3 Must-Haves: Educating a Workforce in Business Analytics

3 Must-Haves: Educating a Workforce in Business Analytics

(Professor Hemant Bhargava is MSBA Faculty Director and a leading expert in technology management and the information technology industry.)

Some years ago, my UC Davis MBA students started getting excited about new career opportunities as data consultants, data analysts, data reporting analyst, and even more unwieldy roles like data science and marketing analyst. My colleagues heard the same buzz. MBAs in the U.S. were infected with “Big Data Fever.”

Working with two colleagues here at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, Professor of Marketing Prasad Naik and Sanjay Saigal, our supply chain analytics expert, we set about designing a new Master of Science in Business Analytics program focused on “creating business value from data.”

In consultation with corporate partners, we designed and tailored a unique MSBA curriculum to serve the rapidly growing corporate demand for those with the technical chops to deploy the right data science tools and the managerial savvy to lead organizational change.

We asked our industry partners what they’d like to see while onboarding an employee who graduated from our program. Hiring managers listed three “must-haves”:

  • Make it relevant – teach material that graduates can use on Day One at the company
  • Make it practical - have students experience the complete decision analytic life-cycle
  • Make it quick – the field is evolving fast, so leave function-specific elaborations to us

Effectively, MSBA graduates need to be trained to frame and implement analytical responses to business opportunities and persuade business stakeholders of the business value of their work. That meant that:

We would select applicants who are creative and have systems thinking, communication, and leadership skills, not solely high GMAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.

The curriculum would develop these traits with coursework that went beyond the typical computer science + statistics model.

My UC Davis GSM colleague Professor Gina Dokko has described the problems in looking for the next generation of top students, employees for the digital enterprise.  Our recruiting process for the MSBA program resulted from those considerations.

Here are three key attributes of the program that should matter most to applicants:

  • To prepare students to maximize their impact in today’s increasingly dynamic organizations. In addition to computing and statistics, we added highly practical material on converting data insight into influence, though a three-course sequence focusing on effectiveness at work.
  • “Learning by doing” is an integral aspect of the MSBA. We designed a Practicum running the entire duration of the MSBA to serve as its spinal cord. Simulating how real-world analytics gets done, five student teams would collaborate on a soup-to-nuts consultative engagement with an industry partner.
  • The 10-month program spans three quarters and one month in summer. This avoids the need to extend the program over summer. While summer internships are useful, in our model they are duplicative and redundant given the deep experience in the Practicum. Students graduate quickly, ready to get to work.

After hundred of hours of planning and consultations,  we converged to a MSBA curriculum design that organized courses in three tracks: Business, Computing and Analytics. The Practicum forms a fourth track–the “learning by doing” foundation for the program.

Our design aligns classroom courses with the activities that Practicum teams are likely to perform on their project in that quarter. Students will acquire skills as  they expand classroom learning through real and diverse challenges encountered in the Practicum.

Practical learning are further strengthened by weekly in-class shareouts by each Practicum team, allowing the full class to benefit from lessons learned and experiences.

We have found that the design goals we adopted based on feedback from employers perfectly match what students today want from the MSBA: relevance, practicality, and speed.

UC Davis MSBA Curriculum

The UC Davis MSBA degree is 40 units of graduate courses including a series of project courses over 10 months that are equivalent to 10 units.

  Fall Winter Spring Summer
  • Statistical Reasoning and Exploration
  • Advanced Statistics
  • Machine Learning
  • Analytic Decision Making
  • Application Domains
  • Capstone Project – Implementation
  • Data Management 
  • Data Visualization 
  • Big Data
  • Data Design and Representation 
  • Introduction to Business Analytics
  • Problem Structuring
  • Organizational Issues in Implementing Analytics
  • Organizational Effectiveness Workshop
  • Capstone Project – Initiation
  • Capstone Project – Elaboration
  • Capstone Project – Analysis


Thanks for the research and

Thanks for the research and designing the program. In my understanding from the course description and philosophy, this is the most practical course out there. From my work experience, I feel that today's managers need to be more tech/data savvy to make effective business decisions. A program such as this will perfectly fill this gap. regards, Ronak Shah

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