Big data – two small words that will have a major impact on how companies make key decisions about everything from improving productivity to predicting consumer behavior and, in some cases, the future strategy of the company. But the copious numbers only tell part of the picture – how the organization interprets and applies the data determines its business impact.


The University of Oklahoma College of Engineering is helping shape the application of big data in its new interdisciplinary master’s degree of engineering with a concentration in data science and analytics. While many companies take advantage of big data to monitor and track everything from retail purchasing to product performance, being able to predict future operations and behaviors is the key that will revolutionize the way companies compete, produce and innovate. The new program’s curriculum teaches algorithm development from a systems perspective. OU graduates will have the skills to design and build tools to extract, assimilate and analyze data, and the systems understanding to predict and enhance future performance for enterprises across all domains of the private and public sectors. A collaboration between the Schools of Computer Science and Industrial and Systems Engineering, the first cohort of students will start their graduate work this fall.


“The insight big data can provide is far-reaching. The opportunities to use the information to predict and improve performance of all types of systems, across all types of enterprises, are wide open,” said Randa Shehab, director of the OU School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.


Many reports, including one published by McKinsey Global Institute, have identified the urgent need to address the current shortage of data scientists in the United States which is expected to exceed the number of current graduates by as many as 200,000 hires over the next decade. The White House has launched the “Big Data Research and Development Initiative,” which includes expanding the workforce to support the needs of the big data community as one of its primary objectives. The MSDSA at OU plays a major role in accomplishing these objectives by helping to prepare a future workforce that can both design and analyze big data.


“As computing power has grown, so too has the vision for how this power might be harnessed for research, innovation and economic growth,” said Charles Jones, OU College of Engineering Advisory Board member and retired consultant for McKinsey & Co., a global management consultant company.


“We are continually challenged to ‘think big’ and apply our growing knowledge about data and statistics in new and creative ways,” Jones said. “This new degree program is a major step in closing the gap from simply obtaining and reading historical data to using it to improve our future interaction in the world.”


The MSDSA coursework will be driven by case studies, and students in the program will complete an industry internship or a research practicum. Students will work closely with an industry or government partner to solve real-world scientific or business problems.


“With the advent of the Internet and big data, we had a revolution of tools to gather data,” said David Franke, OU College of Engineering Advisory Board member and chief scientist at Vast, provider of marketplaces and big data insights for consumers’ big purchases. “With the MSDSA program, we are leading a new revolution of tools to do something with that data – to glean meaningful information from the vastness of big data so we can make better large-scale, long-term decisions.”