With a flood of information rushing in to the business, companies are increasingly demanding workers who can analyse the data and make insights and predictions. However, finding a properly trained person for the job can be a difficult challenge.\nDeakin University has announced plans to fill the skills gap with Australia\u2019s first big data postgraduate program, supported by IBM, SAS and Microsoft. \u201cIt\u2019s not a clich? \u2013 we do live in an information age,\u201d says Dineli Mather, head of Deakin University\u2019s School of Information Systems.\n\u201cThere\u2019s so much information being captured and used day to day,\u201d she says. \u201cWith business organisations, that information they can store is massive, but there has to be a strategy behind it. What information do we capture, how do we capture it, and very importantly, how do we then use it to get a better business outcome and competitive advantage?\u201d\nCMO.com.au feature: How predictive analytics is tackling customer attrition at American Express\nIn October, Deakin and IBM launched a Centre for Excellence in Business Analytics. The centre is based at the Deakin\u2019s Melbourne campus.\nStarting in March, Deakin\u2019s School of Information Systems will offer a business analytics major within the Master of Information Systems, MBA and Master of Commerce.\nIn addition, the school is developing a full Master\u2019s degree in business analytics for offer from July 2013. Mather expects to enrol 60 to 80 students in the first group for the 18-month program. She also predicts many students from other degrees will take analytics as an elective or specialisation.\nThe Deakin program will allow students to specialise further in the specific sector they want to apply their knowledge, including health, finance and economics, Mather says. IBM meanwhile plans to offer business analytics certification through the centre.\n\u201cEven the smallest businesses are interested in analytics,\u201d Mather says. \u201cIf they can use analytics, they can actually target their marketing more carefully and it becomes a lot more cost effective to run their business.\u201d\nDeveloping the program\nDeakin\u2019s School of Information Systems had focused on information systems and management, but the university was finding shrinking interest in the program from students, Mather says. At the same time, it had become evident that businesses were increasingly hiring graduates with a different skillset altogether.\n\u201cWhat was clear was that business had moved into business analytics five or six years ago, but universities hadn\u2019t really kept up with it and created the kind of graduate that business was looking for. At the start of the year, we couldn\u2019t even find more than half a dozen courses globally that were offering business analytics.\u201d\nUse of analytics to decipher big data has been growing exponentially in the last five years, says Mather. \u201cBut awareness of the power of business analytics has really reached a peak over the last couple of years and the technological advances and the software tools that are available now allow people to do analytics very easily.\u201d\nDeakin had already been using an IBM business intelligence tool, Cognos, in some of its courses, so the university reached out to the vendor to discuss how to expand the course into an entire program in business analytics.\nMather says the university\u2019s collaboration with industry makes its coursework unique among analytics programs in Australia. \u201cWe did interviews with all of the companies who are having major analytics practices,\u201d including IBM, Microsoft and top consulting firms, and asked what skills they are actually using and what type of people they want to recruit.\n\u201cWhat we found was that there were essentially two roles that people could have in business analytics. One was traditional pure analytics,\u201d including quantitative analysis and text mining, she says. \u201cBut the bigger range roles were for a more generalist\u201d who could understand how information is captured, stored, governed and kept secure; how to draw insights from the information; and how to link those insights to business strategy.\n\u201cOur course is going to be unique in that it is the first business analytics course to have that full spectrum.\u201d Yale and New York University are developing similar programs in the US, but Deakin will have the first in Australia, says Mather. Macquarie University and the University of Sydney have some courses, but do not offer full Master\u2019s programs.\nInvolving business\n\u201cWe want the students to walk off with two things,\u201d says Mather: \u201cThe academic foundations and theoretical skills, but also the practical outcomes so they can hit the ground running when they go out there\u201d into the business world.\nAbout six to eight Deakin staff will teach the program. However, a third of each subject will be delivered by business practitioners, Mather says. \u201cFor example, we have a predictive analytics unit that will use SAS and we\u2019ve already met with SAS and are discussing how we use the SAS tool but also how we can involve people from [the company] to teach part of the program.\u201d The school will similarly involve officials from IBM and Microsoft, she says.\n\u201cIt\u2019s more than guest lectures,\u201d she says. \u201cThe guest lecture process relies on people\u2019s goodwill. We are actually doing it more as a strategic partnership.\u201d With IBM, \u201cin exchange for their delivering a third of the unit and getting involved in course design, we will contribute more money into their certification programs\u201d.\nIt\u2019s \u201cabsolutely compulsory\u201d to involve real businesses in the program, Mather says. \u201cIt\u2019s one of those discipline areas where it\u2019s all about practice. The theoretical foundations on their own don\u2019t really prepare you for the work.\u201d\nWith input from business, Mather expects course material will change over time. \u201cIt\u2019s a very young discipline and very much an evolving discipline.\u201d\nStudents coming into the Master\u2019s program are expected to have some business experience, though the school will offer a foundations program for those who do not, Mather says. Most of the people who have inquired about the courses so far have three to five years of work experience but \u201cwant to move into this field,\u201d she says. \u201cThat\u2019s our ideal target.\u201d\nVendor collaboration\nIBM has worked with universities around the world as part of an education initiative, but the collaboration with Deakin is a \u201ccloser engagement\u201d than it\u2019s had in the past, says Mike McKee, IBM business analytics regional manager for Australia and New Zealand. \u201cWe see it as an exciting next step in terms of our relationship with the tertiary institutions.\u201d\nThe company will provide its business analytics software Cognos BI and teach students how to \u201cuse it in a business and practical sense,\u201d McKee says. IBM plans to provide speakers, conduct workshops and coordinate with the school on special projects involving real IBM clients, he says.\nIt will also help integrate its certification program into Deakin\u2019s offerings. IBM will \u201cwork with Deakin to ensure that the components of our certification program are incorporated in their teaching, so that at the end of it, part of the exam they may do\u201d is IBM\u2019s certification test, he says. Certifications to be offered by IBM at Deakin are: introduction to statistics; introduction to analytics; relational database fundamentals; and introduction to big data.\nBusiness analytics is one of IBM\u2019s top four focus areas, McKee says. \u201cWe are focused on that because we see a huge demand in the marketplace. We\u2019ve seen big data is growing and the requirement for business analytics is growing dramatically.\u201d\nIBM sees a key skill in \u201cgetting beyond just using structured data and using unstructured data ... in a more intelligent way\u201d to predict future outcomes.\nThe resources industry in Australia, in particular, has demand for big data analysts, McKee says. Those organisations may want to predict outages on large pieces of capital equipment so that they can perform maintenance before the problem occurs, he says.\nHowever, \u201cstudents are coming out of university often with good technical skills but not as well positioned in terms of the requirements of the marketplace\u201d.\n\u201cWe are very keen to see that the universities do produce graduates that are very skilled and have a business orientation when they come out of university.