What happens when you give graduate students real world data?

TORONTO – Graduate students are used to clean data – professors giving them data sets they can begin analyzing immediately. So what happens when actual, real-world data is placed in front of them? SAS Institute, Deloitte, and Scotiabank recently partnered with the Ivey Business School to find out.

For the “Hack the Case” hackathon, Ivey’s MSc Business Analytics graduate students, who have been training with SAS Analytics, were given anonymous Scene card loyalty data and the following question: Among the Scene loyalty customers who don’t have other banking relationships with Scotiabank, who should Scotiabank target? In particular, who should Scotiabank target for traditional banking relationships (i.e. debit cards), and who should they target for Visa cards? The students were given 10 days to sift through the data and provide answers.

During the allotted time period, each team was given access to a Deloitte and SAS mentor, plus a conference call with experts from Scotiabank. The students were also thrown a curveball the morning before their final presentations at Deloitte’s Toronto offices: when should Scotiabank do the targeting?

“For instance, if Scotia is going to target customers with some sort of promotional campaign, do they do it in the first two weeks that somebody has a Scene card?” said Greg Zaric, professor of management at Ivey. “Or do you wait until they redeem some points, six months down the road?”

Zaric explained how beforehand promotional campaigns may have just been shot out to 50,000 or 100,000 people at once, a route that can be fairly expensive and not as effective. “Where as if you take a really good look at the data, maybe you can find much smaller micro-targeting groups of 5,000, 10,000 or less who are highly likely to respond to a focused message,” Zaric said.

These are real questions Scotiabank has, and the Canadian banking giant will be taking the answers these students come up with back to its own teams.

“We wanted the students to be able to use real data so that they could create solutions that would be applicable in the real world,” said Navin Singh, director of partnerships, marketing strategy, and development at Scotiabank. “These young people are Canada’s future business leaders and we believe in the importance of them having opportunities, like this hackathon, to work in teams to test their skills in a practical setting.”

“Hack the Case” stands out because of its use of actual data. These aren’t clean data sets, and the 60 GB of data was much larger than anything the students had worked with before.

“[The students] are getting a broader and more applied understanding of analytics,” said SAS Canada academic program lead Mark Morreale. “This is by far the largest data set they have worked with and it’s a real data base with real questions that Scotia has. It is a more applied example. They weren’t given a clean Excel spreadsheet, there are errors. It’s a full business perspective.”


Team Sasquatch (pictured above), for example, ran into problems they had never seen before thanks to the simple fact that they were working with actual data. Normally the students could dive immediately into the analysis, but now had to spend nearly four days cleaning the data before it could be usable.

“There is just so much data out there, and [companies like Scotiabank] almost don’t have the capacity to translate the data into meaningful insights. That’s what our program is all about,” said Andreas Schotter, professor of international business and academic directory of Ivey-MSc & CEMS. “We aren’t just training data jocks – we are training people to take insights from that data. The students benefit, and all the partners do as well.”

The real world experience also makes these students more attractive to potential employers. In the case of Team Sasquatch, three of those students have internships with Scotiabank this summer, making this “Hack the Case” event almost like a sneak preview at some of the data they might be working with.

“Some students could be starting a program in January and by April they are already being recruited by firms like Deloitte,” said Morreale. “From the market perspective, SAS Analytics skills are wanted. Deloitte and Scotiabank both have people here. This is almost an interview, so we can help create that link between academics and the industry itself.”

The winning team, the Hack Street Boys, used several different techniques, including linear and logistic regression models, to identify target segments to identify various characteristics of a small number of target groups. This included the number of accounts with Scotiabank, the number of transactions per month, and the city of residence with a focus on “high value” and “day to day” customers.

The team was able to provide different strategies to target each segment after recognizing that these two segments have different needs. And, their ability to answer questions after their presentation set themselves apart as a team who is not only capable of finding an answer, but one that can explain it as well.

With the tech industry clamoring for graduates with these skill sets, it’s no surprise that since Morreale started at his position in SAS Canada in 2012, the number of graduate degree programs has jumped from two to nearly 15. Considering that in the academic cycle it usually takes three years to get a program started, it goes to show how important these types of programs, and these types of events and partnerships, are to the tech industry.

“By 2018, every single business school in Canada will have either a MSc or what will be called an MBA specialization, which would be like a side part of a business degree,” said Morreale.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Alex Radu
Alex Radu
is a Video Producer for IT World Canada. When not writing or making videos about the tech industry, you can find him reading, watching TV/movies, or watching the Lakers rebuild with one eye open.

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