Fox School of BusinessIdea Marketplace

Admittedly, Cassandra Reffner said she does not have as great of an understanding of mathematical analytics as business-school students. And she said she only understands the most basic functions of Microsoft Excel.

Fox School Management Information Systems professors James Moustafellos, far left, and David Schuff, far right, recognize Tyler School of Art student Cassandra Reffner as the winner of the 2014 Temple Analytics Challenge. Third from left is Doug Seiwert, Vice President of Information Technology at QVC, who served as the event’s keynote speaker.
Fox School Management Information Systems professors James Moustafellos, far left, and David Schuff, far right, recognize Tyler School of Art student Cassandra Reffner as the winner of the 2014 Temple Analytics Challenge. Third from left is Doug Seiwert, Vice President of Information Technology at QVC, who served as the event’s keynote speaker.

What Reffner does know, however, is how to analyze data and display it in a creative, understandable manner. A junior graphic design student from the Tyler School of Art, Reffner won the $2,500 grand prize at the second annual Temple Analytics Challenge.

The month-long competition, organized by the Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT) at the Fox School of Business, culminated Nov. 17 in finalist presentations at Alter Hall. The challenge tasks students from all of Temple University’s schools and colleges with making sense of data through visualizations and infographics.

The Temple Analytics Challenge awarded 10 prizes totaling $10,000, from corporate members of IBIT and the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies at Temple University.

In its second year, the Temple Analytics Challenge received 130 submissions from more than 300 participants. The finalists came from both undergraduate and graduate programs across the University, including the College of Engineering, the Tyler School of Art, and the Fox School of Business.

Reffner used a test tube illustration to demonstrate the residual impact felt by employees following the proposed relocation of Merck’s corporate headquarters. Judges reflected favorably upon Reffner’s infographic, which displayed the raw number of employees whose commutes would be negatively affected by 30 or more minutes. (Other Merck Challenge finalists opted to use percentages.) To circumvent the issue, Reffner offered what she called “prescriptions,” using a medicine-bottle design to provide Merck with alternatives like incentivizing carpools or public transit usage, or implementing break time for employees who make longer commutes.

“I think the judges liked how I gave solutions, or as I called them ‘prescriptions,’ to help benefit those employees and to look at this in a less-negative term,” Reffner said. “

Corporate partners of the Temple Analytics Challenge provided data sets and specific problems from which the students had to create an original visualization that also provided clear and meaningful insight. The NBCUniversal Challenge pertained to the allocation of advertising dollars for midterm elections; the Lockheed Martin Challenge focused on employee behaviors predicting security threats; and the aforementioned Merck Challenge centered around the overall impact of a corporate site’s relocation. The 20 finalists presented their work before a panel of professional judges, including representatives from QVC, Campbell Soup Company, and RJMetrics.

“The breadth of majors and students that excelled in the competition was really impressive. Analytics and the ability to interpret and visualize complex data is such an important skill, it’s exciting to so many students get involved and the final presentations were outstanding,” said Nicholas Piergallini, Program Manager at Lockheed Martin and a judge for the competition.

“We’re proud to once again see such a great set of entries from students across the University,” said Dr. David Schuff, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems and organizer of the challenge, “A key goal of the challenge is to encourage students from different disciplines to build their data analysis and communication skills, and to see how these skills apply to their careers.”

Reffner and five fellow Tyler students were among the competition’s 20 finalists, and she was one of three from Tyler to win one of the Temple Analytics Challenge’s 10 cash prizes. Encouraged to enter the competition by Tyler professor Abby Guido, Reffner said she hopes her grand-prize win helps push other students at Temple University to compete next year.

“Being a graphic design student, it was difficult to figure out what the data was and what we had to look at, what we had to analyze, and how to design it in a way people would understand,” Reffner said. “Most of my class doesn’t know Excel.

“But the Temple Analytics Challenge was an innovative way to bring students from around campus together and show we can translate what we do know to a broader spectrum. It was that multidisciplinary aspect of the competition that, I think, was the most fun.”

Doug Seiwert echoed Reffner’s point. Seiwert, the Vice President of Information Technology and Enterprise Applications Development at QVC, said the popular home-shopping network produces one terabyte of data every month.

“For those of you who don’t know, that’s a lot of data,” said Seiwert, the event’s keynote speaker, “and it can be daunting when you’re processing this much data. Our challenge, and (the students’) challenge in this competition, was finding ways to make the data widely consumable, and I think you all did an outstanding job.”

The bar graph is dead.

It’s a bygone relic of an era intimidated by 1.28 billion Facebook members and 3 billion computer users globally. These numbers are not as daunting as they once were; rather, they are now the tools used to determine anything from favorite food to political preference.

This is big data, the new face of statistical and computational analysis.

Big data is the collection of data sets so large that it is difficult to process them with traditional methods. As the volume, velocity and variety of these sets increases, so does the need for informed analytics.

The Fox School of Business created the Big Data Institute for just this purpose.

In existence for more than a year, and with the assistance of seed money provided by Temple University Provost Hai-Lung Dai, the Big Data Institute strives to blend several programs and encourage natural synergies among big data researchers, students and firms, while seeking to become a global leader in research, education, industry practice, and technology transfer of big data.

For Dr. Paul A. Pavlou, Senior Associate Dean of Research, Doctoral Programs, and Strategic Initiatives at the Fox School of Business, the Institute represents a year of work supporting students and professors engaged with large data.

“The amount of data created in just an hour or minute is tremendous. We need new techniques and approaches to make sense of this data,” Pavlou said.

