Students in the Information Systems for Business Intelligence class got some hands-on experience with small-business consulting recently, and in the process gave a local Winona business owner information and a tool she can use to grow her business.

The “client” for the class project was GiLia Giaquinto, co-owner of the Hair Gallery salon in downtown Winona.

Four groups of students were given hand-written raw data about customer names, frequency of appointments, and services and products purchased at the Hair Gallery.

Their task was to customize a customer relationship management (CRM) tool for the business. A CRM is a model for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers. It involves using technology to organize, automate and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service and technical support.

After creating their CRMs and entering the raw data, the groups performed a business analysis to identify trends and opportunities for business growth. In the case of the hair salon, students observed that a CRM could help Giaquinto focus on services and products that created the most net income. And they suggested ways that the owner could use the CRM to track her clients, and contact them proactively to generate more frequent appointments.

Each group presented their work to Giaquinto, who said she was “excited to see what the students came up with.” She received executive summaries of each report, and has the opportunity to incorporate one of the CRM spreadsheets directly into her business management.

The group including Scott Zengri, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Marissa Jacobs, and Cody Sprague was judged the “winner” of the exercise.

Michael Ratajczyk, class instructor, said, “Each team brought a unique view of the data and their thesis. I am very happy with the performance of each group. However, this group’s CRM and its ease of use was excellent. Their training for the client was superb as well.”

Giaquinto observed that all of the student groups did well. She was pleasantly surprised at the revenue growth opportunities that the students identified. She learned a lot about how data analysis can aid her small business and gained an appreciation for how well the students navigated through more than eight months of business information. And she was very thankful for the hard work that the students did.

Ratajczyk said the exercise was intended to help students “become comfortable in using data and in creating and building data architectures for consulting on business situations.” He said he will continue to incorporate real-world local businesses in his Business Intelligence and Analytics classes.

More about the Business Intelligence and Analytics major:

Ratajczyk commented that “data analysis” presents an image “of data gurus sitting behind a desk in a city of cubical walls. I want to instill the value of oral communication and presentation skills in each of my students, and to show them that data analysis is more than just crunching data.

“I believe it’s equally important to verbally express what the data means rather than just show people data; that to me is the essence of ‘intelligence,’” Ratajczyk said. “If anything, the Business Intelligence and Analytics Major is a major on learning how to sell an idea, result or opinion that you develop through critical thinking.”

The next class that many of these students will attend is “Data Analytics and Business Modeling.” Ratajczyk said students “will experience business consulting through data analysis exercises every week. They will also be responsible for developing a price optimization model at the end of the semester that incorporates econometrics.”

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