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Monday, August 16, 2010 - Knowledge is power -- for businesses and prospective employees

Technology makes it easy for companies to gather research and create enormous databases. Sounds impressive, but storing scads of information generates questions. Business leaders ask  now what?


In fact, business intelligence (BI) topped the list of technology spending priorities for companies in 2009 according to a Gartner survey. Coupled with the Forrester Research prediction that the BI market will generate more than $12 billion in revenue in 2014 compared to $8.5 billion in 2008, the interest in BI is increasing rapidly.


The need for people skilled in gathering and analyzing the data is growing as well.


A new certificate program offered by OU’s SBA -- in partnership with Altair Engineering Inc. -- offers answers, and practical, marketable skills in data mining and business intelligence. The acquired skill set is useful in multiple industries, including emerging sectors such as health care, defense, and information technology.


A growing field


A myriad of companies nationwide are already realizing the benefits of BI. It’s expected many more will follow suit.


In the credit card industry, which is estimated to lose an astonishing $395 billion over the next five years according to a May 2009 New York Times article, companies are relying more and more on data mining and psychology that will allow them to predict which customers will pay and which are high-risk.


From large companies like chain restaurants and cruise lines to smaller businesses such as wholesalers and everything in between, CEOs and CIOs are interested in BI.


“What we know is that businesses are working faster and smarter than ever to remain competitive,” says Lori Crose, director, operations and development, SBA Professional Education. “This means that individuals must continually retool themselves to be a valuable asset. This certificate equips the student with knowledge they can turn into power – for themselves and the businesses for which they work.”


Gaining skills and experience


Nearly two years ago, the educational division of Altair Engineering, Inc., an international software development company headquartered in Troy, Mich., and SBA’s Professional Education department began exploring unique ways to assist highly educated and experienced professionals upgrade and modernize their knowledge and skills to help them more effectively compete in the job market. Incorporating an avenue to allow students to apply their newly learned skills combined with the opportunity to network in their field became critical pieces of the final program.


The result is the SBA certificate program which provides 60 hours of classroom instruction from OU faculty and Altair staff, including theory, case studies and how to use the BI software HiQube. The program also requires a 100-hour, on-site internship, allowing students to apply their skills while making professional contacts and gain references.


"Global economic competition has increased the demand on businesses to work smarter and faster by combining the critical skills of data mining and business intelligence,” says David Schmueser, university business development manager for Altair. “Through our partnership with Oakland University, the training with Altair’s HiQube BI software and subsequent internship experience gives the students invaluable knowledge to address real-world technical business challenges.”

“By the end of the program, students will know how to turn research into a valuable resource,” says Charbel Saleh, an Altair employee and co-instructor. “They’ll have the necessary knowledge and tools to sort, analyze and identify emerging trends, which a company can use to profit in a cost-effective, time- and resource-efficient manner.“


The BI internship component plays a crucial role in helping business and the intern connect to benefit both. BI interns help businesses use either their own collected data or data available externally to more accurately develop a strategic plan and assist in decision making. The businesses help the interns apply their new skills and connect professionally to add value to the bottom line.


Supporting economic development


That’s good news for students, businesses and, ultimately, the economy. In fact, this approach directly addresses one of the challenges President Barack Obama identified during his stop at Macomb Community College in July 2009. It’s an example of putting colleges and employers together, matching curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom to bolster the economy.


The program is a first for OU and, quite possibly, the first of its kind on any college campus.


“OU stood out as leader in this area,” says Chris Elkins (CAS ‘86, SBA Accounting/Finance ‘96), a student in the course. He researched numerous colleges and discovered no one offered anything like it.


“The fact I’m earning certification through this program -- and not merely taking a class -- gives it credibility. The internship proves to potential employers that I can put my knowledge into practice.”

One of the first students to enroll in the SBA's new certificate program in Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Mining, Rob Saunders, SBA '83, is already seeing the program's value. Saunders landed a new job as Senior Director of Advancement Services at the Illinois Institute of Technology before he even completed the program. Read his story here.



Classes for the next Data Mining/Business Intelligence certificate program begin Thursday, Nov. 4. For more information or to register, call (248) 370-3177 or visit and select “Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Mining /Altair Certificate” from the Professional Development drop down menu.

Kathy Pomaville Pate contributed to this article