How AI is driving data decisions in business, with Haroon Abbu and Bill Rand

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be leveraged in business for so many things including data analytics and enhancing the customer experience. But there are concerns about AI as well, such as loss of actual human jobs and facial recognition bias. Today, we dive into AI and how it’s taught in the classroom.

Bill Rand is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Poole College and is currently the Executive Director of the Business Analytics Initiative.

Dr. Haroon Abbu is the Vice president of Digital Data and Analytics at Bell & Howell and the co-author of TRUST: The Winning Formula for Digital Leaders. A Practical Guide for Companies Engaged in Digital Transformation.


Bill: What tasks are we currently doing that don’t really require the human imagination and human creativity to really start to take apart, right? What are kind of repetitive tasks that can kind of just be replaced automatically? What we’re going to see, I think in the future is AI replacing a lot of those tasks that are not necessary for a human to do right, or that are hard for humans to do. 

Haroon: I think AI will become ubiquitous. More and more companies will use it will become table stakes, it will become prominent in manufacturing, security, automotives, even education,

Jenny: Bill, let’s start with you. Welcome back by the way, it’s so nice to have a returning guest in our second season of the podcast. You’ve been busy this past year building and working on the mission of the Business Analytics Initiative, which we affectionately call the BAI here at Poole College.

Could you give us a quick review of what the BAI is and what are some of the things you’ve been working on in year 2? 

Bill: Yeah, well, first of all, it’s good to be back. Thanks for having me back on the podcast. So we have been having a lot of fun with the BAI and kind of getting everything set up and getting started. And just to quickly recap, you know, the Business Analytics Initiative brings together all the great analytics work at Poole College.

On the education front that includes our undergraduate business analytics certificate, our graduate certificate in business analytics, and our masters of management and marketing analytics and on the research front we’re helping to coordinate the state of the art research that’s being done by our world-class scholars here at the college when it comes to business analytics, and on the thought leadership outreach front, we are assembling a top-notch advisory board that represents a diverse set of industries.

So ruined here will be a member is a member of that, and we are really committed to helping them understand and kind of talk about cutting edge analytics and data-driven decision-making. In terms of next steps, we’re launching a masters of management risk and analytics this fall, which comes out of our prestigious enterprise risk initiative here at Poole College and the great work being done in the accounting department there around risk and analytics.

And we are planning our first business analytics roundtable, which we affectionately called the BAR or the Bar if you are interested in joining us at the Bar, right? We ask that you kind of look for the materials that we’ll be putting up on our website and it will be launched and hosted on May 19th here in Raleigh at NC state’s campus.

And we have lots more great opportunities that we’re working on for industry and potential students to interact with the Poole college and interact with the Business Analytics Initiative that we’re, we’re planning for the future. So lots more to come, and we’re really excited about all the possibilities of things we could do in this space. 

Jenny: Yeah, it’s a busy time for you guys, but as you mentioned, very exciting. So Bill, you mentioned that Haroon, our guests joined the inaugural advisory board for business analytics and somehow got talked in to teaching an MBA class this semester on artificial intelligence. So Haroon tell us a little bit what, why and how you got kind of drawn into Poole college?

Haroon: Yeah. First of all, thanks for having me. It’s great to be with you today. Bell and Howell and Poole College of management we have been working together for a number of years, actually since 2014. It began with CIMS center for innovation management studies. That was then part of Poole college of management.

And Bell and Howell was an advisory board member of CIMS. So it was a great industry academy collaboration. Our company was in the cusp of transforming from manufacturing into services first company. So we needed a structured way to evaluate new ideas. For business impact, and that can match to our capabilities and strategy, right?

So we use innovation management process that CIMS has developed and changed it a bit to reflect our own unique business needs. And then partnering with NC state, we have done multiple workshops on innovation management. And today we have institutionalized that process internally, so we have a 90-day evaluation process from ideas to go no-go type of a project decision.

So this has resulted in significant business impact for us, both for our business model and new services model. Right? So in addition, we have participated in number of MBA practicums, projects. It has helped us onboard some good talent from NC State. So when Bill and Christine presented us the mission and objectives of business analytics initiative, BAI, our CEO COO and I quickly realized that we shared the same mission, right, which is data innovation leadership to tackle today’s leadership challenges. So I’m happy to be part of the inaugural advisory board of the BAI. It’s already working out great. Actually, we have two sets of business analytics honor program students doing practicums with us at the current time. It’s a semester long practicum.

I mean, it’s amazing to get their perspectives on some of the things that we’re working on. As you mentioned, yes, thanks to Bill I’m teaching an MBA class on artificial intelligence, with the same spirit of partnership, bridging the gap between education and industry, I’m really enjoying it. 

Jenny: Bill, why is it so important to have industry experts like Haroon in the classroom, especially in a space like analytics and AI?

Bill: Yeah. So I think Haroon did a great job at hinting at some of the reasons there, which is that, you know, in the educational world, you know, we’re of course great at teaching the theory and the concepts behind analytics and AI, but it’s really only through these kinds of practical experiences, whether they be through the practicums, and all of our programs require a practicum that Bell has been part of for quite a while now. 

in addition, bringing in outside experts like Haroon to kind of teach directly into our program about the concepts of AI and analytics, these are ever changing fields and our faculty general do a great job staying on top of the current trends and the cutting edge in these fields.

But Haroon is able to discuss not only what is theoretically possible in the space and what is, what the research says, but also how it’s being done in the in industry. You know, they could talk about questions like what problems do companies actually run into when trying to implement particular methods or particular techniques, which techniques, even though they may be similar, theoretically, work better in practice for different areas.

And finally, in some ways, most importantly, our students are constantly interested in kind of the organizational and governance nature of analytics and AI, like who makes the decision to implement it? Who has to do you have to get buy-in from, even all the way down to what are the job titles that we should be looking for in this space of AI and analytics, right?

And a new field like this, things are organizations changing, even more kind of organizational front, then they are in some ways on the technique and methods front. And Haroon is able to speak to that within his own company and his own organization, but also to similar realizations and industry-wide practices that exist in this space. 

Jenny: Living the think and do spirit. I know that I had to throw that in there. 

Bill: Yeah. Yeah. 100%

Jenny: Tossed up the softball, had to take it. But Haroon, I’d be curious, so you’re teaching this course, this semester with the MBA students. If, if Bill and I were joining this class, what are some of the things that you would be teaching in the AI space? What would we be learning?


Full Episode Transcript

The Poole Podcast is hosted by Jenny Hammond, the CMO at Poole College. This is a production of Earfluence.

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