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Monday, August 16, 2010 - Data analytics certificate strengthens SBA alumni experience, credentials

As 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.


The BI certificate complements Saunders' strong credentials, which includes earning his bachelor's degree in Finance from the SBA, and positions in finance at two hospitals and a major CPA firm,  finance and information services at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, and for the past 11 years, director, development information services at OU's University Relations department.

"The interviewers at IIT were further impressed when I mentioned the BI course I was enrolled in through the SBA's professional education program," Saunders says.


"The course will absolutely help," says Saunders. "Part of my responsibility is data analytics. In the BI class we've gone through a number of different examples of data sets and looked at developing models to predict results of what people will do based on the information we have."


Business intelligence is a key decision making tool for companies, helping managers make qualitative based decisions. The certificate course focuses on how a business analyzes and uses the vast amount of data it collects through information technology, which aligns perfectly with Saunders' new responsibilities.


 In his new position, he will support the fundraising office with technical and financial expertise including managing the database of alumni and other donor records, gift accounting, prospect research, reporting and analysis.

"The economy and the greater amount of data is forcing us and allowing us to learn more about our donors and applying that knowledge to predict who our donors could be in the future," he says. "We have many pieces of data such as marital status, race, zip code, job title, age, or membership in a gift society and membership in affinity groups or activities while in school, and we want to keep this data as up-to-date as possible."

The post-baccalaureate non-credit certificate program consisted of 60-hour theory overview, plus a 100-hour project with a partner.


"Our partner project is looking at how to take the data you have and creating drill-down dashboards, where you can see where the money came in, by which colleges, by individuals versus corporations," he says. "The interesting part is being able to drill down on reports, instead of once a month, but every day. You could log in every morning and see how fundraising changed overnight, student retention, or ACT scores. There's just so much data that BI can be used for."


The BI/Data Mining certificate course, which is based on statistics, is a good complement to his finance degree. "It sure brings into focus that in creating predictive models you need good data, and you need to clean your data to make sure you don't have missing data. Once it's clean, you can create your models to predict results.


"The course was invaluable to me," he says. "Learning about data mining is like learning about gold mining because it teaches you how to sift through information to find nuggets of extreme value."


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.

By Dawn Pauli