Berkeley-Haas Deepens its Big Data Program

As a physical therapist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Samantha Delehant, EWMBA 18, knew that a better understanding of patient data could help improve care. Data from patients’ wearable sensors, integrated with their medical records and genetic information, could be used to create a more detailed picture of their overall health. “That could allow patients to receive proper treatment faster,” she says.

Delehant is now among a group of students learning how to apply big data to business in a new Berkeley-Haas program for MBA students: Data Science and Strategy. Housed under the Institute for Business Innovation and developed by Senior Lecturer Gregory La Blanc, the program includes a cluster of courses, an ongoing lecture series coordinated with the Haas Data Science Club, and site visits to companies known for leveraging big data—from Google to small startups.

The courses, which La Blanc has been building up since he first offered Data and Decisions with Assoc. Professor Lucas Davis six years ago, have proved popular from the start. La Blanc debuted Data Science/Data Strategy in spring 2015 for a full house of 60 full-time and 60 part-time MBA students. Applied Data Analytics, co-taught by Dave Rochlin, executive director of Haas@Work, and Visiting Asst. Prof. Thomas Lee gave students hands-on experience with big-data projects for Accenture last spring. La Blanc’s newest course, Analytics for Workforce, Workplace and Wellness, showed how data can be collected and used to solve traditional management problems such as hiring, retention, and productivity.

“In the past, HR departments relied on anecdotes and folk wisdom for most of their decisions,” says La Blanc (pictured, left, with students at Capgemini Lab.) “Now we have the ability to collect data on productivity and look for ways to intervene and evaluate how to redesign the workplace, plus monitor employee wellness.”

Decisions based on “numbers and facts”

At the Google campus in nearby Mountain View last month, La Blanc and his class got an inside look at how the company uses data in its People Operations unit. Berkeley-Haas alumni working at Google showed students how they build more effective teams by honing in on how leadership can be identified, measured, and promoted.

Beyond HR management, students say big data has massive implications for other areas of business—including marketing, operations, and product development.

“Every decision we make is built around information that we are gathering from our players, often in real-time, and how we react can create better experiences for them,” says Jason Lars Bergquist, EWMBA 17, a product manager at Electronic Arts.

Mike Sutherland, EWMBA 2016 and VP of technology sales & business development at sales support startup Groove, said understanding data is “a critical component and trend that we need to take advantage of as future business leaders to make sure we are always making decisions based on numbers and facts.”

Berkeley-Haas is increasingly integrating data science education into its curriculum. In 2013, Asst. Prof. Minjung Park launched a Marketing Analytics course, which focuses on understanding and using data in marketing.

The Berkeley Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) program launched a big data lab three years ago.

MFE Program Executive Director Linda Kreitzman says an increasing number of job recruiters now require data analytic skills.Industry requirements in “fintech” to data analytics firms have forced all of the schools that offer a quantitative finance education to include more data analytics coursework,” she says.