Students Bring Global Flavor to Big Data Analytics

By Michelle Grainger

Croissants, red wine, cobblestone streets and the Provencal sun. Sweet tea, barbecue, tall pines and the Carolina sky. Add real-world based business classes and international business experience to the mix, and you have an idea what students in the Master of Global Innovation Management program experience.

The MGIM program, as we call it, is a unique joint effort between the Jenkins Graduate School of Management at N.C. State and the IAE Aix Graduate School in Aix-en-Provence, France. Students in this one-year program spend their fall semester in Aix and the spring one here, in Raleigh, N.C. The program’s mission: To develop competencies and an innovative mindset to enable participants to be personally involved in leading and managing innovation in globally oriented organizations.

This year’s graduates can also add another experience to their resume: Big Data Analytics. Not just any big data, but the unstructured kind that researchers at the Poole College have been tapping into for the past five or so years. The Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS) has been spearheading the effort as a way to help companies make better decisions about opportunities to pursue, partnerships to seek, products to launch, services to add or territories to explore.

The 21 MGIM students with unstructured data analytics in their toolkit earned their stripes by partnering with these companies, all of which are either corporate members of CIMS or have partnered with NC State in some way: Pentair, Air Products, Ply-Gem, Red Hat and Lenovo. Each company was assigned a small team of MGIM students, and generously shared with these students an actual question or issue they were wrestling with.

The students worked with their corporate sponsors to develop key questions related to the problem or opportunity. (As we say here at CIMS, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the question.) Together the students and sponsors identified websites that would be likely sources of relevant industry and market information. Students created keyword lists (called dictionaries) and then created parsing rules in the software, which filtered the search for relevant information. From there, the data that the search produced was analyzed and the key findings presented to the sponsor.

Two of these projects—one for Lenovo, the other for Air Products—were highlighted at our recent spring meeting during a presentation led by the new MGIM director, Dr. Leigh Shamblin, and CIMS Industrial Fellow and MGIM professor Dr. Fred Renk.

The student team working with Air Products was tasked with exploring new potential uses of industrial gases in the global transportation market. Air Products, the world’s No. 3 provider of gases and a longtime CIMS member, asked the student team of Seth Mason, Sumeet Kapoor and Zeyun Wang for three deliverables as part of the project: Perform a supply chain analysis, identify market trends and forecasts and provide access to the big data model and the results it produced.
The students went through an eight-step iterative process that began with defining the questions and criteria for the text analytics search and ended with an opportunity for Air Products executives to make decisions based on the project findings.

For Lenovo, students Megan Dillinger, Florent Schmahl, and Zidong Wang were tasked with helping the company measure satisfaction with its customer service, repair services, and other customer-facing divisions. They used Lenovo’s own internal databases for this project, and decided upon three deliverables: Build a model to address Lenovo’s Customer Experience issues, demonstrate results on customer survey and forum data as a blueprint for the tool, and deliver a functional and scalable model for further implementation.

The team scanned unstructured text from a previously generated Lenovo survey plus comments from a company user forum, for a total of 126,100 comments. The students developed a taxonomy of terms around the company’s goal of improving the customer experience. Some of their findings included new possibilities for the gaming and photography community for the company’s most powerful laptop as well as repair turnaround time issues and other customer service concerns.

The MGIM class of 2014 is completing their degree requirements this summer either through a company internship or a special program offered through Zhejiang University, a partner in China. When they hit the ground running next fall, they’ll be among a handful of business people with documented experience in unstructured text analytics.

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