Haas Teams with Accenture to Create New Big Data Curriculum

Haas has collaborated with global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company Accenture to create new classes and a lecture series designed to give MBAs the tools required to understand and work with big data.

This spring, finance and economics Lecturer Greg La Blanc kicked off the first phase of that alliance, teaching Data Science/Data Strategy to a group of graduate students from Haas, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Information, and Development Studies majors.

Haas also launched a series of popular lectures supported by Accenture that covered topics including the role of data science in retail and supply chain management to “Everything you wanted to know about big data but were afraid to ask,” from companies including Facebook, Cloudera, Safeway, Wells Fargo, Walmart Labs, and BlackRock.

This fall, Thomas Lee, a visiting assistant professor and research scientist, and Dave Rochlin, a Haas lecturer and the executive director of Haas@Work, (a program that sends teams of Berkeley MBA students to global firms to research business challenges), will teach another new course called Data Analytics. Accenture will help craft the course.

La Blanc believes that big data—which can include complex files of 20 terabytes or more, massive amounts of information gathered from social networks, or unstructured data such as video and voice—might just be the most significant change to hit the business world since the Industrial Revolution.

“The usual processing methods don’t work with these data sets and the only way for MBAs to really learn how to handle big data is to actually work with it, and to interact with student engineers and data scientists,” says La Blanc, pictured with Facebook data scientist Ta Chriaphadhansakul. “Combined with the experiential learning classes at Haas, this relationship with Accenture gives students that opportunity.”

Teaching MBAs to think about business problems through a data-oriented lens resonates with Accenture, says Prith Banerjee, the company’s managing director of Global Technology R&D. The relationship with Haas was formed on his watch, sparked by Haas alum Marina Gracias, BS 80, MBA 99, who has served as managing director of Financial Services at Accenture since 2013.

“Our efforts with Haas are mutually beneficial,” Banerjee says. “Haas students need to understand how to work with big data and how technology drives business outcome — and of course, we’re interested in hiring people who excel at doing that.”

John Miller leads Accenture’s Data Insights R&D group within the Accenture Technology Labs, which serves as “home base” for the company’s collaboration with Haas. In April, Miller’s team invited students to a networking event at the company’s San Jose Technology Lab, a visit that inspired both small group and one-on-one conversations about the value of big data and how it can best be used. And Miller’s staff also visited campus to participate in a round-table discussion with students from the Data Science and Technology clubs.

“The timing of this collaboration is right for Haas and for us,” Miller says. “We’re all asking the same questions, like: ‘How can business leaders use data science to transform the way companies work?’ and ‘What skills are essential?'”

MBAs won’t necessarily become data scientists, but they need to know how to work with big data, La Blanc says. And proficiency in a data-saturated marketplace doesn’t develop solely through book learning, which is why the hands-on approach of Haas’ relationship with Accenture is so important.

“If you want to change an existing framework, you can’t just have a class,” he says. “You’ve got to do research, collaborate with industry, and interact with alumni. This big data revolution is happening right here in the Bay Area, and we’ve got to get out there and engage to make the most of all this available knowledge and experience.”

– By Kate Madden Yee