Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Student Learns While Wrestling With Big Data and Rulon Gardner

By Mike Tolman

What’s the big deal about big data? Many companies feel like I did when Rulon Gardner put me in a headlock at Allegiance’s Voice of the Customer Fusion Conference in May. Going head to head with terabytes of information can be just as daunting as standing on the other side of the mat from this Olympian! Organizations are scrambling to find “diamonds in the data mine,” but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find analysts who can not only manage databases and develop code, but who can also ask the right questions to find insights that will have a significant impact the margins of an enterprise.

As a graduate student at the Huntsman School of Business, I’ve been able to learn how to do just that. With a background in English literature, I came to the Master of Management Information Systems and Master of Business Administration programs at the Huntsman School after working in retail and sales management for several years. After joining these programs, I immersed himself in MIS and became heavily involved in the various student groups at the school, including the Association for Information Systems (or AIS) and the Business Intelligence Group.
Mike Tolman, left, met Rulon Gardner at a conference
and found himself in an uncomfortable pose
with the former Olympic wrestler.

After only a few short months, I was able to rise to the position of lead student researcher for the Business Intelligence Group, and have since lead the team as a project manager in a variety of business intelligence, data mining, database management, and web development projects in partnerships with local business and Huntsman School alumni. My work in database management and business intelligence helped to open the doors for a unique internship opportunity with the customer experience team at Oracle.

As a result, I have been able to go through millions upon millions of rows of data and have performed complex analyses to enable Oracle to better understand the “voice of the customer,” or VoC. The ability to store and analyze unstructured and structured massive amounts of data has led to a growing trend of companies being able to finally understand a customer’s behavior. While surveys provide a good snapshot of a customer’s impression or values, big data allows companies to track buying patterns and how they correlate with each other. This leads to insights that might seem contradictory, but are supported by hard evidence. Listening to the customer’s voice has a big impact on sales and profitability and data analysts, like me and other MIS graduates, are high in demand.

This internship and experience allowed me to attend a conference in Las Vegas, where I was able to meet with industry professionals and see a direct correlation between what is going on in companies today and what I am learning at the Huntsman School. I really feel like the world is in my hands. By having dual master’s degrees in business administration and in management information systems, I feel like I have placed myself in a unique position to provide a lot of value to my future employers. I feel like my education at the Huntsman School has not only been enlightening, but also that the knowledge and skills I have gained and developed have been an investment that will pay huge dividends for the rest of my life.

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