The Institute has five centers with individual specializations that include big data usage in mobile analytics, social media, health sciences, oncology research, statistics and biomedical informatics. These centers have used big data to connect brain imaging to successful advertisements, to use technology to create vast amounts of DNA for clinical study, and, in the School Tourism Hospitality and Management, to decrease dissatisfaction in the leisure industry, among other research projects.

“One of the unique advantages we have is that the Statistics department is housed in Fox. We try to leverage that to have different conversations,” Pavlou said.

The Institute and its centers are funded by data enthusiasts from Temple University, the federal government, affiliated firms and commercial groups, as well as start-ups the Institute helped get off the ground. With the aid of these associates, and partners in the private sphere, the Institute seeks to continue its research into cutting-edge data analysis.

In its pursuit of this goal, the Institute’s Center for Web and Social Media Analytics has capitalized on the data generated each minute from the 74 percent of adults using social media.

For Dr. Sunil Wattal, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems (MIS), this data is critical. “There is not a whole lot of awareness of what firms can do with social media,” Wattal said. “The Center provides firms with a way to quantify the value of social media and use the data to derive some interesting insights about their business.”

The Center logs onto social media to help firms such as Aerospace to understand consumer tendencies at the microscopic level. Combing through Twitter or flicking through Instagram, the Center decrypts consumer preferences for the latest fitness craze to political party affiliation. This data is then synthesized into something that anyone, from pollsters to yogis, can use to further their goals.

A key area of research, said Wattal, is how a crowdfunding organization can convince more people to donate to campaigns. Chief among the Center’s findings is that, contrary to the belief that Internet popularity grows exponentially, the more popular a campaign, the less likely it is to receive more funding. Working with a particular company, the Center has proposed design changes to combat this issue.

“There’s a community that gets created on these sites, and you can measure how people influence each other,” said Wattal.

In 2015, the Center will use funds received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to host a big data and privacy conference, bringing together federal agencies, online giants such as Google, and interested parties to discuss personal privacy in the Big Data age.

To keep students abreast of the latest in data analysis, the Fox School’s MIS department has introduced its newest university-wide course, Data Science. It is available to all students and has allowed business students to improve their data usage in the business world.

“We’re constantly surrounded by data. If you can get the average employee to take this data and get some insight on their own you can give them an advantage over the rest,” said Dr. David Schuff, Associate Professor of MIS and instructor for the Data Science and Data Analytics courses.

Schuff said he begins with the basics – teaching business majors and minors in his Data Analytics course how to use data-mining software, like SAS Enterprise Miner, to examine data and identify its pertinent characteristics.

“We want them to be able to look at cause-effect relationships in business data and use some basic tools to analyze that data and use the results to make better decisions,” Schuff said.

Using the basic skills Schuff teaches, students can use data to examine consumer preferences, such as using sales receipts to predict which goods are bought in tandem and how strategic sales can maximize profits. Broadening the scope, if politicians want to know a Facebook friend’s electoral value, they need someone who can use big data to decipher the sentiment behind a Facebook post. For Schuff, this person is someone who is, “comfortable with data,” and can fuse tools gleaned in business classes to decode the human psyche.

Data professionals “know what you can do with data and so they know how to support the marketing function. These people aren’t going to be just data scientists, …but business people who are working with data,” Schuff said.

Schuff aims for his students to move beyond the bar graph- and pie chart-models to create and analyze more sophisticated visualizations to better integrate data in their professional lives. These students get hands-on experience using SAS products, as well as Tableau software, both of which are currently used in the analytics industry.

“We really want people to touch the tools they would be using in industry so they can speak from experience,” Schuff said.

Data visualizations and infographics are creative illustrations. They can help tell a story, convey a point – and even land Temple University students up to $2,500 in prize money.

The 2nd Annual Temple Analytics Challenge: Making Sense of Big Data opens Oct. 1. The student competition is geared toward understanding data through visualization, a component that experts have cited as the path to attaining a hot job in big data analytics.

The Temple Analytics Challenge is open to Temple University students across all schools and disciplines. Working in teams or individually, students are tasked with creating an original visualization that provides clear and meaningful insight into current issues facing industry.

Corporate leaders developed specific problems and data sets that student teams will use to create their visualizations. They are:
The NBCUniversal Challenge: Where will politicians spend their midterm advertising dollars?
The Lockheed Martin Challenge: Which employee behaviors predict security threats?
The Merck Challenge: What is the impact of a new corporate site?

“Last year the competition was an amazing success, with 183 entries from 400 students across seven schools and colleges,” said challenge organizer David Schuff, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at the Fox School of Business. “The competition gives students the opportunity to work on real-world problems and data, while developing critical visual communication skills.”

The winning team will earn a $2,500 grand prize. Two second-place prizes ($1,500 each), two third-place prizes ($1,000 each) and five honorable mention prizes ($500) will also be awarded. The prizes are sponsored by the corporate members of the Institute for Business and Information Technology at the Fox School of Business and the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.

Contest entries are due Oct. 30. Twenty finalists will present their work Nov. 17 before a live judging panel of industry leaders from Merck, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, RJMetrics, NBCUniversal and the Campbell Soup Company.

Students can use any tools or software of their choosing to create their entries. Workshops and mentoring are available throughout October to further assist students.

For details, visit analyticschallenge.temple.edu. If you are a Temple professor looking to get your students involved, contact David Schuff (david.schuff@temple.edu) to request more information.