U of O MBA program emphasizes business intelligence

MBA students at the University of Ottawa are already three months into a course that will teach them how to use business intelligence tools to manage performance across an enterprise.

The school has formed a three-year partnership with local firm Cognos Inc. whereby the software vendor is donating products that will be used in all of its graduate programs, including simulations of real-world business intelligence scenarios. Meanwhile, Cognos director of market development, performance analytics business unit, Greg Richards has been made “professor in performance management” and has been teaching a course on the subject since the fall term began.

Cognos and other vendors use the term corporate performance management to describe the way analytical and business intelligence tools to help departments like finance, marketing and sales reach their objectives. Robin McNeill, Cognos’s vice-president of portfolio development, said business users of all kinds may be called upon to consolidate fragmented pieces of information to make strategic decisions in a company.

“It involves exploring information and reporting, but also designing what information you might want to see,” he said. “There’s a dialogue between business and IT people who have to present information – they need an understanding what’s been asked for.”

Michael Kelly, dean of the University of Ottawa’s School of Management, said the use of performance management as a theme across its MBA program will allow students to see problems from a cross-enterprise perspective.

“These aren’t going to be the technicians (taking the course) – it’s the people who need to know how to manage and measure,” he said. “We’ll be using fictional data at first, but we can provide fairly realistic case studies developing straight from real business situations.”

Besides courses, the University of Ottawa will also launch a series of research projects that will explore the use of performance management and related products in both the public, private and non-profit sectors, Kelly said.

Don Campbell, vice-president of platform strategy and technology at Cognos, said the simulations will touch on key skills such as exception management and dealing with the communication gaps that sometimes exist between line of business managers and their IT counterparts.

“There’s no magic formula to having a high-performance organization,” he said, “but the more comfortable you are with these technologies and tools, the more comfortable you will be dealing with new situations that arrive in the real world.”

McNeill said Cognos has an obvious interest in promoting itself as a leader in performance management, but said University of Ottawa students will be the main beneficiaries from the partnership.

“If the graduates can come out of this program with an understanding of the infrastructure and how to apply to it businesses, they’ll be very valuable in the market,” he said.

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