Analyzing the Past 50 Years
Industry accolades, record enrollment and strong partnerships … the department of operations, business analytics and information systems (OBAIS) has an impressive history of excellence
What do you get when the disciplines of operations research, computer science, statistics and data science converge over the span of several decades? A field where change is the only constant.
Borne out of these converging disciplines, the Department of Operations, Business Analytics & Information Systems (OBAIS), in its 50th year, has consistently demonstrated the value of multidisciplinary research, industry engagement, expertise and excellence among students and faculty.
“This field is so exciting because the work we do — and that we are preparing students to do very well — is critical to any modern enterprise and ultimately creates value for society,” said Craig Froehle, PhD, OBAIS department head and professor.
Since its origin in 1968 as the Department of Quantitative Analysis, the department’s own evolution — in name, theory and practical application — has occurred in lockstep with that of the industry. While today’s OBAIS department may look, think and feel quite differently from its original iteration, a few things have stayed the same: student outcomes, active faculty who research independently and together and close relationships with industry and partner organizations.
“We’re always striving for that right mix — of experience, expertise, research methods and access to tools,” said Froehle.
This field is so exciting because the work we do — and that we are preparing students to do very well — is critical to any modern enterprise and ultimately creates value for society.
Craig Froehle, PhD OBAIS Department Head and Professor
This spring, fifty years of excellence culminated in the department receiving the 2019 INFORMS UPS George D. Smith Prize. Named in honor of the late UPS Chief Executive Officer, the award is presented by INFORMS, the largest international association of operations research and analytics professionals, at their annual conference.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work, dedication and innovation — all exhibiting themselves in their own ways over the past 50 years — by program directors, faculty and staff,” said Michael Fry, PhD, OBAIS professor and academic director of the UC Center for Business Analytics. “This recognition speaks to how much we’ve grown as a department and how we have evolved without losing focus.”
Early OBAIS faculty members were experts in applied-research areas such as optimization and statistical process control. Their approach to management science included working directly with Procter & Gamble on advancing optimization methodologies and writing what is widely recognized as the first textbook on applied operations research, An Introduction to Management Science (1976), by Professors Dave Anderson, Dennis Sweeney and Tom Williams.
As computing-intensive analytics and the role of data management entered the research and teaching landscape, Professor David Kelton co-authored Simulation Modeling & Analysis (2000), which currently has more than 19,000 Google Scholar citations.
While publishing is important, the department doesn’t just look to hire exceptional scholars and instructors. Department leaders seek those who will make excellent colleagues in both research and teaching.
“Of the three disciplines covered in OBAIS, business analytics and information systems have increasing overlap in content, so faculty are teaching and conducting research at intersections of those disciplines,” said Froehle. “Those organic cross-disciplinary collaborations demonstrate to students how analytic methods are useful in discipline-specific situations.”
Useful is right. OBAIS graduates command the highest average starting salaries at the Lindner College of Business. At the undergraduate level, the average salary for industrial management is $62,000 and information systems is almost $56,000. At the graduate level, MS-IS graduates earn an average salary of $70,000, and MS-Business Analytics (MS-BANA) graduates go on to earn an average salary of $90,000.
The high salaries and gainful employment aren’t serendipitous. Close connections with the industry translate into meaningful co-op experiences and job placement after graduation, as well as opportunities for students to work on highly relevant, applied projects, bringing together theory and practice in the classroom.
“Companies are looking for employees that don't just use new and trendy software, but are equipped with a wide understanding of different techniques in the field and their underlying mechanics and assumptions,” said Dan Shah, MS ’17, consultant at Systems Evolution, Inc. “The curriculum is designed to provide that foundation and students have the opportunity participate in projects with these different techniques to help drill in the concepts.
“Not only did the MS-BANA program help me pivot to where I wanted to go in my career, but I had a portfolio of projects to share,” continued Shah. “Since completing the program in 2017, I can confidently say that I have applied every single class to my work. Every single one.”
One of the most important mechanisms for engaging with industry is the Center for Business Analytics. The department established the Center in 2012 to foster innovation, industry and academic collaboration, and dissemination of knowledge in analytics. With 28 member companies, it’s a world-class platform for exchanges of best practices and new ideas with an eye to application to enhance organizational performance.
“Our members benefit from participating in discussion forums, professional development training courses, connecting with both established experts and up-and-coming talent at our events, and more,” said Center for Business Analytics Executive Director Glenn Wegryn. “New skill sets are always emerging and in demand. The Center is a great way to distill those into something that helps professionals continuously improve their capabilities.”
Finally, the Center strongly supports UC’s tradition of providing experiential learning opportunities for students. Coordinated by a professional certified project manager and working with OBAIS faculty, each Center project provides opportunities for students to deliver meaningful results to the client organization.
“Member companies are entitled to one project that is scoped and vetted appropriately that students can complete on their behalf within a semester,” said Denise White, PhD, assistant OBAIS professor and MS-BANA program director. “For the students, it’s an intensive class that gives them invaluable, real-world exposure and they present their findings to the company at the end of the semester.
“Sometimes, the recommendations help businesses continue down a path or forge a new one,” said White. “Other times, the learning is, ‘We really shouldn’t invest our time and resources in this area,' which is just as valuable.”
The range of project types spans commercial (marketing, sales, general management), operations (supply chain, productivity, process improvement), finance (risk assessment, forecasting) and human resources (organization design, workforce effectiveness), across a diverse set of industries. Since 2012, students have completed more than 200 projects for client organizations through the Center.
With a sustained history of leading research, close collaboration with the industry that encourages flexibility and innovation, and program graduates accumulating more success, the department continues to look ahead for the deeper, more experiential learning experience and collaboration in the years to come.