Will I Learn About Data Analytics in an MBA Program?

Given the benefits of this data-driven approach in both business and entrepreneurship, there is significant demand for executives with the data analytics skills to understand and interpret data generated by various functional areas.   According to job market analysis firm Lightcast, there is a distinct misalignment between the number of job postings that require both an […]

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This blog post was originally published in September 2022, and was revised in July 2023.

Given the benefits of this data-driven approach in both business and entrepreneurship, there is significant demand for executives with the data analytics skills to understand and interpret data generated by various functional areas.

According to job market analysis firm Lightcast, there is a distinct misalignment between the number of job postings that require both an MBA and data analysis skills and the number of managers and executives with related expertise. This shortage of business leaders who are trained in data analytics raises questions. Do MBA programs typically teach data analytics skills? How can future executives learn them? It also hints at opportunities. Professionals with a solid education in management foundations and data analysis skills make very competitive job seekers for high-level executive and senior analyst positions.

The online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business teaches data analytics and other essential skills for future business leaders. The program is ideal for experienced professionals seeking a competitive executive education compatible with their busy schedules. Along with business leadership and experiential learning, business analytics is one of the foundational pillars at the Cox School of Business.

Is Data Analytics Part of the Classic MBA Curriculum?

There is no universal MBA curriculum. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an organization that evaluates and accredits business schools, does not have specific curriculum requirements. It recommends that MBA programs “include preparation for leading an organization, managing in a diverse global context, thinking creatively, making sound decisions and exercising good judgment under uncertainty, and integrating knowledge across fields.”

Traditional MBA courses make up a core curriculum of fundamental business management, including topics in financial accounting, marketing management, human resources, operations management, managerial accounting and microeconomics. Even though data analytics is critical for sound business decision-making, many programs lag behind the times. MBA Roundtable’s 2021 Curriculum Benchmarking Survey found that 61 percent of graduate business schools plan on updating their curriculum with analytics in the next five years, but those offerings aren’t ready for students now.

The Online MBA curriculum at SMU Cox is ahead of the curve on data analytics. It includes two core courses in foundational data analytics, and students can take elective courses in advanced topics in data analysis, including Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning.

Online MBA students at SMU Cox take Introduction to Data Analysis I in the first year. The course develops a fundamental understanding of data and its uses in business via hands-on instruction. Students tackle real-world business problems and identify the best analytics methods to reach actionable solutions. Later MBA coursework builds upon the fundamentals learned here.

In their second year, students take Data Analytics II. The course teaches modeling techniques for business analytics. Students build models addressing common use cases for analytics, including monitoring mutual funds, managing investment portfolios, benchmarking organizations and processing checks.

Experiential learning is one of the foundational pillars at SMU Cox, so students take their data analytics skills to in-person immersions at domestic and international business hubs. During immersions, students gain hands-on experience solving complex corporate challenges. They also hear from top executives on topics related to leadership and analytics.

Why Is Data Analytics Important in Business?

Many things are uncertain in business, but data analytics can help leaders navigate an uncertain future. “Statistics is really about taking a probability and assigning it to all kinds of things that happen around us and determining whether we can use that information and how we can use it to make decisions and plans that account for uncertainty,” explains SMU Cox faculty member Ed Fox

Businesses that leverage data analytics have distinct advantages over competitors that don’t. “Marketers need to harness big data by engaging in data driven-marketing (DDM),” writes one group of researchers. Another group states that big data analytics in business is “positively associated with decision-making quality.” 

Data-savvy leaders deploy analytics in many ways for business success. For example, they can analyze company operations for inefficiencies, identify bottlenecks in production and choose efficient pricing models. One everyday use case for data analytics is inventory management. Data-literate managers can look at past trends in inventory and customer behavior to hold the right amount of stock at any given time, saving money on supply chain costs.

Analytics also helps managers anticipate and mitigate risks. Historical data can help predict trends in physical risks, such as theft, lost inventory and workplace hazards. It can also help identify and prevent digital security threats. Reduced risk has a direct impact on profits for many companies. One study showed that “firms improve their profitability and reduce risks in profit returns directly after the operational use of BI systems.”

Data analytics can affect every aspect of a business, from long-term strategy to the individual customer experience. Executives who understand data and its applications can foresee future market trends long before they happen. Mid-level managers can learn from historical trends in customer behavior to customize retail and e-commerce experiences that deliver better sales.

MBA vs. MS In Business Analytics: Which Is Better for Me?

The online MBA program at SMU Cox is unique among business management programs for its emphasis on data analytics. However, business professionals can also develop data analysis skills by enrolling in a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program. MSBA programs deal almost exclusively with data analytics and its applications in business, while MBA programs cover more general management skills that graduates can apply in practically any business environment.

Professionals weighing the MSBA vs. the MBA degree should consider their career goals and what degree program would best serve them. Some common MSBA career paths include financial analysis, operations research analysis, marketing analysis and even data science. These are high-paying pathways for graduate degree-holders, but they have a more technical focus than the traditional career paths for MBA graduates.

If you are interested in senior and lead positions in data analytics, then an MSBA is the better choice. If you are interested in a managerial or executive career enhanced by data analytics, then an MBA program that teaches analytics skills is the better choice.

Why You Should Choose an MBA Program With Data Analytics in the Curriculum

Data analytics skills are essential for future managers and executives. Organizations that employ data-literate leaders have the edge over the competition, and leaders who develop these skills are more competitive in all job markets. Anyone considering an MBA should choose a masters program with data analytics learning opportunities in addition to other work that reinforces MBA core competencies.

Unlike the coursework in many other MBA programs, the SMU Cox Online MBA curriculum includes data analytics skills as part of the business management core. It prepares students to step into managerial and executive roles as data-literate leaders who can use analytics to deliver business success. In addition to data analytics, the program teaches essential competencies for aspiring executives that are common in top MBA programs. Students practice analytics and other skills in class, as part of project work and via in-person immersions, where they network with peers and top business minds. 

Online MBA students at SMU Cox receive a comprehensive business education without leaving their jobs the way full-time MBA students do. This highly-ranked Online MBA program delivers classes on weekday evenings with some optional Saturday morning sessions, accommodating the needs of busy professionals. Students don’t sacrifice rigor for flexibility, however. The program “takes into account the leadership and analytical skills future leaders need to be prepared within today’s fast-changing and global environment,” says class of ’21 alum Jawwad Baig.

The Online MBA at SMU Cox is a graduate degree program built for the future of business. The program’s focus on data analytics prepares students for leadership as Big Data, artificial intelligence and machine learning shape how people work and how business is done. Graduates can go to work right away in data-driven leadership roles or as senior analysts, and SMU Cox MBA graduates increase their salaries by 70 percent or more on average after completing their Online MBA degree.