Three years after the global pandemic disrupted supply chains and caused production bottlenecks, the freight and logistics industry is looking to data analytics to identify opportunities to reshape operations. According to Deloitte, transportation companies believe that well-optimized data is a big differentiator and nearly half (48%) of those surveyed expect to improve data visibility into assets and supplies within the next three years.
The need to streamline operations was the focus of the fourth annual DataFest MSBA Case Competition at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. Teams of students from both the online and residential MS in Business Analytics programs have applied their data science skills and business acumen to provide practical solutions to real-world solutions in partnership with Estes Express Lines, North America’s largest privately held freight company. A business problem in a multi-billion dollar company.
“The Data Festival acts as an anchor for our students in their academic journey, giving them an opportunity to showcase their analytical skills. The competition helps our students become future leaders in analytics as they solve challenging data problems and demonstrate their understanding of how data drives business,” said Mason Business Analytics Advisory Board Member Patrick Scherder. This initiative aligns with the data pillar of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan, in which the university positions itself as a thought leader in computing, data science, and multiple disciplines that study human society, culture, and experience.
In person until May 15, four groups of online students and three groups of residential MS in business analytics students met for several weeks to analyze trucking and pricing data at Estes. Each group developed recommendations on how the company could find and change the so-called “balance adjustments” used in both their pricing model and their daily operations. The teams were mentored by Professors Jim Bradley and Matt Dean.
“I am very proud of our students. When thrown into an unfamiliar business environment, they demonstrated their skills in problem solving, collaboration and customer engagement. Their dedication and ingenuity shined through the project, producing significant results for Estes Express Lines,” Dean said of working with the student teams.
The teams pre-recorded their presentations which the judges had already reviewed. Students participated in a live Q&A with the judges on the day of the competition. The judging panel consisted of four business judges: Rusty Hopkins, director of Estes Express; Alexander Blaha, Senior Strategy Associate at Eldridge Industries; Osman Nal is a clinical assistant professor of economics and finance at William & Mary; and Jerry Lewandowski, Managing Director, Health Analytics at Berkeley Research Group.
They were joined by four technical judges: Bailey Mitchell, Manager, Data & Analytics at CapTech; Alyssa Ohls, Senior Vice President, Performance Operations and IT Services at Penguin Random House; Giorgi Lomaia, Senior Business Analyst at Capital One; and Jackie Juergens, Director, Supply Chain Data Science at Altria.
Juergens, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2003 and an online MSBA in 2020, is a two-time William & Mary alumna and serves as a member of the Business Analytics Advisory Board.
“As a judge for this year’s Data Feast, I was impressed by the quality of the analytical work from all teams and the business acumen they demonstrated to translate business problems into technical solutions,” she said. “Although all the groups came up with a slightly different approach, there was something valuable to learn from each of the presentations.”
In addition to William & Mary alumni and esteemed judges, they also honored Christer Johnson, HealthFirst’s Chief Analytics Officer, who delivered a keynote address on May 15. Michael Jacobs, Senior VP Supply Chain at Ferguson, delivered the keynote address; Faculty Director and School of Business Associate Clinical Professor Guillermo Rodriguez-Abitia kicked off a live question-and-answer session between the judges and students.
“Our team worked together to develop a user-friendly data-driven solution for Estes Express Lines. We processed a lot of complex data to generate our solution,” said Dave Macer, MSBA ’23. “It was great to have the experience of working with a team. We have developed an excellent and very easy-to-implement solution that the Estes team loves. Datafest has positively contributed to my overall Mason experience. Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition?”
The top business team and top technical team were awarded $1,000 each.
The winning teams of the 2023 Data Fest Case Competition are:
Business skills group
Christine Hojnicki, Raymond A. Mason Business School