Finding the golden nuggets in big data

“The field of business analytics is the ‘gold rush’ for the millennial generation. Our information age creates a wealth of data and the tools to access it, but the sheer numbers can be absolutely overwhelming,” said Professor of Practice Ben King, who teaches management, entrepreneurship and negotiations at Wake Forest University School of Business.

“Being able to manage that fire hose of information is critically important in today’s business climate, and those who have business analytics skills are in high demand.”

Teaching students how to manage and analyze that data is at the core of a new five-week immersive experience at the School of Business. The Summer Business Analytics Program is designed for rising college juniors, seniors or recent graduates with a good background in math. King said students who have had significant quantitative training or majored in math, chemistry, physics, computer science, psychology, economics or business will be able to enhance their employment or career potential through this program.

“I’m the first person in my company completely devoted to data analytics,” said Calen Butler, a business analyst at TW Garner Food Company, maker of Texas Pete Hot Sauce, among other products.

His supervisor suggested he join the first class, beginning May 27th in Farrell Hall. “My position and the reports I create impact all areas of my business, such as working with forecast vs. actual sales and comparing sales before, during and after promotions to determine the effectiveness of marketing spends. I want to improve processes I’m using now, learn new ones and develop a better way of thinking about the data I analyze.”

“Organizations are swimming in vast amounts of data. Organizations that can convert data into information, extract keen insights from the information, and make data-driven decisions can gain a significant competitive advantage.  Unfortunately there is a talent shortage of people with the technical skills needed to work with the data and data savvy managers who can leverage it. We aim to start filling that gap,” said Scott Shafer, associate dean and professor of management at the School.

The program is designed around three pillars:

Data management teaches students how to work with and manage large amounts of data.

Data mining and predictive modeling teaches students how to use a variety of analytical models to predict important outcomes. King said today’s analysts use data to examine not only past performance, but predict future actions and the variables that can affect them.

Descriptive modeling and data visualization help students cope with the sheer volume of data and explain the information in a compelling manner to inform data-driven decisions. King said the students also use this information to create persuasive reports and presentations.

The Summer Business Analytics Program runs May 27- July 2. For more information, please contact Michele Hartle at

The program integrates business concepts in context throughout the program. It also uses cutting-edge data from the School’s Center for Retail Innovation’s new ten-store retail learning labs to provide hands-on experience. The retail learning labs generate data from shoppers in a live retail grocery environment, allowing students to examine store traffic, aisle traffic, dwells and dwell conversions, category and brand purchases and more.

“Students will have access to transaction data from cash registers, as well as analytics data available through the Wi-Fi receivers that track shoppers smartphones in the retail learning labs. We’re the first school in the country to have that,” said Roger Beahm, RockTenn executive director of the School’s Center for Retail Innovation. “As a result, our students will have the ability to analyze shopper marketing activity in real time and in a an environment that simply has not been available to date.”

King added, “It’s rare for students to gain access to live data, but Wake Forest’s Retail Learning Labs offers a unique opportunity for students in this program to organize and manage this data, gain managerial insights, and offer their recommendations using persuasive communication skills.”

King said the program is designed to enhance the students’ portfolios and allow them to gain career trajectories in business, entertainment, sports management and health care fields in particular.

“We went to the marketplace to understand what employers value in terms of business analytics,” King said. “Executives from BB&T, Bellomy Research, Hanesbrands, Harris Teeter, Inmar, Lowes Foods, Reynolds American and Wells Fargo, along with consultants in the field like McKinsey, listed skills they thought were critical for analytics jobs. We listened to the market and designed the curriculum around those skills.”

And King said that input was critical, because corporations around the world are making changes to their organizational structures, with several creating C-level positions like Chief Data Officer to enhance their knowledge of big data. He suggests that Wake Forest is uniquely qualified to offer this program, taking advantage of the connections to the market that the Center for Retail Innovation provides, along with the School’s focus on programs that deliver the graduates the marketplace demands.

Categories: Faculty, Personal and Career Development, School of Business, Top Stories