By Bill Tastle, our newest OLAP.com contributor

As a Professor at an AACSB accredited business school, I am responsible for preparing  business students who are eager to enter the marketplace upon graduation. Naturally,  I spend a lot of time researching about what skills will best serve them. This can be more of a challenge than one might think because today’s skills may not be in demand tomorrow but one thing appears to be quite apparent; the need for graduates trained in the methods of business analytics will be in demand for at least the next decade.  Thus, my business school faculty members and I have been discussing how best to incorporate Business Intelligence (BI) skills into our existing program.

This is a bit exasperating if one’s business school/college is AACSB accredited, because the required set of courses that comprise the curricula have very little room for extras.  BI, I must argue, is not an “extra” but rather, a critical component to a student’s undergraduate business education.

So, I carefully examined the landscape for suitable software tools to bring into my undergraduate classroom environment. I spent considerable time reading everything I could find from many, many companies and multinational corporations hawking tools for BI. Eventually, I happened upon a company featuring a strong “Excel user-friendly” product.

There seemed to be a natural logic to doing BI in Excel, given the pervasive use of spreadsheets in the business community, but what I had discovered is that many software vendors try to address the Excel “problem” by doing away with Excel altogether.

This company had a different approach, which is to embrace what Excel has to offer as a familiar front end. I sent off an email asking for information and virtually immediately was in contact with someone at the company and quickly received their literature. I read it!  Carefully!  The more I read, the more excited I became.

It is pretty obvious that all business schools teach Microsoft Excel, some at a trivial level, which is little more than a superficial introduction, and others are more advanced levels.  Perhaps I am a statistical outlier, but at my school, sophomores must become Microsoft Expert certified to pass their required business technology course.

So, the ability to bring a BI tool directly into Excel in the form of a simple add-in has made all the difference in the world.  Students receive an introduction to the world of BI and quickly discover what is meant by “multi-dimensionality,” an important concept when business performance models (“cubes” in BI terminology) are being constructed.

I could not do as good of a job teaching Business Analytics if I had to teach an enterprise database program first, just to get to their dashboard graphs.  Furthermore, being able to attach the BI software program to other sources of data made it all the more fascinating to students who are amazed to discover they can access data not only from other worksheets, but also from database tables.  This is also a fantastic achievement, getting data from multiple sources with different data structures.

I am about as pleased as can be. In fact, I am offering an additional course in BI and I have other courses undergoing development.  The pedagogy involved in the skills of Business Intelligence is being written in this decade, and the benefit of using an “Excel-friendly” tool in the classroom brings daylight to the mysterious area of “intelligence gathering” and how it is used in decision-making solutions.  For me, it is particularly exciting because it is the beginning of a thrilling direction in business education.

Next time:  Analytics in the Business Dean’s Office