If you perused the Carroll School of Management website over the summer, you may have noticed a small but significant change on several of its pages. The Operations Management Department at the Carroll School has changed its name to the Business Analytics Department, effective July 2020. Announcement of the department’s new name coincides with a number of curricular changes at the School, all geared toward ensuring its students develop mastery in data science and analytics, regardless of their chosen concentration.

The collective changes are the latest in a series of moves made to elevate the role of business analytics across the Carroll School’s programs. Triggered by what it called a “tidal wave” in its last accreditation report, the Carroll School introduced Business Analytics as one of its two first undergraduate co-concentrations (a curricular equivalent to a minor) in 2014. The program grew from five to 158 students in its first four years. In 2019–2020, it was the third most popular concentration (out of 15 at the time), with 217 students. 

From its inception, the business analytics program has been an interdisciplinary endeavor at the Carroll School. “Business analytics cuts across boundaries,” said John and Linda Powers Family Dean Andy Boynton. “The field is spreading across business functions, so it must also run across the faculty.”

Boynton pointed in particular to the Information Systems Department. He said the department is taking on an “innovative role in delivering the business analytics curriculum,” offering courses such as the foundational “Data Analytics in Practice” and a new course, “Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.” The dean added that other departments such as Marketing, Finance, and Accounting will increasingly play specialized roles in providing students with the tools for using and analyzing data.

What is business analytics and why is it important in management?

If you think “big data” is just a buzzword in business, think again. Data-savvy organizations apply insights from quantitative modeling and analysis to make smarter management decisions, and they expect fresh B-school grads to know how to use data from day one.

“Everyone has to be able to work with data now,” said Boynton. “Our enhanced focus on business analytics at the Carroll School reflects changes we’ve seen in the practice of management and responds to the learning needs of our students.”

The growing field of business analytics applies a range of tools and techniques—including statistics, forecasting, experimental design, data mining, and modeling—to convert business data into actionable insights for management. Armed with this information, managers can not only explain past performance, but also better implement new strategies, launch new product offerings, or innovate new processes.

What is driving the decision to change the department name now?

The Carroll School has been attuned to the growing importance of this critical discipline for some time, and many of the School’s efforts in recent years have focused on elevating the role of data science and analytics across its graduate and undergraduate programs. The decision to assign Business Analytics a department title underscores this long-term focus on a burgeoning field.

Professor Samuel Graves

Professor Samuel Graves, Chair of the newly renamed Business Analytics Department

“The name change really reflects natural developments within the department,” said Professor Samuel Graves, who is chair of the department. “Our faculty have been engaged in research and teaching in these two, mutually supportive disciplines—Business Analytics and Operations—for some time.”

That’s not to say the Operations Management discipline is any less of a priority. The department will continue to support faculty research and course offerings in both fields, and Operations Management will remain an undergraduate concentration offered at the School. 

“Undergraduates will still be able to concentrate in Operations Management, even as our departmental focus on Business Analytics is appropriately elevated,” said Graves. Business Analytics will also remain a co-concentration for the time being (meaning students can pursue this line of study alongside their primary concentration).

What else is changing besides the department name?

Several changes have been made to the core studies of Carroll School undergraduates, as well. “It’s more than a name change, it’s an evolution in the curriculum,” said Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs Ethan Sullivan. “We are advancing our core offerings to prepare students for a changing business environment, where data-driven decision-making and technological savvy are critical to success.”

Beginning with the incoming Class of 2024, all management majors will be introduced to two popular programming languages, Python and SQL, in a revised course called “Programming for Management and Analytics.” (Students have also been learning the “R” programming language in the first-year “Business Statistics” course, taught in the Business Analytics Department.) “Digital Technologies: Strategy and Use”—already a core requirement—will shift its attention to the areas where technology and strategy meet. Instruction in Microsoft Excel, meanwhile, is moving to a separate, one-credit online module designed and taught internally.

“We’re not just requiring that management majors study computer programming, though that’s part of it. We’re also ensuring they understand how technology and strategy intersect in practice,” Sullivan said.

“Modeling for Business Analytics” is also moving out of the core beginning with the Class of 2024 and will be offered as an elective (partly for the purpose of keeping the core at its current size). Sophomores, juniors, and seniors will still be required to take the course to graduate.

How does the change affect students of the Carroll School? 

The School’s consistent attention to business analytics is ultimately about serving its students. Both undergrad and grad students benefit from programmatic changes made in this vein, as they graduate from the Carroll School with the knowledge and skills to thrive in a competitive business landscape. 

“There’s no question that a strong foundation in data analytics, along with the ability to code in languages like SQL and Python, will position our graduates to excel in whatever business sector they decide to pursue,” said Boynton.

The dean pointed out that coding is a learning experience that goes well beyond simply writing code.

“When you’re doing that, you’re learning how to precisely define and articulate the problem to be solved. You have to specify the variables and how they interrelate as pieces of the solution, and then you have to use the syntax of the language to formulate the solution,” he explained. “It’s really an exercise in disciplined problem-solving, and students will be able to apply that kind of learning to many situations they’ll face as managers.”

The changes to the undergraduate curriculum implemented this summer will primarily impact incoming freshmen at the Carroll School. The Class of 2024 will be the first to take the new programming course (next year, as sophomores). Adaptation of “Digital Technologies: Strategy and Use” and launch of the Excel module will roll out for the Class of 2025. “Modeling for Business Analytics” will continue to be offered for sophomores this academic year as part of their core, and as an elective thereafter.

Does this have any impact on the graduate programs? 

While the curricular changes made this summer do not directly impact graduate students, the new Business Analytics Department substantiates the graduate school’s commitment to equip its M.B.A. students with critical skills in data analysis. 

In 2015, the Carroll School went so far as to holistically rethink—and ultimately overhaul—its full-time M.B.A. curriculum. At the center of this bold redesign was the introduction of a new three-course sequence in data analytics. All M.B.A. students take this progressive set of classes, where they learn key quantitative methods for decision-making as well as the capabilities and limitations of emerging analytics techniques. The curriculum also introduces them to programming languages and technologies.

In fall 2018, after three years of iteration and improvement to the curriculum, the data analytics sequence rolled out in the part-time M.B.A. program as well.

Leslie Ganson is a content development specialist at the Carroll School.