Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

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Data savvy

March 2020

  Cindy Liu

Cindy Liu became fascinated by the technology sector when she sat in on some Creative Destruction Lab sessions.

After graduating from the Rotman Commerce program in 2017, she worked as an analyst at a Toronto marketing tech company — but soon realized she needed to be more data savvy to excel at the job. So she returned to Rotman in 2018 to take part in the new Master of Management Analytics (MMA), a rigorous nine-month program shaped by data science industry experts.

As part of the program’s first cohort of students, Liu (BCOM ‘17, MMA ‘19) learned to extract, interpret and convey insights from large data sets in order to solve complex — and real-world — business problems. For example, as part of her practicum, she and three classmates helped insurance aggregator determine which factors influence people to purchase insurance policies. After analyzing the company’s customer database and website activity, and using statistical modelling to identify patterns in purchasing behaviours, the group determined which subsets of web visitors are most likely to become customers.

“The knowledge I gained in the Rotman MMA and the opportunity to apply it to an actual business was invaluable,” Liu says. “The in-class training combined with the industry project gave me a sense of the data analysis process from start to finish.”

Underpinning this intensive research by Liu and the other MMA students is Rotman’s TD Management Data and Analytics Lab (TD MDAL). Enhanced and renamed in October 2018 with a $4 million gift from TD Bank Group, the lab provides students, faculty and industry partners access to high-performance computing power and sophisticated programs in data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The end goal? To help organizations make better business decisions through advanced data mining.

“At TD, we have seen first-hand the calibre of talent coming out of the TD MDAL, and we are excited to continue to work directly with these students on real-world opportunities and applications for data and analytics,” says Peter Husar, Vice President, Enterprise Analytics Strategy & Planning, TD BankGroup.

“Bringing together industry and academic expertise through the TD MDAL will help Canada remain at the forefront of data and analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning innovation.”

“Bringing together industry and academic expertise through the TD MDAL will help Canada remain at the forefront of data and analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning innovation.”

- Peter Husar, TD Bank Group

TD MDAL supports state-of-the-art data science education and research in other ways too. Several Rotman programs now include training in data analytics, and the lab hosts public datathons, workshops and seminars on the newest topics in prediction, machine learning and AI.

The lab is an excellent example of Rotman donors and industry partners pushing the boundaries of management education and research — and transforming business and its place in society. In addition to advancing management data analytics, Rotman supporters help scale seed-stage science and technology businesses through the Creative Destruction Lab; develop leaders equipped to drive innovation through the Business Design Lab; facilitate research on the governance and systems of healthcare organizations through the Sandra Rotman Centre for Health Sector Strategy; and strengthen Canada’s financial services sector through the FinHub Financial Innovation Lab.

Liu and her classmates not only benefited from TD’s generous investment in the TD MDAL, but also from the engagement of a large number of industry partners who served as practicum sponsors. Kanetix was among 13 practicum sponsors in 2018–19 as was Bell, Canadian Tire, Google and Hudson’s Bay. As well, the program’s curriculum is informed by an advisory board of 19 data analytics executives from companies such as Rogers, IBM Canada, Deloitte and CIBC.

“With the support of our partners, we are able to expand our capacity to deliver these skills and tools to our students and faculty and build talent,” says TD MDAL co-academic director Susan Christoffersen, Vice Dean of Undergraduate and Specialized Programs and Professor of Finance.

After graduating, Rotman students go on to become highly skilled employees, tackling complex challenges. In fact, over 93 per cent of MMA graduates, including Liu, found placements in their field within three months of graduation. Last June, she began working as a data scientist at Toronto-based, a platform that helps retailers, telecommunication firms, transportation providers and other consumer businesses better predict customers’ needs. Her day-to-day work involves studying clients’ website data and industry intelligence, and using machine-learning algorithms to optimize their customer conversion.

“I love applying data to solve business problems,” says Liu. “It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help companies better relate to their customers, while delivering solutions at scale.”

Written by Sharon Aschaiek | Photo by Eugene Grichko

This article appears in the 2019 Investors' Report »

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