Students in the master of science in business analytics (MSBA) program at the Broad College of Business gained real-world experience through an experiential project with GM and IBM this past spring. Over the course of 12 weeks, students analyzed real data from GM using IBM technology and expertise to determine what drives customer-owner satisfaction.

Enhanced by weekly conversations and site visits with GM, students quickly learned how to think like GM employees and understand the company culture. This enabled them to focus the real business problem they’d been given and define what the complex data set meant to GM.

While crunching numbers and making sense of the unstructured data, the analytics students gained invaluable knowledge about how organizations really work. For example, they learned how to interact with senior executives in a way that quickly gained the executives’ trust to share company data and listen to their insights. Students also learned how to talk with managers and say what the facts show, be responsive to clients without knowing ahead of time how they would react, and make persuasive presentations from their results.

Speaking about the impact analysts could have on various fields, Vallabh Sambamurthy, faculty director of the MSBA program, Eli Broad Professor, and chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems, explained, “An analyst may not be skilled in marketing, but is still a change manager. They can influence and persuade others about the implications of the data.”

Additionally, the GM-IBM project served as a platform for analytics students to develop crucial communication skills. While working on the project, students took a business communication course that emphasized the role of writing and presentation skills in analytics. A faculty member coached the students in how to tell the story of “Big Data” and the ways that analytics can drive major business decisions.

Everyone involved benefited from the projects. In addition to gaining skills learned only through experience, students learned the value of collaboration. Along with answers to a business problem, the clients got a look at future talent.

“We understand the value of real-world applications to the learning process and were thrilled to work with Michigan State University to deliver this experience,” said Nate Bruin-Slot of GM Customer and Relationship Services. “Because we work so closely with MSU, we are well aware of the quality education it delivers and the level of talent its graduates possess.”

Corporate-sponsored experiential projects are a key component of the MSBA curriculum each semester and the GM-IBM project marks the first of many to be completed. This summer students are teaming up with Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Consumers Energy, Dow Chemical, Meijer, and MSU Advancement on data projects. Although students will be exposed to different companies, data sets, and industries, they will develop and strengthen the same skills for understanding new customer experiences, working as a team, and being good communicators.

This focus on experiential projects each semester helps Broad’s MSBA program stand out from other programs and better prepares students to compete for important analytics roles in a variety of sectors following graduation.