For the last two years we have been working closely with the University of Montpellier to help students on technology, business and finance courses understand BI in the real world. Following a conversation with Dr Laurent and Dr Teisseire of the LIRMM institute, both of whom research and lecture in data mining and analysis, we thought we would share our thoughts on why, how and where BI should be taught.

Why teach BI?

  • The scope of BI allows its teaching to encompass many areas of a company’s operations. One case study can incorporate exposure to finance, sales, market trends, systems technology, programming, data analysis and presentation style
  • BI offers the perfect bridging point between the technical and business sides of an education
  • Graduates who can extract useful information from data and apply insight to benefit their company bring a huge value to employers, in whatever role they occupy
  • An understanding of the power of BI tools will encourage greater participation during BI projects and more return on investment in industry

How to teach BI?

  • Engineers must fully understand the business needs behind what is demanded of them. This will help in the development of user-centric tools focused on business outcomes
  • Business users must understand the fundamentals of data management such as clean data input and adhering to strict definitions. They can gain an appreciation of what can be achieved and how to make the most of the technology available
  • Students should be able to use BI software on their own machines independent of school system to make the subject more approachable
  • BI should always be taught in a collaborative manner, increasing enjoyment of the subject and reinforcing best collaborative practices
  • Students should be trained in BI solutions in their own right (data extraction, queries, visualizations, sharing etc.) rather than Excel pivot tables
  • Data should be as realistic as possible, with all the inadequacies and problems of an actual company data set. Real data makes case studies both more interesting and more challenging for the students
  • On top of data analysis, students must be able design metrics for the results of a decision and accurately capture resulting data
  • Engineering students should also be introduced to the underlying principles of the BI industry such as database management, distributed systems and cloud computing in order to demonstrate the industry innovation towards lightweight and under friendly BI

Our recommendations:

  • The teaching of BI must go hand in hand with a sound comprehension of how it affects business decisions and how it can add value to a company
  • Currently, BI is often reserved for technical courses and certain MBAs. We believe teaching BI in a wider range of both technical and business courses will produce graduates more valuable to any employer
  • Finance and economics undergrads should be taught to use BI to perform their normal course analysis

Few courses will have the time to teach all of the material we recommend, but an exposure to BI brings far reaching benefits to students of all disciplines.