Harvard’s Business Analytics Program Seeks to Groom Managers for Digital Future

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The newly launched Harvard Business Analytics Program seeks to fulfil the need for business managers to develop a certain degree of competence in an increasingly data-driven and digitalized economy.  Professor Karim Lakhani, co-director of Harvard’s Laboratory for Innovation Science and co-chair of the Business Analytics Program shares his views on the various facets of the program.

The inaugural cohort of the Harvard Business Analytics program starts classes in March 2018. Prof Lakhani, who along with Professor Marco Iansiti, is to teach Digital Strategy and Innovation, says the trend seen at present had begun some 30 years ago with the advent of digitization.

In an interview in the HBS Business Analytics blog, he says with digitization, more data is being produced. In the last 30 years, the tech sector has been transformed to be highly data and analytics-driven. But now the same forces that affected the tech sector are affecting all industries.

For the online certificate program, HBS has partnered with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Department of Statistics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the education technology company 2U Inc.

“A whole range of managers now have to up-skill, retooling both their knowledge about the techniques and the strategies that go with them,” he added.

Asked about the reason for adopting an interdisciplinary approach in designing the program, he said Business analytics requires both fundamental knowledge and understanding of quantitative analysis, programming, data architecture and data science, so we need to develop a deep sense of the technical aspects. But beyond that, there is the need to apply them to the business context. It’s inherently an interdisciplinary field, where the business side and the economic side are complementary.

Thus, the leaders of data-centric organizations would need to acquire technical skills as well as an understanding of their application to the business side.

At present, several students in doctoral programs in business schools have to learn machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and apply that knowledge to the study of business. Five of the top ten Fortune 100 companies have a core strength in business analytics.

Asked about the students, he said mid-career executives in roles that require managing business analytics functions inside organizations would find the program useful. They may have come from either a technical background or a business background, but now they have to learn how to integrate the two.

Business analytics is now moving into the centre of organizations. “Earlier, it tended to be seen as a retrospective recording function. Now it’s a prospective decision-making function. This move from the peripheral to the centre means that the people who are now responsible for these functions need to understand the technology and the economics and the strategy around them, as well as what the best ways to employ these elements are.

“A whole range of managers now have to up-skill, retooling both their knowledge about the techniques and the strategies that go with them,” he added.

Senior executives who consider data analytics and algorithms important for the future of their companies would find the program of value as it would enable them to guide the teams that are reporting to them, he said.

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Students need to be ready for an explosion of new business models that are now being created in their industries. Preparation requires an awareness that the battleground is around business model innovation through digital and data and that the competitors are both well-established companies as well as startups that are trying to shake up the existing industry architectures, Prof  Lakhani said.

Students must learn from the best in terms of how operating model changes need to be made, what types of changes have to be made and how to implement these changes to create a new business model.  This course and program will expose students to both sides.

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Asked about the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard University, he said a large portion of the work has been running data analytics contests for partners at NASA, Harvard Medical School, the Broad Institute and other partners in the government to both help them solve these problems and create breakthrough algorithms in data analytics. “At the same time, we have studied the best design of crowdsourcing programs, contests and communities.

“So, our lab has become a Harvard-wide facility with partners in the engineering school and medical school who have this dual mission to help design and solve problems and also solve innovation management challenges,” he added.

About trends noted in the evolving field of data science, he said HBS has been in the forefront of work with online platforms that do data science and machine learning. “So part of my education has been to understand the varieties of ways in which data science and analytics can be applied to a whole range of core problems.

“One of the big things we’ve noted is that there’s a serious shortage of talent in data science. Everybody—in all the industries—needs data scientists, so crowdsourcing and our lab’s work can be one solution to finding talent anywhere in the world to work on these,” Prof Lahoti said.

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