Harvard business analytics program: narrowing a gap in the big data age

In the era of “big data,” companies have access to an abundance of information from disparate sources. But a company’s real strategic advantage lies in its ability to glean insights from data to drive better decision-making.

“If companies and individuals want to avoid drowning in data while thirsting for insights, they have to develop a smart data strategy that focuses on the few things they really need,” Bernard Marr, a data and tech speaker, told Forbes.

This includes skilled professionals. In fact, today’s explosion of data will lead to 2.7 million new jobs in analytics and data science by 2020, according to PwC. “The ability to bring data-driven insights into decision-making is extremely powerful, all the more given companies can’t hire enough people with these capabilities,” said Jan Hammond, a professor at Harvard Business School.

To meet this new marketplace reality and provide practical, in-demand knowledge to working professionals, Harvard created its Business Analytics Program. Launched in March 2018, this nine-month, cross-disciplinary online offering, powered by 2U, represents a groundbreaking collaboration among the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School.

Drawing on faculty expertise from all three schools was a strategic choice according to Karim Lakhani, a professor at HBS who teaches the Digital Strategy and Innovation course in the Harvard Business Analytics Program.

“Our hypothesis is that leaders of organizations that are data-centric will require both the technical skills and the understanding of their application to the business side; hence, all three parts of Harvard have come together to work on this,” Lakhani said.

The program curriculum is specifically designed to reflect this interdisciplinary approach and includes courses focused on data architecture, predictive analytics, emerging technology, change management and operations. The goal is to ensure that students are equipped to understand and tackle real-world, data-driven issues from multiple angles.

Ranging in age from their late 20s to late 60s, the students come from multiple industries, including consulting, education, finance, health care, information systems and retail, as well as seven countries. On average, they bring nearly 18 years of work experience, with 70 percent holding graduate degrees and half working in technology and data-centric roles.

Building on this depth of perspective and experience, the cohort works together through a blend of online and in-person learning. They collaborate and debate in live classes over a Zoom-powered platform and use the case-based method pioneered by the HBS to solve data-specific business problems. Students also gather together twice for on-campus, in-person immersions where they can network and learn from each other.

“The professors are not just teaching us concrete knowledge, but teaching us how to think. Being a good leader in this era is not about what we already know about analytics and technology. It’s more about exploring future trends and understanding the impact across industries—and this program has helped me do that,” said Harvard Business Analytics student Anferny Chen.

The need to upskill in the face of the big data revolution is both critical and necessary, noted Lakhani.

“Until recently, [business analytics] and data tended to be seen as a retrospective recording function. Now it’s a prospective decision-making function,” Lakhani said. “This move from the periphery to the center means business executives not only need to understand the technology, the economics and the strategy around them, but how to effectively bring all three elements together.”

By equipping professionals with the skills to leverage and apply data within their organization, the new Harvard Business Analytics Program prepares working professionals to get up to speed. Through the program, students learn to harness analytics to make smarter decisions and help organizations employ effective strategies for long-term efficiency and success.

You can learn more about the Harvard Business Analytics Program here.

    Engage With Us

    Join Our Community

    Ready to dive deeper with the Digital Data Design Institute at Harvard? Subscribe to our newsletter, contribute to the conversation and begin to invent the future for yourself, your business and society as a whole.