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Keeping Up with “Big Data”: Syms Debuts New Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics Major

Last semester, Sy Syms’ Dean Moses Pava announced that among broader curriculum changes, the Information and Decision Sciences (IDS) major would be replaced by a new major, Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics. “At some point students lost interest in the major and the jobs changed,” said Dr. Avi Giloni, Associate Dean of Sy Syms and Chair of the IDS Department, explaining why the major was replaced. The nature of business is rapidly changing; organizations, both public and private, have started relying more heavily on data to make key decisions. The new major is a joint effort of the Marketing Department and the IDS department, and is designed to teach core competencies from both fields. IDS majors who desire to finish their major are allowed to, but according to Dr. Giloni most have switched.

​“Students should be excited about (the new major), because we are. This really is as cutting edge as we are going to get right now,” Dr. Giloni said. Dr. Giloni developed the major in tandem with Dr. Tamar Avnet, Chair of Marketing and Management. Dr. Giloni said that the vision for the major came from his “experience with various firms and knowing what the firms’ needs are and the types of skills they are looking for.” More than ever, companies are trying to sort through data in an effort to refine their target customer base, track market trends and provide a better consumer experience. Students are now being offered the opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary to jump in to one of the hottest new fields.  Dr. Avnet said, “a lot of the entry level marketing jobs that are out there require some sort of data analysis.” Dr. Avnet noted that she spoke with the Career Center to get an idea of exactly what jobs were out there for students with this skill set. Dr. Avnet went on to say that there are very few undergraduate programs similar to the Business Intelligence major, but there are a variety of graduate level programs. Developing this skillset at the undergraduate level will make graduates of the Sy Syms School of Business that much more attractive to prospective employers.“I think it’s very positive ... I would like to do it if I had the opportunity,” Dr. Giloni said referencing the direction Syms has taken with the Business Analytics and Marketing major.

​ "More than ever, companies are trying to sort through data in an effort to refine their target customer base, track market trends and provide a better consumer experience."

​When asked about staff changes for the new major, both Dr. Avnet and Dr. Giloni used the opportunity to praise their staff and highlight their research and expertise, and suggested that staff changes were unlikely. Dr. Avnet pointed out that all of the marketing faculty does research in consumer behavior which includes social media, and that Dr. Steven Chan, who is teaching the new social media course is an expert in the field. Dr. Chan has been in touch with a few businesses to help provide the students with real life data and practical examples. “There’s nobody in this field, in statistics...who is not familiar or up to date with the trend of big data…The skills that they already have are very much necessary,” said Dr. Giloni, of the IDS staff. Dr. Avnet also said that because the marketing and IDS departments are very strong, the major provided an opportunity for the University to play to its strengths. Both Dr.Giloni and Dr. Avnet stressed the fact that because Syms is a smaller school, it is much easier for departments to come together and create new majors and courses. Dr. Avnet added that the marketing department was working with YC’s psychology department to create an organizational behavior course, to be launched this spring.

​A strategy to promote the new major to current and potential students is in the works. The Sy Syms School of Business is designing a brochure for the major, which is expected to be ready in time for the open houses, when prospective students can visit the campuses. Dr. Giloni said that all students enter college thinking about big data, even if they do not want to work in it. Dr. Giloni went on to say that “we have bright and motivated students here” and that this major will allow them to pursue a master’s degree. Dr. Avnet noted that she actively recommends the new major to students interested in any field requiring data competency.

Regarding how to judge the success rate of the major, Dr. Giloni said the most important metric to determine success is what kind of jobs students get, and that it will be a few years before it could be judged. Dr. Avnet said that the primary short-term metric to look for is how the major affects levels of enrollment. Dr. Avnet, as a true marketing professional, said that word of mouth is the best measure and that the University will look for higher enrollment in coming semesters. When I asked Dr. Giloni what he sees as the growth potential for the major, he said that as a statistician, he did not believe there was enough data to predict that, and advised me to ask him again in six months.