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Employers from new sectors and their demands are forcing b-schools to re-examine their courses and teaching methods.
twitter-logo E Kumar Sharma   Delhi     Print Edition: Oct 26, 2014
B-schools re-examine courses to meet industry demand
Assessing business models: Prof S. Raghunath (R) taking a class at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore : Photo: Nilotpal Baruah

Siddharth Arora is required to play cards at work. No, he is not a punter. The 27-year-old, a computer engineer from Purdue University in the US and an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB), is a product manager at Rummycircle.com, an online 24x7 game company. The venture is focused on the cards game Rummy. Arora tracks every new user logging onto the website. His job is to enhance the user experience and make the website easily navigable. Those playing with cash (you can opt to not play for cash) have to deposit a minimum amount of Rs 25 - Rummycircle.com gets a small (undisclosed) percentage of this entry fee as revenues.

Arora's example highlights how new avenues are opening up for B-school graduates in e-commerce. Consider Flipkart, the largest e-commerce company in India. It plans to almost double its headcount - from 13,000 to 25,000 - by the middle of 2015. "As business scales up, it is only natural that we will look at expanding our talent pool to support this growth. Our focus on hiring is going to be pretty aggressive in the next few months," says a Flipkart spokesperson.

'... Now, new ideas are based on data rather than gut feeling,' says Siddharth Arora, Product Manager, Rummycircle.com. Photo: Rachit Goswami
In 2014, the company has hired close to 50 fresh graduates from the IIMs and other top B-schools . "We will be hiring across levels and functions, with senior leadership and technology hiring being our priority," says the Flipkart spokesperson.

FULL COVERAGE:India's Best B-Schools 2014

Indeed, there are growing opportunities for B-school graduates in the e-commerce sector. While many MBAs get drawn to leading players like Flipkart, others opt for start-ups and relatively smaller firms. But this development comes at a time when data analytics - the discovery and communication of meaningful pattern in data - is changing the e-commerce landscape.

"About eight to 10 years ago, the focus was on pure innovation and there were not many benchmarks and not much competition. Now, new ideas are based on data rather than on gut feeling, like the history of every online participant and whatever the user does on site. This data is sliced and diced," says Arora of Rummycircle.com.

This has forced leading B-schools in the country to make changes in their curriculum to suit the evolving needs of the e-commerce industry. "In the last three to four years, this trend towards use of data analytics has started. In this timeframe we have introduced more courses on data mining and business intelligence and on forecasting at the ISB. These courses enable students to learn things like prediction," says Professor Amit Mehra, Associate Professor and Joint Executive Director, Srini Raju Centre for IT and the Networked Economy at the ISB. He teaches an elective called Leveraging Web 2.0 along with Professor Anindya Ghosh of New York University's Stern School of Business.

"Here we marry e-commerce and analytics. We look at the kind of data that can be collected from the e-commerce domain and then in the class we discuss the analysis of that data and insights that come from it," he says. The pedagogical tools include using data analytics software within the classroom. In the last two years, those opting for this elective at the ISB has more than doubled. What is more, Mehra says such electives did not exist three to four years ago.

Earlier, the emphasis in B-schools was on understanding various e-business models and the value proposition offered by e-commerce companies. Today, the pedagogy has a sharper agenda. "In the course, students work in teams on developing e-commerce or e-business plans and some of them have done field studies on such firms and for their own start up initiatives involving data analytics," says S. Raghunath, Dean (Administration) and Professor of corporate strategy and policy at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

"The primary pedagogy has been case studies of businesses that have succeeded and failed but the elements now being looked at more closely are questions of scalability, asking if all e-business firms should really be getting big fast. There is more focus on better appraisal of business models."

Perhaps the best placed to reflect on the surge in popularity of data analytics modules in B-schools is Galit Shmueli, an Israeli-American professor of statistics, data analytics and information systems. She began teaching the subject in the US in 2004 even before it became an industry buzzword. Shmueli has been teaching at the ISB since 2011. In October, she will head for Taiwan where she is a distinguished professor at the Institute of Service Science, College of Technology Management at the National Tsing Hua University. "Today, we offer new electives and workshops (at the ISB), say on visualisation of large data sets or get some experts to talk." The demand today is not just from the students but also from the alumni who earlier were not able to take these courses.

 NEW TOOLS, NEW INSIGHTS
 Primary pedagogy is still done through case studies but focuses on fresh examples, new data
  Shift from data reporting and presentation to analysis
  Partnerships with start-ups preferred for data and analysis
  Focus on flipped classrooms where teachers offer more personalised guidance to students
  More students-teacher online discussions before the class
In 2012, Shmueli added a big online component to her business analytics course and opened it up for free for the entire ISB alumni. And since then 500 to 600 alumni have enrolled for the course every year. Her regular classes on the two ISB campuses (Hyderabad and Mohali) are also much in demand. "Three years back we had about 30 students in the data mining and business analytics course. In the following year it nearly doubled to about 55. In 2013, we had to open two sections and it was full and now we have 160 to 170 students taking the course in the two campuses," she says.

Shmueli has also been experimenting with new pedagogical tools. "I moved to flipped classrooms where the students first hear lectures and watch videos before attending the class. This results in a higher level of discussions in the class," she says. Going forward, she feels, these courses will have to be a part of the core management programmes, not remain electives. "Everyone will need to learn this whether they like it or not," sums up Shmueli.

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