Guest Post: Christopher J. Low ’14 and Using Data Analytics as a GPS in Business

by Mary Martialay on April 8, 2015

(In this guest post, Christopher J. Low, a Rensselaer graduate and IBM consultant, explains how business analytics, like a GPS system, has aided him in navigating his career.)

Data has shaped a lot of my life experience so far, and now it’s also an important part of my career. In academics, numbers and information were critical to my Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering degree and my Master of Science in business analytics degree, both from Rensselaer.

In work, information analysis was key to my job at a marketing and communications firm in California. Now, as the project management analyst on an Apple and IBM partnership project in North America for a Fortune 25 client in the health-care industry, data is a huge part of my “solution” navigation system.

So how did my system get developed?

In April 2013, I learned about a new Rensselaer graduate program in business analytics from my mother, Wanda Denson-Low ’78. Paired with my undergraduate background, this program would provide me with essentials skills in high demand today by a variety of employers. Additionally, through the program’s corporate partnerships, I had exclusive access to a portfolio of proprietary software, such as IBM SPSS modeler, one of the best tools in the predictive analytics market today.

Take a moment to think about when you use a GPS to navigate—you need to give it information such as a street address and then to choose a route to travel. The business analytics program gave me just that—a problem-solving foundation to figure out a location (or goal/outcome) and the ability to choose the correct “route” (or solution) to get there. I also learned communication methods to explain my findings and solutions to future clients.

Over the course of my graduate program, I was able to refine and practice my navigation system on real-world business problems. Many of my graduate courses brought in actual clients to present a business problem or objective to solve using data analytics. Some of the clients included a well-known automotive battery manufacturer looking to predict lead battery sales, a local bicycle shop looking to attract more foot traffic during the winter months, and an LED lighting startup company looking for new markets to enter.

For me, these projects demonstrated the true complementarity that integrates business and technology, and prepared me for my consulting job at IBM—from interactions with clients, preparation of presentations, dissection of business problems and objectives, to proper communication of my findings.

In the course Data Resource Management, I learned the widely adopted database query language SQL. However, instead of just learning the syntax of the language, our professor invited us to extract data for specific business scenarios (e.g., market research, customer churn, and sales projections), strengthening our skills and confidence in using such software to generate business solutions.

Data analytics is the new approach to making strong business decisions. It really is a GPS that goes beyond intuition and choices based on gut instinct. Analytics gives decision makers examples, evidence, and essential information needed to make better, more informed decisions. Companies want employees who know how to apply an analytics approach. Analytics allows companies to keep up with their competitors as well as emerge beyond the rest.

Let’s look at a future example of this in motion: the new IBM and Twitter partnership. I was part of the first wave of IBM consultants to be trained in this partnership. Companies will now be able to see in real-time what their consumers say about their brands and products. This partnership is an unprecedented move toward data-driven decisions.

The business world of the future is very complex, but with data analytics as part of my navigation system, I am able to help clients find their way to transformative and solution-drive strategies for success.