IBM, MBAs Use Visual Analytics to Tackle Business Problems


Stamford, Conn.– “Big Data.”

It’s a term we hear over and over again, and its impact is universal. But what is “big?”

According to a 2011 IDC/EMC study, the estimated size of the digital universe was 1.8 zettabytes, and is predicted to grow to 35 zettabytes by 2020. To put that number into perspective, it is the equivalent of 35,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes!

The rapidly evolving field of visual analytics aims to make this proliferation of complex data easy to understand.

“In recent years, there has been an explosion in the volume of data available to business executives and government officials, rendering the traditional methods of displaying data (charts, graphs, tables, etc.) inadequate for the volume, variety, and velocity for which data is being generated today,” says Girish Punj, a marketing professor at the UConn School of Business.

An experiential learning course offered by Punj at the Stamford Learning Accelerator (SLA) last fall with the assistance of Brian Brady, director of the SLA and instructor in residence at the School of Business, exposed MBAs to the next generation of data visualization tools and methodologies. By collaborating with the IBM Center for Innovation in Visual Analytics (CIVA), students had an opportunity to interact with IBM researchers and executives while working on various projects. Under the guidance of IBM data visualization experts located around the world, they learned to solve business problems by taking a deep dive into visual analytics within a classroom-laboratory setting, in a learning experience that was both immersive and realistic.

“This was a very hands-on class that focused on visualizing and analyzing big data—which is everywhere, no matter what industry you’re in,” says Jennifer Bui ’14 MBA, ALM analyst at People’s United Bank.

Hui Su, director of cognitive experience at the IBM Watson Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, commented: “The Visual Analytics experiential learning course, among the first of its kind at a U.S. business school, was a successful collaboration between IBM and UConn. It is necessary for future business leaders to grasp these skills to make smarter decisions.”

As part of the final course project, the MBA team developed a decision management system that relied on state-of-the-art data and information visualization methods to facilitate decision-making by multiple constituents that were part of transportation ecosystem in a large metropolitan city. The multiple stakeholders included municipal and city governments, big corporations, small businesses, private service providers, and resident citizens. A “Smarter Cities” theme that centered on sustainability and green consumption provided the context for the project, which was presented to an audience of UConn administrators, IBM business executives and visualization researchers at the UConn Stamford Learning Accelerator.

The course proved to be very beneficial for both IBM and the students.

Kim Blomker, director of finance professional development programs at IBM remarked, “Professor Punj’s students enthusiastically presented their project recommendations and shared valuable insights on the benefits of visual analytics.”

Carlos Passi, assistant controller, business transformation, CFO at IBM was equally impressed: “The mix and quality of the skills in the team resulted in a final product that was balanced, well thought out and insightful.”

Says Taylor Witt ’14 MBA, a student team member and vice president, digital applications, News America Marketing: “The Visual Analytics course provided unparalleled access to the researchers at IBM who are developing the latest visualization technologies. It exposed me to ways of representing large and complex data using interactive visualizations making it possible to gain insights and facilitate decision making. Aside from the knowledge gained in the course, the sense of team accomplishment and the accolades received from IBM made it an invaluable addition to my academics.”

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