BDU (BDU) is an IBM led initiative that aims to democratize access to practical skills for working with big data. To that end, BDU has made everything that you need to learn, free. Free courses, free access to all the tools, free data – and not for a few days or weeks – forever.

Not only does BDU offer free access to courses and tools to users on the BDU website, it also makes them available to select academic institutions and learning providers at no charge through academic partnerships and the BDU Ambassador program.

One such partnership that has been particularly successful has been with University of Maryland University College (UMUC). In fact, this partnership even recently received the Award for Excellence from UPCEA.

UPCEA Award of Excellence - Partnership

This award was in recognition of establishing a symbiotic partnership between The Master of Science in Data Analytics (MSDA) program at UMUC and IBM / BDU, and has led to significant contributions to the field of adult education as well as for the students in the program.

Why the Partnership

The goal of this partnership was to close the prevalent skills gap in Data Analytics along with the objectives of the university teaching needed skills that the industry demands and having students better prepared for the job market.

We live in an ocean of data. We are collecting increasingly massive amounts of data that is becoming ever more complex. Businesses, government and nonprofit organizations have understood the potential benefits of data and spent a great deal of effort to analyze them, resulting in many advantages including new products/markets, streamlined approaches and hidden gems of actionable information. This is the primary motivation behind data analytics. Increasingly, employers are looking for potential hires that are experienced in data analytics.

Studies by McKinsey underscore the future state of this field. In the McKinsey study, it was found that by 2018 the number of data analytics jobs just in the United States will exceed 490,000; however, there will be fewer than 200,000 available professionals to fill these positions. The study forecasted a significant shortfall in big data skills, In fact, as per the McKinsey study “by 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions”. Worldwide demand for these professionals is projected to exceed supply by more than 50 percent during the same time period. Therefore, there is a stark need for data scientists in the immediate future.

According to Steven Miller, Global Leader Academic Programs & Outreach for IBM Analytics Group, “by working collaboratively, industry, academia, and government can begin to close the knowledge and skills gaps and better prepare students, managers, and professionals for big data jobs of the future”.


How the Partnership works

BDU creates and curates content and courses on various topics in Analytics, Big Data, and Data Science by working with experts in these areas. BDU also provides a virtual lab environment with all the tools and software, including many open data tools such as Jupyter notebooks and R Studio, programming and data analysis interfaces such as R, Python and Scala, and big data backends such as Spark and Hadoop.

By leveraging the industry leading content provided by BDU and IBM, the Graduate School at the University is able to create and deliver its program curriculum very quickly and effectively. Moreover, students take some of the BDU classes as essential preparation before starting projects assignments for the MSDA courses. This includes some very popular courses such as Data Science 101, Spark fundamentals, Introduction to R, and , Watson Analytics Fundamentals.

And by leveraging the tools and cloud-based lab environments provided by IBM and BDU, students are able to learn hands-on without worrying about downloading/installing/configuring the required tools and software, and without the University needing to worry about creating and maintaining the lab environment consisting of analytics and big data tools that are rapidly evolving and coming out with new versions at a constant pace.

Dr. Elena Gortcheva from the Graduate School, University of Maryland University College, explains “Students get hands-on experience with not just the cutting edge technology but the most advanced technology in Big Data Analytics that is in the market. MSDA students use top analytical tools for in memory analytics such as Spark and DashDB and develop analytical projects on real data sets from different sources and domains including, weather, Twitter, healthcare, stock exchange, and marketing. Laboratories and projects like these are vital to ensure that students develop a practical understanding of how to apply data and analytics skills in the real world”.

In addition, students have been afforded the opportunity to attend major events sponsored by IBM that are complimentary to students. For example, students are invited to attend the highly regarded Data Analytics Workshop Series that is presented by IBM’s BDU. Past events include ‘Getting Started with Data Analytics’, ‘An Introduction to Watson Analytics’ and ‘Python for Data Analysts’.

Benefits of the Partnership

Marrying the expertise in teaching and continuing education from UMUC, analytics technology and industry expertise from IBM, and top notch content and virtual lab environment from BDU, this partnership has been win-win for everyone involved, especially the students.

Taking a skill-based, as opposed to a primarily theoretical, approach to education is beneficial for both students and employers. The partnership results in better skilled professionals for the data analytics career needs of tomorrow.

The benefits of this partnership to the MSDA program include:

• Bring cutting edge industry standards technology at no cost to the classroom
• Educate students to apply the theory/principles by completing hands-on exercises
• Use course materials developed by industry experts thus making the curricula oriented to the industry needs
• Shorter curricula development time because of the free resources
• Use of cloud based lab environments to help students develop a practical understanding of how to apply data and analytics skills in the real world
• Access to experts who offer free workshops for UMUC staff and faculty
• Training for faculty

In closing, Dr. Elena Gortcheva from UMUC says, “We anticipate that this will be a long-term lasting partnership because IBM and BDU are committed to the life cycle of the program and UMUC is dedicated to providing a quality learning experience for the student”.