Unlocking the value of data – Allison O’Hair

MIT Sloan Lecturer Allison O'Hair

MIT Sloan Lecturer Allison O’Hair

Compared to five years ago, the amount of data we now generate is huge. Some companies collect that data, but more often than not they don’t do anything with it. Business analytics is an important tool to help organizations harness the power of that data. By unlocking its value, you can do things like improve profits, predict consumer behavior, better understand markets, and make more informed decisions. Most importantly, it can give you a competitive edge.

For those of us in the field of operations research, data analytics is a huge and exciting area. It’s a critical tool for businesses moving forward. As a result, we’re offering MIT Sloan’s popular Analytics Edge course on the MITx online, interactive learning platform this spring. We want to share the cutting-edge knowledge generated at MIT on this important topic with people around the world.

The MITx course, which is offered for free or for a verified certificate, follows the same curriculum as the on-campus course, but in an online format. Class presentations will be recorded in advance so students can view them at their own pace. They will submit homework assignments, participate in a project competition, and complete a final exam online. They also can visit an online forum where moderators will be available to answer questions. Participants can earn a certificate after successful completion of the course.

While the on-campus course is taught to MBA, executive MBA and Master’s level students, the MITx course is open to everyone. As a wide range of people are interested in business analytics, we expect a diversity of students to enroll from high school students to senior executives.

Since almost every industry and type of business has an opportunity to use data analytics, the class covers a wide range of areas from sports to healthcare to finance to social media. Examples include the Oakland Athletics (Moneyball), eHarmony, the 2012 presidential election, the Framingham Heart Study, Twitter, IBM Watson, and American Airlines. Those cases are used to illustrate different analytics methods such as linear regression, logistic regression, classification trees, clustering, visualization, optimization, and text analytics.

Each class will begin with the case of a specific organization or industry. We’ll set the stage for what is happening in the company or industry and why it needs analytics. Then, we’ll teach an analytics method using the real data, and we’ll close by telling students what actually happened. We work with real data to drive home how analytics can really give you an edge over competitors.

In the Moneyball case, we talk about how the Oakland Athletics in 2002 needed to pick baseball players, yet it couldn’t afford all-stars. So the team used regression analysis to predict which players would generate the most runs per game. By collecting the data on players and building models to analyze that data, the team was able to predict performance. As a result, it drafted players deemed less desirable by other teams – and thus more affordable – and the Oakland As ended up having a great season.

In the Twitter case, we talk about how text analytics can be used to better determine what the public thinks about a product, company or individual. As one of the top 10 most visited sites on the Internet, Twitter is used by celebrities, politicians, and organizations to connect with fans and customers. In this age of instant communication, being able to quickly react to changing sentiment creates an edge by enabling companies and individuals to better manage their public perception.

Data analytics is a huge trend that can benefit all types of businesses and organizations. To learn more about the MITx course and register, click here.

Allison O’Hair is a lecturer of operations research and statistics. The Analytics Edge is the first MIT Sloan course to be offered on the MITx platform. It will be co-taught by O’Hair and MIT Sloan Prof. Dimitris Bertsimas.

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