Marriott Alumni Magazine

Summer 2015

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Inside the Classroom BYU Takes on Big Data after a long day at work you come home, put up your feet, and dish out your daily complaints on Twitter. “I’m 138.2 percent sure that I need a new job. #workistheworst” Your complaints and others’ floating around the Web are having more of an impact than you think. Social-media chatter is key to research by MBA student Mike Cadena and his teammates, who are using Twitter data to rank companies in terms of employee experience. Through their analysis they hope to prove that engaged, happy employees can be just as essential to a company’s bottom line as effective marketing. “There are so many hidden nuggets of data that can improve profitability,” says Cadena, who hails from Cali, Colombia. “Data analytics is not only exciting but also necessary for a company to be competitive.” Cadena is part of a Marriott School program that gives second-year MBA students hands-on experience learning how to leverage the digital mountains of data that drive business. The program is still in its inaugural year, but, with an exciting lineup of projects and plans for expansion, it’s on its way to making BYU a hub for data analytics training. “There’s this emerging tech scene in Utah, and a lot of the jobs are data driven,” says Jeff Dotson, associate professor of marketing and global supply chain and founder of the program. “We want to make BYU the place to find talented employees.” As managers rely less on intuition and more on numbers to help them make decisions, they are seeking hires who know how to take data from the mining stages to cleaning, manipulating, and, finally, analyzing the numbers to make actionable recommendations. This year twenty-one students are learning how to navigate that process as they work on data-driven projects with companies such as Adobe, IBM, and Kohl’s. Venna Barrowes, an MBA student from Spanish Fork, Utah, is working on the Adobe project, creating a ranking of potential customers based on how likely they are to make a purchase. “Our project will save the company time because, out of the thousands of sales leads they get, the sales people will be able to focus only on the highest priorities,” she says. “And ultimately the amount of sales that they close will increase.” Dotson hopes that this first round of projects will inspire an increasing number of companies to form partnerships with the school, allowing both sides to benefit. In the meantime, some teams are building databases and systems that could prove useful for a variety of corporations. For example, Tori Dumke, an MBA student from Salt Lake City, and her teammates are making their own customer-dissatisfaction scale based on tweets about airline companies. “Right now companies understand that social media exists, but we want to show that negative consumer comments actually affect their bottom line,” Dumke says. “It will also be fun to see how the airlines all stack up against each other.” Dumke and her fellow students aren’t the only ones excited to see how their projects turn out. Forbes magazine is set to write about Cadena and his teammates’ findings on employee engagement and satisfaction this summer. Now that’s something to tweet about. —Angela Marler By tackling real-world tech projects, MBAs are helping companies translate data into actionable solutions. “There are so many hidden nuggets of data that can improve profitability. Data analytics is not only exciting, but it’s also necessary for a company to be competitive.” —Mike Cadena

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