Huntsman Alumni Magazine Fall 2011

Fall 2011

Research Highlights: Students Dig Up "Implicit Stories" Buried in Data

By Connor Child

Everything has a story — people, buildings, artwork, etc. Even databases filled with business statistics have stories to tell.

The Business Intelligence (BI) Group is a student club in the Huntsman School that focuses on the possible stories a database might tell. The group is made up of students who are interested in business intelligence — the process of searching through large quantities of business data and identifying trends, patterns, and forecasts. The ultimate goal of business intelligence is to use the relevant information to make better business decisions.

"Business intelligence is defined as determining the story that large quantities of data have to tell,” said Dave Olsen, a professor in the Management Information Systems department and creator of the group. “The importance of understanding business intelligence will continue to grow as companies accumulate more data. With the BI Group, my perfect scenario would be that companies would recognize Utah State as a perfect place to find employees who understand business intelligence.”

The Western Decision Sciences Conference invited three members of the BI Group — Ben Snow, Michael Black, and Cam Peterson — to  present at its annual meeting in spring 2011 in Portland, Ore. All three students were pursuing master’s degrees in MIS at the time. Dr. Olsen said it was a rarity for the conference to allow pre-master’s students to present, and estimated that 90 percent of the presenters were professors.

“Presenting at a conference was a great experience,” said Mr. Snow, who will complete a master’s degree in December. “In addition to
learning more about business intelligence, I was able to sharpen my writing and communication skills as we wrote the paper and prepared for our presentation.” Mr. Black, who completed his master’s degree in May, said that the BI Group helped him become more ambitious as a
student and with his professional career.

“You work a lot harder and learn a lot of new things when there’s more than just a letter grade involved,” Mr. Black said.
“You’re dealing with the knowledge you know you will need to succeed later in life.”

Mr. Peterson said that companies are increasingly moving towards data-driven decisions because of the processing and storage capabilities of their computers. Understanding the vast quantities of data stored by these computers is a prerequisite to making data-driven decisions.

“The BI Group gives students opportunities to refine their skills when it comes to digging up the implicit stories told by the data,” Mr. Peterson said. “They can then develop their critical thinking.