Northeastern joins forces with Suffolk Construction to build the future of data

Members of the Northeastern community prepare to tour the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

New methods of data collection and analysis have the potential to revolutionize the way that businesses are organized and run. Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business is forming a partnership with Suffolk Construction, a national contracting company, to make sure they are driving those changes.

Under the partnership, called the Digital, Analytics, Technology, and Automation initiative, Northeastern students and faculty will develop data-based solutions to help businesses improve their bottom line.

“So many businesses are struggling with how to use data better to improve customer service and decision-making,” said Koen Pauwels, a Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Northeastern. “Big Data is great, but you have to know how to use that data.”

“Our partnership with Northeastern will allow us to leverage the power of innovation and data analytics to transform the construction experience, increase our talent pipeline, and revolutionize our industry,” John Fish, the chairman and chief operating officer of Suffolk, said in the company’s announcement of the partnership. “But most importantly, this DATA Initiative will enlighten data-driven organizations throughout the world and will help business organizations from all industries prepare for the digital economy and the future.”

President Joseph E. Aoun, left, greets John Fish, chairman and chief operating officer of Suffolk Construction, before the topping off ceremony for the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University.

The partnership will provide an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience working on the real-life problems that businesses are facing. Pauwels is planning roundtables for students and industry leaders each semester to discuss current issues and share research, and hopes these will be able to guide better business practices.   

“When you think of the world around us, there is this seamless transition happening between the physical and the digital,” said Raj Echambadi, the Dunton Family Dean of the business school. He refers to this merging as digital convergence. “D’Amore-McKim wants to be a key player in the world of digital convergence by developing people and providing guidance for organizations to thrive.”

Pauwels has already begun involving active student groups, such as the Big Data club, which hosts speakers and workshops to help students learn more about data science, and is planning the first yearly conference for faculty, students, and business leaders for this April.

“The people with these talents in a student population don’t always think about applying to the construction industry,” said Pauwels. “We want to prepare them better for careers that use data analytics, but also show them that it’s not just the big tech companies that are using this.”

The construction industry might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of cutting-edge data analytics. But whether it’s sales, marketing, workforce organization, or risk management, construction contracting depends on a lot of data, said Jit Kee Chin, who was hired as Suffolk’s first chief data officer a little over a year ago. The position, created to determine how best to use data to drive the company forward, is a rarity in construction, but it made Suffolk the perfect partner for Northeastern.

Raj Echambadi, the Dunton Family Dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“I’ve always been impressed with how practical and how business-oriented the training has been at Northeastern,” Chin said. “We’re always trying to do things better and stay at that cutting edge of thinking…Northeastern is trying to do the same thing from the education side.”

Echambadi described the partnership as “a meeting of the minds.” Both organizations understand that data analytics will only become more vital for businesses and want this collaboration to help to shape that future.

“In this future world of digital convergence, analytics expertise is going to become extraordinarily important,” Echambadi said. “I’m very excited to be there at that cutting edge, developing impactful leaders.”

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