February 14, 2018

SIU's College of Business incorporates a focus on advanced analytics and artificial intelligence

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A College of Business research facility at Southern Illinois University has taken on a new, cutting-edge role and name: The Pontikes Center for Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence.

It’s the first such university-affiliated center and it allows the business college to partner with corporations and businesses to offer a program that fulfills the need within various industries for big data and analytics while also providing a unique training ground and research facility for students.

In conjunction with this big change, SIU is also now offering for the first time an optional MBA concentration in analytics for managers.

A unique “think tank”

The Pontikes Center was originally established in 1989 by Kenneth Pontikes, a 1963 marketing alumnus, as an information management research center. But, the center now has a new and different focus to address current corporate and business student needs.

Jim Nelson, associate professor of management, said he’s thrilled to serve as the new director of the center which is essentially a “think tank” wherein faculty, staff and students will partner with industries to research, collect and analyze specialized data.

 “There are universities with analytics programs but we are different because we combine analytics with artificial intelligence,” Nelson said. “Artificial intelligence is extremely important in making sure the analytics works well. It can recognize change in the playing field and adjust to keep the data relevant,” Nelson said.

Focus on Artificial Intelligence as an important part of data collection

In a highly competitive marketplace, companies are always looking for that extra edge to assure their longevity, productivity and profitability, and that’s why analytics is so important, college officials said.

Adding the artificial intelligence component enables researchers to collect the very specialized data industries need to make wise choices while saving time and money that might otherwise be spent wading through large pools of data to hone in on the information that is most applicable to their business needs.

“Our programs will focus on providing executives a working knowledge of analytics. Business leaders of today need to know how to work with analytics experts and interpret the data,” Nelson said. “I am excited to be part of a program that will prepare our students to work in some of businesses’ fastest growing fields.”

Board includes analytics experts from major players in the field

Nelson’s first goal has been establishing an advisory board, networking extensively with potential corporate partners to bring on board analytic experts from eight target industries: engineering, finance, health care, human resources, insurance, manufacturing, logistics and retail.

The inaugural board for the center includes:

  • Niki Allen, director of the office of the CIO and chief of staff to Ted Colbert, The Boeing Company chief information officer and senior vice president of information and analytics
  • Andy Greenberg, analytics principal at Edwards Jones
  • Ian Stewart, senior vice president of revenue cycle at Presence Health
  • Jim Boudreault, executive director and global head of data science and intelligence for CME Group
  • Alex Perez, director of data science at NIKE Inc.
  • Dan Organ of Caterpillar Inc.

The board also includes Terry Clark, dean of the College of Business; Kristen Kordecki, director of corporate and foundation relations for the SIU Foundation; and Nelson.

The board will help shape the courses students take through the center to assure they acquire the knowledge and training to positively impact businesses. Board members will also speak to classes and interact with students online via videos.

New MBA concentration in analytics for managers

In addition, preparations are underway for the college’s new MBA concentration in analytics for managers, a program that will prepare graduates for careers in one of the world’s fastest-growing fields.

SIU will continue to offer the traditional MBA degree as well as an option for a concentration in agribusiness economics. But, beginning this spring, the college is offering a completely online MBA program with a focus on analytics, assuring graduates are trained to identify, sort and understand what is important within the endless streams of information available in the world today.

Improving technology offers vast potential for business

According to Nelson, the world’s computer power doubles about every 18 months, meaning we have about 100 times the computer capacity available today for the same cost as what was available in 2007.

That means the potential to store 100 times more data and process it 100 times faster than just a decade ago. Companies can find additional data storage in the cloud. But, sifting, analyzing and interpreting all of this data is what really matters and that’s what the new Pontikes Center and MBA analytics concentration are all about.

Students will learn to decipher big data

Students will develop an understanding of all of the tools available for analyzing big data, including analytics techniques and artificial intelligence, which has increased productivity and the quality and complexity of analytical models.

“Corporate executives and managers make strategic decisions based on data so company marketing efforts reach the customers most likely to respond,” Nelson said. “Business finance and accounting officials need to know where to invest and how to analyze the results. Analytics is critical to success in every phase. That’s where SIU’s analytics program comes in. We’re addressing the human side of analytics.”

More information

For more information about the Pontikes Center for Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence or the new analytics courses, contact the SIU College of Business at 618/453-3328 or by email at Or, find details about the center and the MBA analytics concentration online.