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Dell takes a bold step forward with the new Decision Sciences Academy

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A job in analytics is one of the most promising career paths of the 21st century, but the supply of analytics talent is limited. In particular, the shortage of data scientists who combine expertise in math, business, technology and behavioral sciences is acute. To gain competitive advantage, you need people who can apply analytics to distill more insight from your data for strategic decision-making. Somehow, you’ve got to retain and develop this scarce talent.

Dell, like most companies, applies analytics to areas of the business ranging from marketing to supply-chain optimization. This is our fourth blog in a series on Dell’s own big data analytics journey. We’re continuously working on ways to fully capitalize on the business value of data, such as embedding analytics in our decision-making processes and applying advanced skills in machine learning and pattern analysis.

All of this requires that we have the right analytics talent today and in the future. So we partnered with internal experts and external partners to come up with a unique solution to organically develop and grow our pool of talent for these highly skilled professionals.  We created an in-house Decision Sciences Academy to provide world-class analytics training.

With the academy, we aim to take a big step up in our analytics and decision sciences capability, develop and retain our analytics talent, and align our analytics with the priorities of our business units. Another goal is to standardize on Dell technology, such as the Dell Statistica advanced analytics platform. Our recent migration from SAS to Statistica enables us to leverage the product’s ease of use to make analytics accessible to more people throughout the organization.These moves demonstrate the commitment of the Dell executive leadership team to enhance a “decision science” culture across the company at all levels.

Defining a three-tier curriculum

Our analytics goals have helped us define our new Decision Sciences Academy curriculum, which consists of three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. The basic level is available to nearly all Dell team members who would like to develop a deeper appreciation of data-driven decision making. The intermediate and advanced levels are designed for analytics practitioners focused on the enhanced use of analytics and application of tools. Here’s how the subject matter breaks out:

  • Basic (35–40 hours): Introduction to Data; Basic Excel and SQL; Introduction to Statistics; Domain Overviews; Presentation and Data Visualization
  • Intermediate (80–100 hours): Advanced Excel, SQL, and VBA; Introduction to Tools – BI and Analytics; Modeling and Statistics; Data Science Projects
  • Advanced (180–200 hours): Data Mining; Machine Learning; Big Data; Capstone Business Project with presentation to an executive panel

The basic and intermediate levels are delivered in-house using the Saba learning management platform. We’re even looking at venues like massive open online courses (MOOCs) for the future. Dell plans to engage academia and industry bodies to participate in delivery and certification, especially of the advanced track. After completion and assessment, participants can receive certification as an Analytics Practitioner, Data Scientist or Decision Scientist.

Rolling out a pilot program

Dell launched the academy on a pilot basis earlier this year, and groups of 20 current Dell analysts and 30 newly hired analysts are now enrolled. Feedback has been excellent, with participants telling us they received high value from the coursework, especially when using tools and methodologies to solve practical business challenges. A major focus for the rest of the year will be scaling out the academy for all Dell employees who desire to pursue analytics, with self-paced online courses available globally.

By providing standardized training, career progression for analytics professionals and a bridge from IT to the business, the Decision Sciences Academy promises to ensure Dell has a reliable engine of growth as we move forward in our transformation to a fully data-driven organization.We’re very excited about the Decision Sciences Academy, and from what we’ve heard, it may be unique in the industry. As big data and analytics become ever-more critical to business success, it’s well worth thinking about how you can build your pool of talent and foster a culture of analytics throughout your organization.

Uncovering best practices

While planning and implementing the academy, we discovered some best practices to pass along. These include standardizing on key performance indicators and employing change management techniques to help align IT and the business to ensure a successful initiative. We also recommend engaging with consulting firms and other organizations of your size to measure company maturity in terms of data management, analytics, tools, processes, governance and people. Finally, it helps to be as bold in your thinking as possible. We believe the Decision Sciences Academy is a pretty cool example of bold thinking.

To learn more about ways to boost your big data and analytics capabilities, read the Dell case study, “Unlocking data’s value for better insights and decisions.”


Doug Hillary

Doug Hillary

Doug Hillary is vice president in Global Sales Operations (GSO), responsible for leading the Dell Performance Analytics Group. Hillary has accountability for the strategy, planning and delivery of reporting and analytics for global sales and operations functions. He serves as the executive leader of the sales and operations business intelligence (BI) Centers of Excellence (CoE), which are responsible for helping meet Dell’s long-term goals of BI transformation. Hillary also leads the Dell BI Council, which drives pan-Dell BI and big data strategy and investments.

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