Fisher Center for Business Analytics to Tackle Difficult Data Problems

Assistant Professor Sameer Srivastava recently studied more than 10 million internal emails of employees at a mid-sized tech firm as part of his workplace culture research.

A complete archive of email messages exchanged among 601 full-time employees between 2009 and 2014 gave Srivastava and co-researcher Amir Goldberg of Stanford University the data they needed to explore the relationship between fitting in, standing out, and success within an organization.

Srivastava’s data intensive work is the exact kind of project that aligns with the mission of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics at Berkeley-Haas. Formerly known as the Fisher Center for IT, the center was renamed in February to acknowledge the growing interest of faculty, employers, and students in data science and analytics. The center remains funded through a grant from the Fisher family.

The center will bring data science resources from on and off campus under one umbrella, with a goal of learning about how data science is used to create business value, said Associate Marketing Professor Zsolt Katona, who serves as faculty director of the center, will work closely with Thomas Lee, an associate adjunct professor and the center’s director of data science.

Zsolt Katona
Zsolt Katona

“Our intent is to identify the most interesting, difficult data problems today that require state-of-the-art solutions and establish Haas’s leadership in data science as it applies to business,” Katona said. “We’re addressing the tough questions that require deeper investigation.”

Faculty will benefit because they will be doing cutting-edge scholarly work, while companies can benefit by being the first to explore the next big thing, he said.

Bridging the gap

The center will also help break down barriers that often crop up between MBAs and scientists at a time when data analytics skills are demanded in fields ranging from management to marketing to public policy.

“What you find is that companies hire data scientists or they hire MBA managers, but the two sides don’t effectively talk with each other,” Katona said. “We’re in a great position to bridge that gap.”

The new center will focus on three areas:

Creating resources for faculty: Faculty will be invited to submit funding proposals through the center, which plans to award $50,000 for data analytics research in 2017-2018. Conferences are also planned, where scholars from around the world will share their research.

Expanding corporate partnerships: Companies working with Haas will collaborate on research in multiple areas requiring big data expertise. Adobe, for example, has partnered with the center, sharing some of its internal scheduling data, which will be explored and analyzed by several faculty members who work across disciplines. The center also oversees a Speaker Series of outside industry experts who lecture at Haas on applying business analytics.

 Supporting students: MBA students taking Data and Decisions, a core course that introduces exploratory statistics and causal analysis, will find additional resources in the center to help strengthen their analytics skills. The first initiative will be to organize all analytics electives into formal structure that will eventually provide the foundation for a certificate in business analytics. The center will also host activities for graduate students from across campus, including a data visualization challenge. Executive education will also be a focus, with educational courses offered such as Data Strategy for Business Leaders.