Dr. Sophie Cockcroft
University of Queensland, Business School
University of Queensland Business School meets demand for business analytics savvy graduates
To better compete with other institutions, address an industry skills shortage and ensure greater employability of its graduates, the University of Queensland (UQ) Business School has teamed up with SAS to create a new generation of business professionals.
SAS is the market leader in business analytics. Graduates equipped with SAS skills had more employment choices when they sought entry to the workforce.
Dr. Sophie Cockcroft
The school has introduced SAS® analytical solutions into its undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to provide students with a more rounded and informed approach to business decision making.
UQ Business School is part of the University of Queensland, the largest and oldest university in Queensland with a student body of 47,000 from more than 130 countries.
The big data skills gap for business
A global report on big data1 found that by 2018, the market will demand an additional 140,000-190,000 analytics professionals and approximately 1.5 million extra managers who have analytical awareness.
Students at UQ Business School have previously been exposed to basic reporting and statistics, but in response to the huge surge in demand for analytics skills in business, the school has enhanced its analytics courses to equip business graduates with more evidence-based decision making skills and industry-relevant software skills in SAS.
Businesses are seeking future graduates to fill this skills gap and are looking to universities to produce graduates with more comprehensive advanced analytics capabilities, within a business context.
Training the trainer
To assist universities with producing work-ready graduates, SAS runs a complimentary five-day "Train the Trainer" course for lecturers and professors. This course is comprehensive and relevant, equipping business school academics with the necessary education, curriculum materials, SAS skills and support to enable a quick setup of analytics units within their institutions.
Dr. Sophie Cockcroft, a lecturer in business information systems at UQ Business School, was introduced to SAS at its Advanced Business Analytics Workshop in Sydney in 2011. Within a matter of weeks, Cockcroft was able to set up the SAS analytics courses at the Business School, utilising SAS® Enterprise Guide® and SAS® Enterprise MinerTM to provide point-and-click interfaces to its suite, meaning no programming was involved.
Cockcroft was provided with data sets, course notes, PowerPoint slides, publications and SAS OnDemand demonstrations and exercises from SAS' Academic Program. A website with links to relevant videos was also made available through the workshop, together with an extensive list of suggested readings from recognised thought leaders in the advanced analytics field.
Business skills employers want
At UQ Business School, Cockcroft was pointed to SAS by her departmental head and others at the school who, she said, "saw SAS as being the market leader in business analytics" and noted that graduates equipped with SAS skills had more employment choices when they entered the workforce. In addition, she invited an executive from a major Brisbane-based company to visit the school to describe the real-world use of SAS. The visit also confirmed the greater likelihood of internships for students familiar with SAS, as well as their increased employability.
SAS also assists universities through its Work Placement Program, which links students who have learnt SAS in their university courses with SAS customers as host employers. Often, those students participating in SAS' Work Placement Program have been snapped up by banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions, plus telecommunications carriers, large retailers and government entities. Now, however, and thanks to the expanding challenge of big data – including the galloping spread of social media and its growing value to almost any type and size of organisation – the demand for students with analytics abilities is very strong and rapidly increasing.
Before SAS, Cockcroft's lectures relied on the use of very basic software, including spreadsheets.
"Starting to use SAS was part of modernising our course brand. The tools we were using before were rather clunky and tended to fall over a lot. Even in decision support, they were really only mathematical models that didn't need much data. Whereas with SAS, we can analyse for patterns in very large data sets and that wasn't possible with things like Excel."
Large data sets are, of course, essential for aligning what is taught in the classroom with what students will encounter out in the real-world – particularly the real-world of big data.
Building on her success integrating SAS very quickly after attending the SAS workshop, and steering her first 40 undergraduate and 20 postgraduate students through their semesters, Cockcroft is now focusing on the data itself.
Getting actual business data out of even friendly organisations is challenging, if not impossible, for obvious commercial, confidentiality and probity reasons. Real sets that have been obtainable have already been summarised, which defeats the purpose of the data mining exercise, as do contrived sets. SAS has been supplying study sets that are more valuable, with Cockcroft's next initiative to be to supplement these with enterprise data that truly reflects reality.
Evidence-based decision making
Students' hands on use of SAS responds to the ever-increasing growth of analytics in the day-to-day business world and the need for fundamental analytical skills within higher education units to encourage evidence-based decision making. The new courses at the UQ Business School introduce students to big data challenges and demonstrate how analytics creates a competitive advantage for organisations in today's world.
1Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity – McKinsey Global institute
To cater to employer demand for improved decision making skills among graduates, UQ sought to integrate an analytics course into its business degree.
SAS' complimentary five-day "Train-the-Trainer" course for lecturers and professors.
Business School graduates from the University of Queensland are now equipped with SAS skills for better decision making, providing them with more employment choices when seeking entry to the workforce.