WVU Professor Nanda Surendra knows how much data is in a terabyte.
He explains it this way: If the data were written on pages of a book, it would take a week to read one megabyte of material, about 20 years for a gigabyte, and – pull up a comfortable chair and pour yourself a big mug of tea – 20,000 years to read through a terabyte.
Yet, according to Dr. Surendra, associate professor of management information systems (MIS), that's how many bits and pieces of information businesses need to deal with every day to stay competitive. "If all the papers were stacked up, it would be higher than Mount Everest," he said.
Enter "business intelligence," or BI. It's a progressive area of study for students and a crucial industry function that requires computer intervention, and lots of it.
Now, thanks to a $303,900 software donation, WVU students pursuing a degree in management information systems can train for the BI field—one where jobs are plentiful and well-paying.
A 2005 WVU MIS graduate, Anna Trudel, recognized the need for more WVU students to focus on BI-related technical careers, and in early 2010 she successfully facilitated a request of MicroStrategy Inc., a company headquartered near Washington, D.C. with offices worldwide, to grant WVU BI software that can report and analyze business data gathered from various sources.
The BI software can provide historical, current, and predictive views of business operation data that helps companies understand and make sense of the data they collect in order to make more strategic business decisions. The software license was donated earlier this year, is fully operational and may be used by MIS and other WVU business students.
College of Business and Economics Dean Jose V. Sartarelli said he knows from experience the value of BI software. "I came into academia from the private sector, and I can tell you, information and knowledge of the industry, whichever industry you're in, is crucial to success," he said. "This donation will help our students be standouts in the BI profession, and that's our central goal—to help our students become leaders."
In conjunction with orchestrating the donation of the software to create a BI foundation at WVU, Trudel, who is now a technical lead at MicroStrategy, returned to WVU last spring to provide a presentation about BI to the MIS student club and offered to provide consultation to students interested in the field.
A 2001 Morgantown High School graduate, she said MIS prompted her interest in a technical career, but it was an internship during her senior year that really hooked her on business intelligence.
"I had an internship at Mylan Pharmaceuticals in 2004 that opened my eyes to business intelligence," Trudel said. "After that, I knew exactly what I wanted to do." After graduation she became a business intelligence programmer/analyst with a company called NVR Inc. in Reston, Va., moved to several other positions in the industry and eventually joined MicroStrategy in June 2010.
"This is an area that is experiencing phenomenal growth," she said. "In business intelligence, I find that I'm working with many top executives, which gives me a lot of visibility. These individuals are making strategic decisions within their organization by utilizing BI solutions developed by my team to effectively analyze data."
Additionally, she commented, business intelligence is used across many industries. "You can move around," she said. "I've found that after a few years, students trained with BI can have great upward mobility within their organization—BI is emerging in all companies so proficient BI professionals also have the opportunity to choose an industry that interests them."
Surendra said a course on business intelligence is being considered for spring 2011. In the fall of 2011, the college will begin its first year as a four-year institution, and he said this will help lay a foundation for curriculum in business intelligence spread over an MIS student's entire college experience. "Learning this software allows students to jump in the driver's seat. Small companies don't have funds to train new employees, so they depend on our college to get them up to speed so that they can immediately contribute."
Few universities offer business intelligence courses simply because few have the software, he said. MicroStrategy's software is able to process "huge volumes of data" and create "meaningful data that is converted to information and to knowledge."
Given the current economic conditions and the tight job markets, this is one area where there have been a large number of jobs, Surendra said. "It's a field that has expanded because of huge amounts of data. In fact, that's what Google is – even though they don't call it business intelligence, that's what they do."
MicroStrategy, a leading worldwide provider of business intelligence software, recently announced that in a comprehensive survey of companies using business intelligence software products, MicroStrategy achieved the highest overall ranking. The survey was conducted by Business Application Research Center (BARC), the world's largest independent survey of business intelligence users, with more than 3,000 respondents.