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Executive Education Director Speaks to NC State’s Data Analytics Opportunities for Organizations

NC State Executive Education’s Executive Director, Dan McGurrin, PhD, recently joined a panel of data analytics experts from local universities at the Triangle Area Analytics Group (TAAG) Data Analytics meeting to discuss NC State’s data science and data analytics capabilities and opportunities for professional organizations.

According to McGurrin, NC State Executive Education has refined their custom program development process through the wealth of resources available across NC State’s campus, and their long-term partnerships with companies like Cisco, with whom they have had over 1,000 graduates come through their custom-built program series, and Infosys, with whom they recently entered a three-year partnership to develop the company’s data science community. “When we put together a solution for a client, it’s pulling faculty from computer science, from statistics, from the college of management — so we have all those different perspectives, and can speak directly to the organization’s challenges,” he said. “With a number of our clients, not only are we training the professionals on data science skills, we’re also training the leaders on understanding, ‘what is an effective data science project?’ How do you define what one is? How do you manage that relationship? [There has to be] an engaged conversation between the professional business unit and the technical folks who are going to run the project on an ongoing basis.”

“One of the things we’ve learned in our partnership with Cisco is, some of the online providers — they provide great content — but they don’t always provide a great experience in terms of applying that to a real project,” McGurrin said. “So at the end of the program, they may understand the tools, but they may not know how to apply those to a real challenge. So all of our courses are real-time, heavily applied, and a lot of the work is in their organization in applying those tools to a real project.”

McGurrin pointed out that one of the biggest challenges facing organizations from a data analytics standpoint is the process of capturing front-end data. “For probably 70% of [our] data science projects, the answer that goes back to the client is, ‘You’re not collecting enough data for us to provide that algorithm,’” he said. “If it’s nothing else [students] take away from our courses, it’s an understanding that every organization needs to do a better job of their front end data capture and management.”

Later this year, NC State Executive Education plans to roll out a new offering of open programs to compliment their custom program development capabilities, which McGurrin said will address an existing gap in the market that’s currently leaving professionals with minimal development options for data science and other technical fields. “If you’re a professional already out there with some of these skills, and all you want to [know] is, “What’s the latest in modeling?”, “What’s the latest in applications?”, [or] “What are the latest visualization tools?” —  you don’t see as much quality development programming in [those specific areas]. So that’s the thing that we’re going to launch this fall…some open courses on specific topic areas. Because [if] you already have some of those, you don’t need to go to a complete degree program.”

Other Data Solutions Available at NC State

In addition to the opportunities available through NC State Executive Education, McGurrin also described a variety of additional data analytics resources that organizations can leverage across NC State’s campus. Most notably, he pointed out the benefits of working with student teams through the NC State Institute for Advanced Analytics to find impactful solutions for minimal investment. “We have at least five to six different groups around campus offering different types of data analytics, data science — all involved in projects — we do over 100 projects every year,” he said of the university. “But depending on the school you go to, you’re going to get a very different kind of experience. If you go to the college of management, you’re going there because you want someone who really understands the business problem and can identify some analytic tools and algorithms that can be built to support whatever it is you’re driving. If you want someone to really build a highly-technical solution, yes, you’re going to go to either the computer science department, the Institute for Advanced Analytics: one of the programs that provides a heavier dose of the technical know-how and a deeper look at some of the advanced analytics skills.

How to Approach Data Analytics and Data Science

McGurrin also offered some general advice on implementing data science and data analytics frameworks within organizations:

“If you’re just now looking at data science as something your organization is going to do or expand, I think one of the biggest challenges today continues to be how data scientists are being organized,” he said. “Is it a community that’s supportive of each other? Are they in individual business units and having to work with folks who don’t understand what they have to offer? Make an effort to understand how your organization is going to invest in data science, because you all know that it’s really hard to recruit, and it’s even harder to retain them unless you’ve created an environment where they’re feeling supported and valued.”

On the importance of organizations making long-term investments in their employees’ professional development, McGurrin said, “If all you do is offer one data science course, [all] you’ve [done is provide] a huge improvement to your employees marketability on the general market. Because we’re all ready to steal them whenever we can possibly do so. Provide the next level course, and the next level opportunity, so they want to stay there and they see that you’re investing in them in your organization.”

McGurrin was joined on the panel — hosted by RTI International in Raleigh’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) —  by Manju Shah, PhD, Lead Instructor of Business Analytics at Wake Technical Community College; Haya Ajjan, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Elon Center for Organizational Analytics at Elon University; and Jeremy Petranka, PhD, Assistant Dean, Master of Management Studies (MMS) & Master of Quantitative Management (MQM) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, who each shared their own perspectives on data analytics and the capabilities of their respective institutions.

The panel was moderated by Harold Zeishner, Senior Business Development Manager, Alliance of Professionals & Consultants, Inc. (APC).

To see the video of the entire two-hour panel and hear from all of the panelists, click here.