University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Getting Past the Math En Route to Applied Business Analytics

Applied business analytics

June 12, 2020 | By Stephen Caldwell

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The list of career options in the “not for me category” is extremely long, and it pretty much includes anything with the word “analytics” in the job title, job description or educational qualifications.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I listened to a podcast about a master’s of science degree in applied business analytics and thought, “Hmm, that sounds interesting.”

There are some aspects of analytics that have always intrigued me. For instance, I really enjoying figuring out how to make work processes more efficient. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit lazy, but I like to devise the simplest, quickest way to get something done.

Is Math Your Forte?

Math, on the other hand, has never been my forte. I don’t hate math, but it doesn’t seem to care much for me. It’s a little embarrassing to have to take my shoes and socks off to use some extra digits when solving an equation, so I have literally praised God for the invention of the calculator.

After taking, and passing, geometry, calculus and trigonometry in high school, I was elated to learn that my journalism degree in college required only a few basic math classes. Even my minor in business didn’t require any high-level math.

I learned enough to figure out most of the basic math I need to run my business and my personal life, and I ask Google for help with the rest (especially deciphering fractions when I’m cooking and I need to halve something like one-and-a-third tablespoons of canola oil).

But an advanced degree in applied business analytics sounds like it was made for people who use Mersenne primes to count sheep, dream of knot theory and eat binomial coefficients for breakfast.

It’s Really Storytelling

Turns out, it’s really all about storytelling. And I love telling stories.

This degree won’t prepare you to write a novel, of course, but apparently it will help you make sense of things that are happening in the world and share that knowledge in ways that other people can understand it and use it.

The world is overflowing these days with information. There’s so much data, in fact, that the common spreadsheet can’t keep up with it.

All of that data flows like lava from a volcano and covers the businesses that need the heat and energy but don’t want to get encrusted in ash like the ancients at Pompeii. Students who earn this master’s degree learn how to sift through that data, find the meaningful stories and apply them to their businesses.

This is different from, say, economic analytics, which does require some high-level math, not to mention more economic theory. Applied business analytics, as University of Arkansas business professor Paul Cronan put it, is more like “data wrangling” where you bring all that information together, get it into a form that can be understood by others and then put it to work by building models, forecasting, predicting and assessing.

The degree path actually attracts practitioners from a variety of disciplines who want to use visualization and storytelling to make use of data in fields like government, healthcare, public service, medicine, criminal justice or even art or journalism.

“There’s really a lot of art there," Cronan said.

Work in Teams

In fact, professor Rajiv Sabherwal points out that students in the program at the Sam M. Walton College of Business work together in teams that typically are very diverse – a team, for instance, might have students with undergraduate degrees in fine arts, psychology major, information systems major and sociology.

“Those teams work phenomenally,” he said, “because they all learn from each other and they see the different perspectives.”

There is, of course, some base-level math involved, and Cronan said it helps to have an interest in and a knack for working with numbers. But, thankfully, there are calculators involved.

No one has to take off their shoes to crunch this data and share its story.

Post Author:

Matt WallerStephen Caldwell is Chief Word Architect for WordBuilders, Inc., where he spends most of his time helping clients discover, craft, and share the messages of their hearts. In addition to writing and editing for newspapers, magazines, and on numerous book projects, he has developed leadership and functional training for Fortune 500 companies. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.