Why Should Your MBA Focus on Data?

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Person sitting at a desk with multiple screens of charts and graphs.

A robust Master of Business Administration degree program will provide students with experience and expertise in key areas relevant to enterprise activities. These might span critical concepts including accounting, finance, marketing, supply chains and information systems. However, one specialization area not to be overlooked is big data and business analytics.

Currently, digital data and its analysis touches every discipline and aspect of business, from executive-level decision-making through every department of an organization. This isn’t surprising, given the vast amount of informational resources available to professionals today. According to current statistics gathered by technology firm Leftronic, 1.7 megabytes of data are created each second for every individual on earth. From consumer-driven behaviors to internally created business data and intelligence, this information is ripe for analysis, and can provide important insights and patterns to guide decision-making and business strategy.

In fact, 89% of business leaders noted that big data has the power to revolutionize business operations, similar to the beneficially disruptive impact of the internet and other digital systems. And now that businesses of all sizes are increasingly investing in data analysis and business intelligence technologies — to the tune of $187 billion in spending in 2019 alone — it’s critical for organizations to have staff members specifically trained in this area.

MBA focus areas

A program like the Online Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business offers several different MBA focus areas for students, including:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Information Systems and Business Analytics

There is also a general management track available, which offers students a broader look at the key concepts of each of the other five MBA focus areas. Those who choose an MBA focus in data — through the Information Systems and Business Analytics specialization — can build critical skills in areas like data analysis, the implementation of information technology systems to support these processes, and data-driven decision-making to help drive company strategy.

Benefits of an MBA focus on data

The MBA specialization that students choose can provide them with the specific skills and experience they need to succeed in different career roles. Depending on their area of study and expertise, students are prepared to pursue advanced and in-demand career opportunities, with their MBA degree serving as the foundation.

Although each of the available concentrations of the MBA degree program comes with critical advantages for students and professionals, there are some particular benefits to an MBA focused on data, business intelligence, and analytics.

Getting a leg up on the competition

Businesses are spending more on systems and technology that can help make the most of their available data assets and are investing more in finding the right human talent to support these systems. Overall, 91% of businesses across the globe noted that they were increasing their spending on data analysis, and more than 67% of businesses with data initiatives in place were able to cut their operational expenses, according to Leftronic’s gathered research.

In fact, 95% of today’s executives admitted that slow adoption or lack of big data analysis practices puts them behind their market competitors. Other statistics back this viewpoint — one study found that businesses that leverage their big data were 23 times more likely to acquire customers over their peer organizations. By 2021, companies that have made data-driven decision-making a priority will generate a combined $1.8 trillion in profits over less intelligence-savvy organizations.

All this is to say that big data analysis and business intelligence now represents a considerable competitive advantage in the corporate world. This is true not only for large enterprises with considerable technological resources, but small businesses as well, which can leverage their customer-focused and other platforms to glean important data insights.

What’s more, this rising focus on big data, analysis and insight-driven decision-making has been a consistent pattern for businesses for several years now, and it’s not expected to slow anytime soon. As more data is created, this information provides more opportunities for enterprises and organizations to mine for important patterns and insights that can make a big difference in their strategy planning and business goals.

Improving employability

It’s no surprise that, in addition to investing in business analytics and intelligence technology, companies are also seeking top talent with work experience in these areas.

In fact, higher education expert Raghu Sundaram told U.S. News & World Report that MBA graduates who include their specialization on employment applications are much more likely to earn an interview.

“It opens the door and that’s the reason why students are so fond of specializations,” Sundaram said.

Rob Weller, associate dean at a California higher education institution, agreed, noting that an MBA specialization lends a certain level of credibility for graduates.

“The specializations really provide structure and a road map to students, so they’re able to walk out of here and signal to the job market that they’ve acquired a certain set of skills and can transfer that knowledge to the job,” Weller told U.S. News & World Report.

Finally, it’s important to note that certain career roles may require candidates to not only have completed their MBA degree, but to also have experience in data analysis, business intelligence or a related field. For instance, employers looking to fill roles like management analyst, business intelligence analyst, management consultant, supply chain analyst, operations analyst and others will typically prefer applicants who have strong backgrounds in data, according to MBACentral.

Having the skills to leverage data strategically and appropriately

While data analysis and related practices can offer considerable advantages for businesses, these informational assets can also present certain risks. As international business consultant Bernard Marr points out, elements including data sourcing, governance and compliance with industry-standard rules are imperative for today’s enterprises.

“Collecting and storing data, especially personal data, brings serious legal and regulatory obligations,” Marr notes. “Therefore, it is vital that any organization factor data ownership, privacy and security issues into their data strategy. Ignoring these issues, or failing to address them, could see data go from a huge asset to a huge liability.”

This means that in addition to being trained and skilled in data usage, professionals must also understand how to leverage these sources in accordance with compliance and other privacy rules.

In a robust MBA program, students can gain key knowledge and experience in these areas, through studying learning concepts like strategic information systems, ethical leadership, strategic management, and managing digital businesses and platforms. In this way, graduates are prepared not only to leverage data resources and analysis findings to support their organization’s strategy, but can also appropriately secure and govern this information.

An MBA focus on data from the Smith School of Business

MBA graduates with a strong understanding of data, business intelligence and analysis can pursue a range of exciting and in-demand career opportunities, many of which include enticing starting salaries.

Professionals with an interest in building their skills in the field of data should consider a program like the Online MBA from the University of Maryland. This accredited and respected program offers students a robust Information Systems and Business Analytics specialization, helping them master skills related to data and decision-making.

To find out more, check out our website and connect with one of our enrollment advisors for more program details.


Recommended Readings:

What you can learn about data mining and predictive analytics

What is it like to be a Data Analyst



Leftronic, 39+ Big Data Statistics for 2020

U.S. News and World Report, Enhancing Earnings With an MBA Specialization

MBACentral.org, What Can I Do With A Business Analytics MBA?

Bernard Marr & Co., Why Every Business Needs a Data and Analytics Strategy