Making sense of big data

London Business School students take to the challenge


Students have had their strategic management skills put to the test in an innovative challenge to devise novel ways to exploit the swelling streams of data generated within their companies – known as ‘big data’.

The challenge is part of London Business School’s Executive MBA and Global Executive MBA programmes’ curriculum, and takes place in London, Dubai, and New York (in partnership with Columbia Business School). The London leg of the challenge was held at London Business School on 23 March.

Students drew from their experience in industry to consider how data generated across operations, customer interactions and sales, technology and scientific development could be harnessed and exploited in specific data projects.

Kevin Boudreau, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, who is responsible for teaching the course and organising the sessions, explains: “Big data has the potential to radically alter the ways business is done. It is an opportunity that could be as big as the internet itself. In every industry and in every transaction, we collect much more data than we used to. But the opportunity is no longer about collecting the data; it’s about using these technologies to innovate the way a company carries out its business and solves important problems for its customers.”

In addition to exchanging ideas with classmates from diverse industries and countries around the world, the students presented their projects to an expert panel comprising a mix of senior business leaders and data and analytics experts.

Rhian Woods, CEO, M&C Saatchi MILK and panel expert, says: The ability to understand and interpret big data will be crucial to career success, particularly in marketing, where the pressure is on to connect the two worlds of commercial intelligence and customer insight, ensuring that business goals and customer objectives are working hand in hand.

“London Business School’s innovative challenge is a great way to prepare students for the realities of thinking laterally about big data and beyond the science. This is about having an understanding of analytical techniques along with the ability to plan conceptually, to interpret the code for the bigger pictures you can draw from it”

The combination of presenting projects, subsequent discussion with panellists and the dozens of executive students in the class, is designed to enable learning in tangible areas in which these technologies can be concretely deployed immediately.

Ragu Bharadwaj, Chief Operating Officer, Babbage Analytics & Innovation, said: “I was heartened to find that this new generation of managers is going to be up to the problem.”

Dr Boudreau concludes: “Managing the disruption – choosing whether to invest and how – will be one of the major challenges facing this generation of managers. Big data has the potential to change the way companies compete and to affect competitive advantage. Bringing big data into the core curriculum keeps our students ahead of this curve. ”

Panel participants included:

  • Francine Bennett, CEO, Mastadon C

  • Dr Ragu Bharadwaj, COO, Babbage Analytics & Innovation

  • Ray Eitel-Porter, Head of Analytics UK & Ireland, Accenture

  • Madhuban Kumar CEO, !80kb Limited

  • Heather Savory, Independent Chair for the Open Data User Group, UK Government

  • Simon Schneider Head of Europe, Innocentive

  • Rhian Woods CEO, M&C Saatchi MILK