La Trobe University
Students apply analysis skills to real-world business problems
Melbourne's La Trobe University has deployed SAS® solutions to help address the perennial dearth of employees with finely honed business analysis skills. The solutions are used in modules of two post-graduate courses – La Trobe's two-year Master of Business Information Management and Systems degree (MBIMS) and its 18-month Master of Information Systems Management degree (MISM). The courses are accredited by the Australian Computer Society.
We use tens of thousands of data records, as would be the case if the students were working in a large financial institution, for example. The data mining and other SAS tools we use stand up but other systems tend to crash under loads such as those.
Dr Suzanne Zyngier
Executive Director, MBIMS, MISM and GDISM, La Trobe University
With emphasis on information for business purposes rather than on information technology as such, both courses are conducted by the School of Management within La Trobe's Faculty of Law and Management rather than at the Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering, which encompasses computer studies.
Created as Victoria's third university in 1967, La Trobe has some 26,000 students – including 3,500 international students from more than 90 countries – at seven campuses in Melbourne and across the state. The institution is named for Charles La Trobe who became the first Lieutenant-Governor of the 'new colony' of Victoria in 1851.
The decision to incorporate SAS in the curriculum was made by the Executive Director, Master of Business Information Management and Systems programs in the School of Management, and the use of SAS has increased every year since then. Dr. Suzanne Zyngier is the current Executive Director, Master of Business Information Management and Systems, and was a longtime business consultant with her own company before taking to academia. She says of the choice of SAS, "Our teaching includes a large element of practical syndicate work and so for realism we use tens of thousands of data records, as would be the case if the students were working in a large financial institution, for example. The data mining and other SAS tools we use stand up but other systems tend to crash under loads such as those."
The Master of Business Information Management and Systems program comprises 16 courses which impart knowledge and skills along four dimensions – industry-based IT tools, business subjects, business-focused IT subjects and an industry-based business intelligence project. SAS software is used in four of the courses and is key to the industry-based BI project dimension.
The information the students analyse using SAS is real-life application data provided under confidentiality agreements between SAS and its customers who participate in SAS' Work Placement Program. Zyngier says being able to work with actual customer data is invaluable in that, "It's a fact of life that real-world data is very 'dirty,' and it takes an incredible amount of time to clean it. The process can be very frustrating when you are impatient to get down to analysis work but it's important that the students see the reality."
The Master of Business Information Management and Systems degree course starts twice a year and typically attracts 30 students to each intake. All have bachelor degrees or the approved equivalent in various disciplines and are from a wide range of sources. Some have come direct from other studies and others have already been out in the work force. Overseas students are required to demonstrate the highest level English language skills. The course provides all students with all the skill sets required in Information Systems and business analysis experience.
The students work in teams and Zyngier stresses the real-world scenario saying, "It is all about management, and the projects the students work on add value in a business context. Working with real data, they learn about customer segmentation, for example, and when the students' analyses are delivered to the owners of the data – generally the marketing operations of major financial institutions and other large organisations – we are providing solutions and findings that can be used for real business gain."
In addition to classroom work, students are linked with short-term internships at SAS customers that participate in the SAS Work Placement Program and this provides an invaluable opportunity for them. They have developed both theoretical and practical SAS skills through their studies at La Trobe University, and the internships enable them to gain further experience using their skills in the workplace and open links to permanent employment.
SAS also sits on the university's curriculum advisory board for the Master of Business Information Management and Systems and the Master of Information Systems Management degree course offerings and sources the commercial assignments and accompanying real data that makes the course projects so valuable. In the project design phase, the students have the opportunity to apply the theory they have learned in the classroom to a real-world application. In project implementation, they bring the application to life and understand actual business issues.
Dr. Suzanne Zyngier speaks highly of the students who pass through her hands. "They are uniformly of a very high calibre and it is a pleasure to be associated with them. They work well on their own and in teams and it is encouraging to see them pull their learning together and develop collaborative skills in a business environment made realistic with the assistance of SAS."
La Trobe University wanted to meet work force demands for more graduates who come armed with practical business analysis skills and experience handling real-world business challenges.
Using SAS in pursuit of their degree, students develop practical, industry-relevant skills and gain experience using software that handles mammoth loads of data with ease and efficiency.
Graduates gain a competitive edge in the job market; when hired, they arrive on the job with real-world experience applying advanced analytics to resolve real-world issues.