Data Analytics, Creativity Is Essential For Future Leaders to Survive: Dr Moez Limayem, Dean USF

In an exclusive interaction with BW, Moez Limayem, Dean of the University of South Florida (USF) Muma College of Business, talks about the evolving management education – challenges and opportunities. He also shares how the USF is adapting to industry needs and the future of management education. Excerpts:

According to you, how has management education changed over the years and how do management schools keep up with the rapid changes?

Management is an ever-evolving field that poses a real challenge for educational institutions to address. Responding to changes is not good enough. We must be proactive and anticipate changes now more than ever because changes are coming every day. What works in management now may not work tomorrow and new managers must have the foresight to detect changes coming from weeks, months and even years out. 

Management education in the USA has become more specialization-focused in the last few years. Current jobs in the industry require specialized knowledge and skills rather than broad generic knowledge. For this reason, instead of generic MBAs, specialized management programmes such as sports and entrepreneurship management, information systems, analytics, finance, accounting are seeing increased demand. The graduates from this specialized and focused programme can command a higher salary due to their detailed and in-depth knowledge in a specific area. At the USF Muma College of Business, we have several specialized MS programmes that fit this requirement. Our full-time MBA programme is also focused on sports and entertainment management. 

Technology is playing an increasing role in education delivery today. Can you tell how USF has adapted to this and which technology platforms you use at different levels?

Technology has become an integral component of management education. At the USF Muma College of Business, technology is embedded in the curriculum. Analytics and innovation are the focus of our business school and incorporated into every coursework in the curriculum. We use technology in a wide variety of delivery mechanism of the content. For student and faculty interactions, we use Canvas and associated technological components. Students have the opportunity to use the Blackboard Ultra, Blue Button Conference and Discussion forum to interact among themselves even outside the class. All our classrooms have state of the art video conferencing facilities, which allow our faculties to remotely bring industry experts in the class. Many of our faculties record their classroom lectures using Panopto to make it readily available for students for future reference. 

Moving beyond the technology that we use to educate people, technology plays a big part in the changing landscape and a combination of technical and managerial skills will be needed in the future for business managers to succeed. Combining these two fields is essential for students who want to be in charge of their careers and that’s why our Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department in the Muma College of Business is such a big part of our overall educational experience. It wasn’t that long ago when such a discipline would be in engineering or computer sciences. But we have come to realize the importance of this technology to corporate success and to the success of our business students focused on leading global commerce into the future.  For example, thanks to our partnership with Tableau, every business student at USF will become a certified Citizen Data Scientist and be able to use this technology as they make and defend business decisions.

What are some of the other new-age courses useful for future managers?

Apart from Data Analytics, at Muma, we have programmes on Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Information Assurance, at all levels to prepare today’s generation to become tomorrow’s managers. Courses in Blockchain fundamentals, Blockchain programming, Information Security and Risk Management, Data Science programming, Data Mining, Data Visualization prepare students for future jobs.

How do you adapt your curriculum to prepare the students for the unknown and volatile future?

Managers must be able to answer questions that come from every part of the corporation and the public. Preparing them for this role is no easy task. Not only do they have to know about accounting practices and information systems innovation, but they also have to relate to people. Much of our curriculum has come through suggestions from our outside business partners. One example is our new concentration in human resources. It is a business trend now to include human resources executives in the C-suite, allowing valuable input into business decisions that not only impact the bottom line but those who make the bottom line what it is. We have been told that supply chain management is blossoming, especially in Florida, which is working toward becoming a global hub of commerce, so we have created the Center for Supply Chain Management and have begun the process to offer new majors, both undergraduate and graduate in that field. A strong relationship with outside business partners will usually tell you what you need to teach students. Our partners have told us that they need graduates who are tech-savvy and analytics-focused – but with a creative, problem-solving mindset. For example, a manager at Uber needs to understand how AI can help their business and disrupt the existing ridesharing framework. The same manager needs to understand the economics of ride-sharing too and how the autonomous car affects these economics. 

The buzz is that Business Analytics and Information Systems programme is by far the most popular programme for Indian students. Can you explain why this is such a big draw?

Given the strong technical background and experience of Indian students, it is not surprising that they are eager to learn the application of technology in business. Our Business Analytics programme is a natural fit to meet that demand. Students take very technical courses (such as data science programming, big data analytics) along with more management courses such as finance and accounting. Students have the opportunity to take courses in the application of analytics in various domains such as financial analytics and marketing analytics. Additionally, students also get the chance to work on applying analytics in the industry through practice center projects, research projects, and internships. Based on the success of our MS BAIS graduates, we are confident that such an immersive experience of application in technology in the business world is the key to the future. We have set up several centers and programmes with the sponsorship of our generous donors to train students who are savvy in applying technology but also are knowledgable on the business domain. It is important to have that blend.

What are the courses that you see students taking up to keep up with these trends and be relevant and employable?

Apart from data analytics courses, which are becoming more popular because students recognize the importance of that discipline in business, I see courses in entrepreneurship and sports management gaining traction in the near future. With regard to entrepreneurship, there is a spike in the number of start-ups across the planet. More young people with fresh, innovative ideas want to become employers – not employees – and steer their own ships toward rewarding careers and lives. This explains why many universities not only have courses in entrepreneurship but also are hosts for innovation labs and start-up hubs to help these students – soon to be business leaders – achieve their goals. With this instruction, students embark on careers unafraid to venture into unknown territory. We are already seeing that. The other emerging field is sports management. India already has popular leagues not only in cricket, football, and badminton, but also kabaddi. For these endeavors to succeed, leagues must offer up to fans more than just their sports stars. They need smart, dynamic, trained young innovators to both manage the sports stars and to create and execute a fulfilling event experience by marketing the brand, handling logistics, analyzing data, generating revenue models and be an interactive voice with fans.  

Is management becoming more broad-based and multidisciplinary?

In today’s organization's people can’t work in silos. Managers need to cut through multiple areas in the organization to be successful. Thus today’s management students need to gain an understanding of multiple disciplines. For example, a marketing manager running an ad campaign needs to be aware of digital marketing technology and strategy. He/she needs to understand how technology can help in identifying potential customers and target them appropriately. He also needs to understand what kind of ROI the campaign will return. All these will require the person to be accustomed to digital technology, analytics, marketing, and accounting. 

There has been a lot of concern about graduates not being employable despite getting the best education. How are business schools handling this concern?

Business schools are incorporating technologies in the curriculum and blending multiple disciplines into a single course to teach students. The business school curriculum is also becoming problem-driven. Problem-solving ability and critical thinking are the keys to the employability of business school graduates.  At USF, students engage in multiple projects in various courses. Students also take a capstone course that creates a learning opportunity for students on applying knowledge gained from multiple courses into solving real-life problems. 

As the Dean of a Business School, can you give your perspective on industry trends - what will be the big industries in the 2020s?  Where will the jobs be?

One trend that is beginning to stand out in industries around the world is the growing reliance on and use of data analytics. It is more important now than ever to employ technology that has refined both the methods of collecting data and the ability to interpret what it says. Data analytics is no longer needed to compete in today’s global market, it is needed to survive. A trend that closely follows the nuts and bolts of data analytics is the use of creativity in coming up with ways to foster growth and prosperity. Corporate leaders must be equipped to examine reliable data and choose creative avenues to shape policies, plans, growth strategies, and revenue models. At this point, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. This inevitable trend not only means more jobs for experts in data analytics but also requires all executives to have a working knowledge of data analytics in their repertoire.

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