Nicolas Gavoille: Teaching How to Crunch Data and Make Decisions
Dealing with huge amounts of data, finding the tools for analyzing it and teaching the skills to communicate one’s conclusions and recommendations are the challenges facing business school students today, says Nicolas Gavoille, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at SSE Riga.
Professor Gavoille has been teaching in Riga just under four years, starting just after he earned his PhD at the University of Rennes in France in 2015, but says he has seen an explosion in the amounts of data available to business decision-makers in that time and also as he went through his higher education.
In the late 1990s, both SSE Riga students and managers in the “real” business world could work with available data using Excel or a similar spreadsheet, but now Gavoille says “the quality and the size of the data sets that are now available require more sophisticated tools than what was in the standard toolkit 20 or so years ago.”
He believes that the vast amounts of data gathered by businesses and other organizations are creating a demand for new competencies from business professionals.
“Just looking at the type types of competencies that are asked on the labor market from our students, there is a huge demand for people that are able to work with data. But only working with data is not enough: the main thing is to extract the relevant information out of these enormous data collections. It's to be able to know what is possible and what is not possible to do with data,” Gavoille said. He teaches courses that he believes build these skills: mathematics; econometrics; managerial economics and game theory.
The courses, he explains, train the skills for “evidence-based decision making. This is something that is becoming more and more important and business professionals are more and more aware that it is crucial to listen to what the data can tell you in order to make the right decision.”
Gavoille emphasized that his courses, though heavy on mathematics and the use of information technology (IT) and software, are not about programming or directly developing the data analysis software tools for business decision support. “There is the type of person, the professional who is developing these tools and there are those using and interpreting the results. Our aim is not to train programmers, but rather is to help students becoming educated users of these methods, at least in a first stage” he explained.
Some of the teaching in his courses is by the “traditional” method of lecturing, but Gavoille says that individual and group work solving problems similar to those managers are facing in real life is important and will play an increasing role in preparing business students for real world decision-making roles.
“You have to put yourself, your hands in the in grease, to understand how things are working. You'll have to get some experience by yourself. And so, this is very important to have some individual work, group work or whatever it is. To solve yourself some real-life application, some real-life cases. This is something that is very important,” he said.
The French-educated professor adds that communication and intercultural skills taught in other SSE Riga courses are equally important, since doing profitable and sustainable business is more than just intelligently crunching growing mountains of data: “In the way we train our future professionals, our students, it is really to make the connections between the two sides, the data crunching part or quantitative part and to be able to communicate and to express what are the results of that type of analysis. To be able to communicate in general about their findings and their relevance, not only when we're talking about the results to a group of, say Indonesian people that are potential buyers, but also to the decision makers or the boss of your company.”
Asked about his impressions of teaching at SSE Riga for nearly four years, Gavoille said he was impressed with the curiosity of his students. “I particularly like the curiosity of the students, which is much more developed than the average. There is nothing I like more than at the end of the lecture when there are some students staying to ask questions, asking for more details about some examples that I've been using. This is something that I really appreciate this curiosity, and this will to go further,” he said.
Professor Gavoille says he started his university studies in France first thinking he would be an architect, but then switching to economics and getting his undergraduate degree from the University of Nancy in northern France. He then went on to get master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Rennes, though spending a semester in Italy during this period of study.