The importance of data in a world of technological advancement

Saturday 30 March 2024

San Connon
A sharp increase of interest in business analytics and data in the North East has led to one of Robert Gordon University’s fastest-growing courses and a boost for vital industry sectors.

The University’s School of Creative and Cultural Business first launched MSc Business Analytics in 2019 when four students enrolled. Since then, RGU postgraduate degree has welcomed a rapid rise in applicants to the point there’s been a 2,500%+ increase in student enrolments on the course.

The previous two years have seen over 100 students signing up each year with the aim of becoming specialists in a business landscape which is becoming ever more reliant on data and digital expertise. 

The extent of the subject success has led to the course’s introduction as a four-year undergraduate degree as well as two new related short courses in Data Analytics for Healthcare Management and Data Analytics for Business Decision-Making.

Dr Sandra (San) Cannon, Lecturer in Business and Data Analytics, RGU (inset), said: “The advancement of technology and the explosion of data in all areas of life means that everyone needs to be comfortable understanding and using it.

“Whether people are managing their heating bills using a smart meter or building predictive models to better understand customer turnover, data is at the heart of so many activities that people do in their day to day lives, often without knowing it.”

The ten-week, credit-bearing upskilling courses have been launched to cater for a growing demand of learners interested in enhancing their skills in data analysis, coupled with a desire for industry to increasingly use data more effectively and to their advantage.

This is particularly the case in healthcare with recent Scottish Government messaging in its Digital Health and Care Strategy that makes clear that “leaders across health and care must be equipped with the necessary digital skills”, stating that "If digital is the engine of our health and care system, data is its fuel.” 

The management of the sector’s eye-watering amount of sensitive data provides an opportunity to benefit both practices and processes.

The University’s relationship with NHS Grampian, born out of its commitment to developing the North East socially, culturally and economically, realised the growing and specific need for the healthcare sector to employ staff with a specialist, non-clinical understanding of how to record and use data for wide-ranging uses.

Moses Anah is now a Health Intelligence Analyst at NHS Scotland having obtained a postgraduate degree through RGU’s MSc Business Analytics. He said: “Data analytics is a powerful tool in healthcare management, allowing for personalised treatment, efficiency, and anticipatory interventions. 

“Health professionals and managers can easily identify individual and population-level health needs and patterns from rich patient health data, making it possible to provide patient-centred treatment options; reduce waiting times from patient flow data; and make anticipatory interventions based on models predicting future outbreaks of diseases and seasonal fluctuations in healthcare demands. 

“With data quality being a major challenge, however, skills in data mining are necessary to improve the quality of health data. Courses such as RGU’s Data Analytics for Healthcare Management short course provide the opportunity for professionals and managers to acquire the critical skills and techniques to transform and structure data from its raw form into a desired format for high-impact analytics.”

It’s anticipated that the introduction of health data courses will help students use advanced digital technology to enhance their skills and support the health sector to optimise organisational processes.

Jillian Evans, Head of Health Intelligence & Learning Health Systems, NHS Grampian, said: “For anyone working in healthcare, using and applying data to improve patient and population outcomes is one of the most important skills you will need.

“Whether your role is about managing services, managing patients, or managing resources – being able to appraise, interpret and apply data is a basic skill that everyone should have, not just analysts or artificial intelligence (AI).”

The advancement of technology has transformed both how data is managed within organisations and how it is taught. With whole sectors still adapting and learning how to correctly implement digital procedures and practices, RGU is moving firmly with the times.

San added: “Our analytics courses aim to ensure that students have the right foundational knowledge about data practices and uses so they can apply those skills using any technology. 

“While we do introduce the students to a variety of software packages and programming languages used by analysts in industry, our goal is that they be able to employ their analytics skills using any tool they might find in the workplace.”

RGU will soon be further catering for these health-specific needs by launching a postgraduate degree in Business Analytics for Healthcare Management, bringing the total number of analytic related courses delivered by the school to five.

This article was printed in The Press & Journal on Friday 29 March 2024.

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