In a world of big data, cognitive computing is the latest advance in analytics tools. Undergraduates at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business are working with this emerging technology across their core courses and developing familiarity with the next generation of tools to use data to solve problems and improve products.

A college partnership has brought access to IBM’s Watson technology. Watson understands natural human language, generates hypotheses and evaluates them based on evidence in the data it is fed, and adapts and learns based on users’ selections and responses. This last feature is the inspiration for the name “cognitive computing.”

“Our collaboration with IBM creates opportunities for our students to develop a rich understanding of the latest business analytics tools, apply what they learn in the classroom to solve significant business problems, and prepare themselves to hit the ground running when they begin their careers,” said Stefanie Lenway, Eli and Edythe L. Broad Dean.

Broad’s undergraduate core courses incorporate a Watson case component to demonstrate how the technology can improve understanding in all functional areas.

In Business Information Systems and Technology, a key objective is for students to learn to use IBM COGNOS Insight software, which is now available in all of MSU’s PC computer labs. A guest speaker from IBM provides a rich background on the tool, students participate in in-class practice challenges, and then they use the software individually and in teams to craft course projects.

The supply chain management core course includes a discussion of how Watson’s capabilities can be used to enhance supply chain decisions and the implications this technology has for a supply chain.

Students in the marketing core spend a semester analyzing IBM Watson strategy and developing recommendations tied to each marketing concept and lecture. Students make presentations outlining their suggestions, and the students with the best advice are given the opportunity to present their ideas to the class and IBM executives.

The senior capstone course likewise will include an integrative Watson case to help students expand their experience with using this tool for real-world business and gain a better understanding of cognitive computing technology and its integrative potential.

As the Broad College continues to create opportunities for students to develop their cognitive computing understanding and skills, more initiatives are expected, such as a Watson case competition.