Data and analytics beyond the classroom: inside Singapore Management University's bid to produce young talent

The university also introduced a marketing analytics track under its marketing major took by students at its School of Business.

As the next generation of talent prepare to change the way clients work and teach the ‘old guard’ some new tricks in the process, schools are doing all they can to equip them with the skills, knowledge and resources today’s client-side marketers need for the future.

One of these schools is the Singapore Management University which, through its School of Information Systems (SIS), pioneered business analytics education in Singapore when it introduced an undergraduate specialization in business intelligence and analytics more than a decade ago.

Since then, SIS has expanded its analytics curriculum, ahead of the growing importance of analytics that marketers apply to understand consumer behaviour. It has introduced analytics as a second-major in 2013, available to undergraduate students from across the university, while SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business has been offering the marketing analytics track under its marketing major since 2017.

While helping students understand the theory of analytics in lecture halls is important, SMU understands that allowing its students to experience the industry outside of the lecture halls is important as well, as brands like Adobe have expressed concerns about the slow digital and data pipeline of new recruits from universities.

One industry partner of SMU is Google, which it has worked with since 2012. The programmes include summer internships for students at Google’s Singapore office, and inviting the tech giant to conduct career talks at the school, as well as recruitment talks for Google’s Squared Data and Analytics programme. To date, 27 SMU graduates have completed this programme.

Professor Venky Shankararaman, the deputy dean for practice and education at the School of Information Systems in SMU tells The Drum it is important for schools like SMU to work with major industry players. This is because, in recent years, organizations are increasingly using data analytics to discover business issues and to drive business strategies.

He notes that this has created a parallel rise in the demand for graduates who understand how to use data analytics to create business solutions. So, in order to be successful, the graduates need to have foundation technical skills, soft skills and also be able to apply them to solve real-world business problems.

“Through the SMU-Google Data and Analytics programme, SMU students must take two prerequisite courses in data analytics, one of which includes 12 weeks of seminars with Google professionals, SMU lecturers and other industry experts,” says Venky.

“This is followed by a six-month internship with a Google partner company which will offer SMU students with opportunities to analyze and propose a possible solution for an industry-specific problem, demonstrate synthesis of information, apply their domain knowledge, and understand the industry contexts and constraints.”

The professor adds the programme also affords SMU students an opportunity to observe first-hand the operations at these leading Google partner companies and relate these experiences to their learning at SMU. “The experience of working with and learning from such esteemed partners will enhance our students’ employability and capacity to create an impact upon graduation from SMU,” he explains.

Graduates say they are grateful for a chance to go on internships to analyze and propose solutions for an industry-specific problem, apply domain knowledge, as well as understand the industry contexts and constraints.

Jordon Yuen, a member of SMU Class of 2016, interned at Dentsu Aegis Network as a data analyst with DAN's APAC data analytics team. The agency uses marketing science techniques on data sets to derive insights and ultimately fulfil the business objectives of clients.

Reflecting on his experience in a conversation with The Drum, Yuen claims the experience was highly rewarding and it felt like a fast track into a career in analytics. He felt his immersion in marketing analytics also gave him a glimpse of the deep influence that analytics plays in shaping the media industry and realization into how fulfilling a career in analytics is.

He believes that in his current job at WPP-owned Essence, where he now works as an analytics manager, he is playing a part in helping organizations make smarter decisions. He says there is a clear association between the impact of the decision and his recommendations, as the skills that he acquired through the programme gave him a strong foundation in analytics. He says he now applies these skills in the workplace with a greater sense of assurance that his recommendations are valid and valuable.

“I feel that while industries are ever-changing, data-led decision making is always the smarter way, and the skills in data analytics will always be highly relevant across many industries,” Yuen explains.

“As an analytics manager, my role at Essence is to ensure analytical rigour in the tests, experiments and models we design to measure and optimize the marketing effectiveness of our clients' campaigns. It is through these rigorous studies that we compile and refine our knowledge pool to help our clients make advertising more valuable.”

The success of the SMU-Google Data and Analytics programme has seen SMU and Google strengthened their relationship. The two parties signed an agreement at the end of January 2019 to offer the SMU-Google Squared Data and Analytics programme to SMU’s undergraduate students. This marks the first time that Google is extending its Squared Data and Analytics Programme to the undergraduates of a local university.

The programme builds on the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) company-led training collaboration initiated in 2014 between Google and Singapore’s Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to develop and train Singapore graduate talent for impactful careers in media agencies or data divisions of a range of industry sectors.

Stephanie Davis, the country director for Google Singapore, notes it is important for the company to work with schools because of the rapid growth of the digital economy. She adds that ongoing efforts to transform Singapore through technology has seen strong demand in the public and private sectors for graduates with sound knowledge and training in analytics.

Google also aims to significantly increase the talent pool of data analysts available to the media industry, according to Davis. The tech giant is working with SMU to extend the programme as part of their undergraduate curriculum to develop their students in the hard skills they require as data analysts and equally the soft skills that will help them become leaders of the future.

“At Google, our mission is to make sure that information serves everyone, not just a few. We are deeply committed to helping Singaporeans and local businesses benefit from the web,” explains Davis.

“Apart from the SMU-Google Squared Data and Analytics programme, we've also trained Singaporeans to become programmatic buying and technology experts for the digital marketing industry through our Digitize programme and helped local businesses in Singapore groom the next generation of digital leaders through our Squared Online for SMEs programme covering search engine marketing, social, mobile, and analytics. We feel we can play an important role in inspiring more Singaporeans to take up technology and the creative industries as careers.”

This is part of The Drum's Marketer of the Future coverage for 2019. You can also help us find the world's up-and-coming marketing talent by nominating them here.

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