This is a real-world experience that allows students to go through the exercise of scoping and developing a project; doing all the analysis, data prep; and delivering results. It gives them the first chance to transition from being a student to being a consultant. They are moving from classroom discussions to engaging businesses with an impactful project.
How UCSD Students Are Gaining Valuable Skills Combining Business Analytics and GIS
• Graduate students in the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program at the University of California, San Diego, Rady School of Management apply data science and a location analytics approach to solve a real-world business challenge.
• For 12 weeks, teams of students serve as consultants for a company by researching, conducting spatial analysis, and presenting their findings.
In the ever-expanding world of big data, the need for a skilled workforce that can leverage data into business insights has boomed. Organizations across industries need well-rounded analysts to meet a host of business challenges. The World Economic Forum's 2020 Future of Jobs Report noted that data analysts and scientists are increasingly in demand across all industries.
Higher education institutions play a vital role in preparing the next generation of workers with the skill sets needed to do the job. One university is doing so with its Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program. Launched in the fall of 2016 with options for full-time students as well as working professionals, the MSBA program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Rady School of Management provides hands-on training and access to cutting-edge technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), to prepare its students to thrive in data-rich global business environments.
"Our goal is to provide a strong foundation for being an analyst," said Keith Peterson, executive director of business analytics programs at UCSD. "That includes everything from data engineering to the analysis to communicating and presenting to stakeholders and leadership. It's a very holistic program that creates a well-rounded, technically skilled individual."
The program includes an opportunity for students to participate in a capstone project, working in a team of four for 12 weeks to solve a real-world business challenge provided by a client company. Students apply program course material and work as consultants on a project, generating a final presentation and written report for the client company. Projects have covered a range of subjects such as consumer analysis, digital marketing, life sciences, the business to business (B2B) marketplace, operations, and the supply chain.
For the second year, Esri sponsored the project and collaborated with the industry to provide the real-world business case. The capstone project featured a globally recognized childhood development company and helping grow its franchise network.
Applying Data Analytics through a Geographic Lens
Leaders for the project organization wanted to better understand their current membership enrollment and their target market in order to expand the company's footprint. UCSD students used analytics, data, and location intelligence to complete a deep market and customer analysis. From that analysis, students provided the company with a five-year outlook for expansion opportunities to grow the number of centers and enrollment.
"The capstone is all about taking the skills students have learned and applying them to a very specific business challenge for a company that has a real stake in the outcome," said Peterson.
Students are encouraged to produce analysis that is descriptive by understanding the data provided and generating diagnostic results. The analysis is also expected to be predictive by applying statistical and machine learning models, and prescriptive by linking results to one or more specific business decisions for recommendations.
In the case of the project organization, student analysis was conducted on a hyperlocal level, looking at demographics, psychographics, and market shifts within neighborhoods. This analysis helped students understand the current network. They could see what factors led to success at some locations and how pandemic shutdowns may have impacted others. The UCSD students used that data to generate a geospatial suitability analysis and model for new center locations.
Capstone project students typically don't have prior knowledge of GIS before participating. At the beginning of the project, members from Esri's education and commercial teams hosted a boot camp that brings students up to speed on spatial data and analysis basics such as performing spatial business analysis and spatial machine learning and then presenting the results. The Esri team also hosted weekly office hours, where students could pitch their ideas or ask technical questions.
"The Esri team was excited to help us," said Yann Bovet, a 2022 UCSD MSBA graduate. "Whenever we had a question, they were there to answer it—be it jumping on a call during their workday or responding to emails the same day. It was great to have everyone so open to helping. As a student, I can't stress the learning arc; it was such an important piece to the capstone project. Being able to build the entire project from the business case to presenting a solution was an amazing experience."
Additionally, Esri staff collaborated with the UCSD library and IT staff to support students with access to Esri technology within UCSD and provide the digital infrastructure to remotely access the project organization’s data on a secured network and run ArcGIS Pro. As students worked to identify future locations, they turned to geospatial tools such as ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World for demographic datasets and ArcGIS Business Analyst to map collected data (demographic, spend, census, drive time) for analysis and forecasting.
The organization featured for the capstone, which has about 60 locations across North America, operates more than 700 locations in 30 countries. By the end of the project, students demonstrated what factors made a franchise location favorable and supplied the company with a list of ideal locations based on those conditions.
Building a Foundation of In-Demand Workplace Skills
Business analyst roles were among the top 10 most in-demand jobs for the first quarter of 2022, with no indication of slowing down, according to the LinkedIn Talent Blog. Business schools could work with industry leaders to align program curricula with marketplace expectations.
"For this capstone project, it was a data-driven question to help the students optimize their locations relative to prospective customers," said Peterson. The university, "wanted students to understand not just how a specific site location factors in but to also consider the market dynamics and the market-level factors."
In looking to the future, Peterson sees spatial analysis as a fundamental tool for answering current business challenges and believes it should be part of analytics programs. "So much of digital data is location-based, and having these tools in an academic institution allows faculty to stay engaged with industry needs and maintain those relationships," he said. Peterson added including spatial analytics also helps institutions remain at the forefront of thinking.
"This is a real-world experience that allows students to go through the exercise of scoping and developing a project; doing all the analysis, data prep; and delivering results," Peterson said of the capstone project in particular. "It gives them the first chance to transition from being a student to being a consultant. They are moving from classroom discussions to engaging businesses with an impactful project."
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