The Evolution of the MBA

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Goldman Sachs. People don't really look at Goldman Sachs as a technology company, but today, everything they do is digitized. That's why having people who are not only capable of working within the business space, but also knowledgeable about technology and able to work productively with people that are deeply technical, is so crucial," Stayman explains.

The Analytics Skill Gap

While technology has influenced a major shift in business education, it has also inadvertently created some skill gaps. In the marketing space, for example, powerful data storage and processing technology has become an indispensable tool for business, but a lack of strong data analytics skills has emerged as one of the biggest problem areas for employers recruiting new talent.

A recent study by Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association revealed that a majority of B2B marketing leaders now have duties they never thought they'd have. Of the 117 marketers surveyed, 97 percent say they've assumed unexpected responsibilities, such as high-level data analytics. The skill gap has become vast. Roughly 47 percent of those surveyed say they can't find candidates with the right skill sets, while 28 percent say it's nearly impossible to fill important positions with the current pool of applicants.

"Strategic technology planning is crucial. Marketing automation, customer data management, social/digital/mobile technologies, self-service, and communities are all technology-based initiatives, meaning that the chief marketing officer must work much more closely with the chief information officer, and marketing teams must do the same with their internal IT counterparts," Laura Ramos, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, told CRM magazine in June 2013, when the study results were published. "Looking at the issues surrounding decisions about cloud, big data, business architectures, and customer experience all require chief marketers to take a more strategic view of technology and develop their familiarity with the issues," she said.

To tackle the data analytics dilemma, business schools have responded in a variety of ways. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, for example, launched the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative academic research center (WCAI) in an effort to bring data analytics into MBA programs, according to Eric Bradlow, codirector of the center.

"The growth of big data and the importance of analytics have really transformed some elements of a business school education from a macro-level science to a micro-level science. Everything is measurable now, so business schools are shifting away from managerial science toward empiricism—mathematics, statistics, and analytics. The work we do at the analytics center is a reflection of this," Bradlow says.

Along with hosting a popular speaker series, the WCAI research center offers courses on customer analytics and gives students the opportunity to work on projects with corporate partners. It functions as a matchmaker between academia and industry and has a broad impact on the practice of data-driven business decision-making and the dissemination of relevant insights to managers, students, and policymakers, according to the center Web site.

"Today, we send more students to Google and other technology companies than we do to Wall Street, and the analytics center has had a lot to do with that, Bradlow says. "Some of the companies that hire our graduates have already worked with them through WCAI collaborations, meaning they know that these students have the analytics skills they're looking for. We're really trying to raise the level of analytics literacy—something we know employers are definitely looking for in applicants," he explains.

Other business schools have addressed the trend as well. At Johnson, the focus on data analytics was strengthened at the core. "Big data is hot as a pistol," Stayman agrees, "and our core curriculum has evolved to reflect that. We've got a marketing immersion that our first-year students take during the spring semester, and it prepares students to tackle analytics on a conceptual and practical level."

At the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, the need for a greater data analytics focus has changed the game as well. Betsy Sigman, a professor specializing in technology, social media, e-commerce, and information systems, recently received a grant from IBM to host a conference to bring together faculty, students, and executives from the region to talk about the best ways to incorporate big data in the classroom. "We know companies want us to teach our students deep analytics, including machine data, social media data, and a wide array of other information," Sigman says. "IBM, for one, has already shown an interest in helping us develop the best ways to teach our students."

As her curriculum continues to evolve, Sigman says she has long been committed to introducing her students to analytics software and programming language basics to give them much needed hands-on training. "Typically I introduce my students to SAP's business intelligence solutions or Microsoft Access to teach them about databases and how they work, and show them a little SQL [a programming language designed for managing data stored in a relational database management system] as well," Sigman says.

By and large, Sigman's students appreciate the exposure: "So many graduates come back and tell me, 'I'm so glad you showed us SQL. I think it really made me stand out when I was going for this position,'" she shares. "That's great to hear, because we know there's been this gap in curricula, and we're doing something to close it," she adds.

Picking Up the Sales Slack

Though a variety of factors have presented a challenge to the modern marketing curriculum, the main problem with the current state of the sales curriculum is that it has been virtually nonexistent. "Sales and marketing go hand in hand," Frank Cespedes, a professor of sales at the Harvard Business School, says, "and every school that offers courses in one should offer courses in the other." Still, even some of the nation's top schools don't offer enough sales courses.

According to "Teaching Sales," an academic report written by DePaul University marketing professors Suzanne Fogel, David Hoffmeister, Richard Rocco, and Daniel Strunk, of the 479 U.S. business programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, only 101 have a sales curriculum, and just 15 offer either an MBA in sales or another sales-focused graduate curriculum. Published by the Harvard Business Review, the report also claims that "sales may be vital to businesses, but of the 350,000 students a year who earn bachelor's degrees in business from American universities, and the 170,000 who earn MBAs, only a tiny fraction have been taught anything about it."

Historically the stepchild of nearly every MBA curriculum, sales has been neglected under the pretense that it can't be taught. Sales used to be two parts personality and one part product knowledge—the former was innate, and the latter was too industry-specific 

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