New center to study big data

Weiguo Fan and Terry Rakes
Terry Rakes and Weiguo (Patrick) Fan

The college has launched a new center to support research, teaching, and outreach to the business community in business intelligence and analytics.

The Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics is led by accounting and information systems professor Weiguo (Patrick) Fan, who serves as director, and business information technology professor Terry Rakes, who serves as associate director.

The center, Fan said, will be an interdisciplinary resource in the growing field of “big data” — a range of activities connected to data-intensive decision making.

“In business, systematic analysis — both quantitative and qualitative — of vast collections of data for planning and decision making has assumed a central place in management.”

Improving business performance

Business analytics, he said, brings together both information technology tools and business concepts and theory to improve business performance.

Distinguishing the center’s two areas of focus, Rakes said business intelligence activities first ask the question, “What happened?” Its techniques and technologies turn raw data into useful information for decision making. They include data warehousing and datamarts, text mining, spatial data analysis, sentiment analysis, and descriptive and inferential statistics.

In contrast, he said, business analytics asks “Why did it happen?” and “How can we make it better?” Its activities focus on gaining new insights of business performance. They comprise predictive analytics (statistics, forecasting, artificial intelligence, and machine learning), decision analytics (optimization and heuristics), and descriptive, operational, strategic, and visual analytics.

Goals and vision

The center has four immediate goals:

  • Develop an interdepartmental minor in business intelligence and analytics that would be available to all Pamplin students and enhance the offerings in analytics to master’s and Ph.D. students
  • Provide financial and data resources to Pamplin faculty pursuing research in areas related to business analytics
  • Build cooperative research relationships with groups, including other academic units on campus, engaged in big data research
  • Work with business, nonprofit, and government organizations to develop service learning, case competitions, certification programs, and other experiential opportunities for business students in areas related to business analytics

The center’s long-term objectives, Rakes said, are to expand Pamplin faculty participation in sponsored research related to business intelligence and analytics, particularly by interdisciplinary project teams, and to establish an industry advisory board that can lead to enhanced financial support for the center, internships and employment opportunities for students, and research sponsorships for faculty.

Joining the center as founding sponsor is Deloitte, which will also serve on the center's advisory board. Through its Deloitte Analytics program, Deloitte will work directly with the center to further its long-term objectives. Additional sponsors are expected to join over time.

Faculty engagement

Pamplin faculty, Fan said, have expertise and interests in a range of relevant application domains, including business strategy, finance, health care, marketing, quality management, revenue management, risk and compliance, social media, and supply chains.

A workshop that he and Rakes organized last fall to introduce the center to college faculty and staff included research presentations from faculty representing each of Pamplin’s six departments: accounting and information systems, business information technology, finance, hospitality and tourism management, management, and marketing.

“The workshop drew more than 80 participants,” Rakes said, “providing a clear signal of the interest level in analytics among our faculty, staff, and administrators.”

The center will not have any office space initially and will operate out of the offices of Fan and Rakes.

For more information about the center, please contact Patrick Fan or Terry Rakes.

Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The college is seeking a director for another new center it has established, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center seeks to educate students about entrepreneurship and involve them in entrepreneurship activities.

Its initial focus will include teaching courses related to entrepreneurship and managing curricular programs, including the college’s entrepreneurship minor and the university’s “Innovate” living-learning community.

The center also aims to serve as a resource for outreach to the business community and support faculty research related to entrepreneurship, technology commercialization, and new venture formation and growth. For more information about this center, please contact Kent Nakamoto, associate dean for research.

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 2014

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