RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Saint Joseph's University Takes Business Intelligence Education Online

If you're looking for flexibility and convenience, Saint Joseph's online MSBI program might be for you. Better get those GMAT scores ready, however.

The surest indication that a technology has gone mainstream is the introduction of certifications. Beginning in the mid-1990s, networking and operating systems specialists with CNAs, MCSEs, and CCIEs were in great demand. The same may now be happening in the business intelligence (BI) sector.

The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), for example, offers a Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) certification that addresses no less than five specialty areas (leadership and management; business analytics; data analysis and design; data integration; and administration and technology). A host of companies also promote vendor-specific BI certifications: Microsoft Corp., for example, touts its Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Business Intelligence Developer certification; Business Objects (an SAP company), Cognos (an IBM Corp. company), and the former Hyperion Solutions (now Oracle), SAS Institute Inc. and others promote BI certification programs.

If you'd prefer an advanced BI degree, you now have a new (and flexible) option. Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia first launched its Master of Science in Business Intelligence (MSBI) program three years ago. Earlier this month, it launched an online version of the same program. While the brick-and-mortar version of the MSBI program requires an on-campus presence, that's not required for its online program, which lets students complete all coursework online.

Saint Joseph's new MSBI program is a savvy and forward-looking move. According to Richard Herschel, chair of the Business Intelligence program for Saint Joseph's Haub School of Business, MBA programs have become tremendously competitive, and there's considerable pressure on schools to differentiate.

"The vanilla MBA is very tough in terms of growing enrollment; these more-focused programs (whether it's an MS or an MBA with a concentration), these targeted masters degrees are growing exponentially where MBA growth is really flat nationwide," Herschel told BI This Week.

What can you expect in the online MSBI program? Saint Joseph's effort is patterned after its existing brick-and-mortal program -- with a few key differences. Course schedules are generally compressed: Saint Joseph's offers courses three different times a year, so a student can take up to six eight-week courses annually. Most courses will have reading materials (assigned and supplementary), just like any other course, but there are also the requisite online materials as well as Web forums and other collaborative requirements.

Acceptance into the program is as competitive as acceptance into Saint Joseph's "regular" graduate program: students must furnish the requisite GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. (In some cases, Saint Joseph's may be willing to waive the GMAT requirement if a student already has a graduate degree from an accredited institution or other applicable experience, Herschel says.)

"There's no requirement for team work, and no necessary collaboration -- although we encourage discussion, [where students can] discuss relevant topics with their classmates and the faculty. We use [an academic software package called] Blackboard and discussion boards. The assignments will be relatively straightforward: read this, go through this exercise, post your comments," Herschel explains.

For its online MSBI course, he says, Saint Joseph's wants to be flexible, but students must consciously weigh their ability to complete a course in the time period prescribed: "The whole program is designed to be asynchronous, so if you're in Ireland, or wherever, you can work and complete the program according to your schedule. However, the courses are fixed within eight weeks, [so] you have to consciously decide, 'Can I do this?'"

Saint Joseph's and its Haub School of Business aren't the only academic institutions that have awakened to the need. Several universities offer BI-related programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels -- including the University of Alabama, the University of Denver, and the University of Georgia. SAS Institute Inc., in partnership with the UK's Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), sponsors a Masters of Science in Business Intelligence program. Students who successfully complete that program earn both a Masters of Science degree and SAS certification.

According to Herschel, the MSBI program emphasizes the development of quantitative and analytical skills.

"A lot of times you have IT people who don't have the quantitative method skills. This is about stat skills. Other times, you'll have people with good quantitative skills that don't have the technology skills," Herschel explains. "We're really interested in people who understand that the nature of their job is going to be to analyze and assess data and to make sense of it. We're not industry-specific at all. We think [analysis] is an important skill across any business discipline."

These are precisely the sorts of skills that aren't developed at the undergraduate level, he maintains. "I think the issue is how much can you learn about quantitative skills as an undergraduate? The requirement for BI is to meld technology savvy-ness with quantitative assessment skills, and also to have a level of maturity where you can take those two components and put them in a cultural context.

"You don't want to be a Don Quixote; you have to take into account what your organization values and how they make decisions," he points out. "If I taught an undergrad about databases, and data mining, and quantitative skills, a typical undergrad would just [rely on the technology] they had at their hands and say, 'There's your answer.'

"We're sensitive to how the technology is changing, how the literacy of our audience is changing, and how the capabilities of assessment are moving as well. In other words, the tools themselves are just tools -- but to make sense of what they're telling me is the art."For more information about the online program, visit http://online.sju.edu/programs/business-intelligence-masters.asp.

About the Author


Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at evets@alwaysbedisrupting.com.

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