Am not sure where to begin my introduction of Professor Dinesh Kumar. Do I introduce him as Professor of Quantitative Methods at IIM Bangalore? Or as the recipient of the Best Young Teacher Award by the Association of Indian Management Schools, 2003? President of the Analytics Society of India? An author? A Data Analytics guru? Or a well-regarded academician? Well, he is all of these and more and it was indeed a real honor to sit down with him and talk Data Analytics.
Tell us how and when you developed an interest in analytics
Well my Masters itself was in applied mathematics and operations research, what we today call prescriptive analytics. Then, while in the UK, I had the opportunity to interact with many companies and senior professionals, as the program I was teaching was for working executives. It had a modular structure and we had executives from top companies like Rolls Royce, Lockheed martin and British Aerospace. They were looking for solutions to problems they were facing, and this is when my interest in analytics really took seed. This was way back in 1996.
By the time I joined IIM Bangalore in 2006 I was truly fascinated with the subject and knew that Data Analytics was going to gain momentum. In 2008 I introduced the Business Analytics elective course to the PGP students at IIM Bangalore and then started one of the first certificate programs in Business Analytics in India in 2010.
Where do you see the Analytics and Big Data industry ten years from now?
Well already people are seeing analytics as a competitive strategy and more companies are likely to use analytics to compete in the market. Analytics will help companies to understand what the customer really wants. It will help them in many different ways. For example Decision making, Understanding the customers and their needs better and Process improvement.
The way analytics is used will differ from industry to industry but will add value irrespective of the industry type. Also, there is a kind of misconception that analytics is only for big companies but that is not true. There are a large no of small and medium enterprises that can benefit from analytics and all these companies will realize the major benefits that Data analytics can bring them and will begin to invest in such initiatives.
We are also seeing that today all managers feel the need to understand and be analytics savvy. This trend will also continue and we will see a time when it will become a skill that no manager can do without.
Why do managers need to upskill and get analytics savvy?
Continuing from my trend of thought above, I get lots of senior students here at IIM Bangalore, some with even more than 25 years experience. One of the common things they tell me is that, when they are in meetings and people are talking technical stuff, it is difficult for them to participate, as they do not know much about even the basics of quantitative techniques. So, to stay relevant and also add value to the discussion they feel that it is essential to understand the technical aspects of analytics.
So even in everyday life, in interactions with clients or top management, data will come up and it is important to understand analytics. To do well in any organization today, a manager needs to understand the basics and to understand and help their team use the data they have in hand. It is a critical and mandatory skill, for any manager, as without it, they will not be able to understand and solve business problems and make effective decisions.
Your thoughts on Online Learning
Online learning is definitely becoming very popular and we see many people opting for online courses mainly because of the flexibility they offer. Even here at IIM B we already have a few online modules. We are also planning to launch a course on predictive analytics through edX.
With regard to analytics skills specifically, I must say that online courses are a good way to learn basic concepts. In fact at IIM- B, a lot of students come into our Business Analytics Program, saying that they have already done a course at Jigsaw Academy. It is useful for them to do this. You see, analytics is not so easy to pick up. Often students who come to our program with no prior background of statistics or quantitative techniques struggle because they don’t understand some core concepts like hypothesis testing and analysis of variance. So from that perspective it is important they do some online courses to equip themselves with basic skills before they go on to more in-depth courses.
Advice for people in analytics
To really use analytics to your advantage, it’s very important to understand the business context and why businesses need analytics. In management, one takes a lot of decisions and many times these decisions are not the best. The reason why we need analytics is to improve the quality of decision-making, which begins by understanding the business problem. Then you bring in analytics, to see the best way to address the business problem.
Also, it is very important for all data analysts to have domain expertise. For example, if you are in the retail industry, you need to know what the challenges of the retail industry are. This is the same for any other industry as well. One needs to understand where the market is heading, what kind of data is needed, what are the problems.
For freshers in analytics, I would stress the importance of firstly understanding stats and math, because in your career as a data analyst initially, you are going to do simple analyst work. So remember basics are important.
For those of you moving into analytics from say IT, don’t be intimidated if you do not have prior analytics experience. Today there are lots of opportunities to build practical analytics experience. There is lots of public data available and sites such as Kaggle and KDnuggets provide complex data sets in the form of competitions. What companies are looking for is some experience with handling projects and all you need to do is demonstrate that you can handle real data derive actionable items. You can build that experience in different ways even if you are not directly working in analytics.
Favourite Books on Analytics
I don’t have any favorite analytics books, but I have some favourite statistics and operations research books that I would recommend for anyone starting off in analytics. They are:
Thanks Prof Dinesh for your valuable insights. We wish you all the best as you continue your career as an academician and Analytics Guru.
Prof. Dinesh is a brilliant but humble Data Academician. He has a PHD in Mathematics from IIT Bombay and a Post Doc fellowship from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich and School of Management, University of Toronto. His career in academics spans more than twenty years, having taught in universities across the globe. He has trained thousands of professionals over the years and has also published several case studies through Harvard Business Publishing such as Pricing of Players in the Indian Premier League, Science of Social Influence, Era of Quality at the Akshaya Patra Foundation, Managing Linen at Apollo Hospitals, A Dean’s Dilemma: Selection of Students for the MBA Program, Larsen and Toubro: Spare Parts Forecasting, Breaking Barriers: Micro-Mortgage Analytics, and Supply Chain Optimization at Madurai Aavin Milk Dairy among many others.