management (CRM) will be covered in this course.

6. Applied Business Intelligence

Using the case study approach in combination with contemporary software tools, students apply the concepts of business process analysis and design, quality control and improvement, performance monitoring through performance dashboards and balanced scorecards, and process simulation.

7. Advanced Business Intelligence

The capstone course in the business intelligence program extends the concepts of data mining to an exploration of a contemporary data mining toolset on a large live dataset. In this course, students are encouraged to find the patterns in the data and to prepare reports and presentations describing the implications of their findings.

8. Critical Performance Measurement

This course integrates the concepts of decision support, database management, critical performance measurement and key performance indicators, through the practical application development of performance dashboards. When completed, students will be able to design department level user-oriented applications that capture data from transaction processing systems and present that data for business users in decision-compelling format.

9. Advanced Business Intelligence II

This course extends the data mining process to the predictive modeling, model assessment, scoring and implementation stages. In this course, professional data mining software, small and large data sets will be used to effectively analyze and communicate statistical patterns in underlying business data for strategic management decision making.

10. Management Issues in Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence always occurs in an organizational and industry context. This course examines peripheral factors that can facilitate or impede BI effectiveness. Students will explore how knowledge management, organizational culture and leadership, organizational communications, and other issues can substantially affect BI's ability to impact organizational decision making. Strategies for managing BI efforts are discussed.

It is my hope that more universities will offer graduate BI programs. Given our data-driven economy, firms will increasingly need more talent that can make sense of their data so as to help them identify new opportunities to better serve their customers and/or to identify problems or issues that need to be addressed. A graduate degree should insure that students are equipped with a sound understanding of business, its processes and the analytics needed to address the assortment of issues facing business firms. Choosing the right analytics to analyze data and effectively interpreting its output are critical functions in business intelligence – far more so than what application software is used. Hence, graduate BI programs must be sure that their applicants do not misunderstand the intended value to be generated by their program. They must educate prospective and enrolled students that the mission of business intelligence is to enhance decision making in business and not simply to expand the software repertoire of their students.

I welcome your comments, as always.

  • Richard HerschelRichard Herschel

    Richard is Chair of the Department of Decision & System Sciences at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Before becoming an educator, he worked at Maryland National Bank, Schering-Plough Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, and Columbia Pictures as a systems analyst. He received his BA in journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University, his Master’s in Administrative Sciences from Johns Hopkins, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Management Information Systems. He has earned the Certified Systems Professional designation, and he has written extensively about both knowledge management and business intelligence. Dr. Herschel can be reached at herschel@sju.edu.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Richard Herschel's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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Posted March 5, 2009 by Mark Conway mark.conway@oracle.com


Perhaps some added information as to why Richard's post is so timely:

BI Software's Time is Now - Business Week 3/2/09http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/mar2009/tc2009032_101762.htm?campaign_id=rss_daily


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