Three years after a 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 well-curated data is the great differentiator and nearly half of those surveyed (48%) expect data to improve visibility into assets and goods in the next three years.
This demand to optimize operations at scale was the focus of the fourth annual Data Feast MSBA Case Competition at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. In partnership with Estes Express Lines, the largest privately held freight transportation company in North America, teams of students from both the online and residential M.S. in Business Analytics programs applied their data science aptitude and business acumen to provide implementable solutions to solve a real-world business problem at a multi-billion-dollar company.
“The Data Feast serves as an anchor for our students in their academic journey, giving them an opportunity to showcase their analytics talent. The competition helps mold our students into future leaders in analytics as they solve challenging data problems and exhibit their understanding of how data drives business value,” said Patrick Scherder, member of the Mason business analytics advisory board. This initiative aligns with the data pillar of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan, through which the university is establishing itself as a thought leader at the intersection of computational, data sciences and the multitude of disciplines that study human societies, culture and experiences.
Leading up to the May 15 in-person event, four teams of online students and three teams of residential M.S. in Business Analytics students met over the course of several weeks to analyze trucking and pricing data provided by Estes. Each team developed recommendations on how the company could discover and potentially alter their so-called “balance adjustments” that are used in both their pricing model and their daily operations. The teams were advised by professors Jim Bradley and Matt Dean.
“I am so very proud of our students. They demonstrated their prowess in problem-solving, collaboration, and client engagement all while being thrown into an unknown business situation. Their commitment and resourcefulness shone brightly throughout the project, delivering useful results to Estes Express Lines,” said Dean about working with the student teams.
Teams pre-recorded their presentations which the judges reviewed in advance. Students then participated in a live Q&A with judges on the day of the competition. The judging panel was comprised of four business acumen judges: Rusty Hopkins, director at Estes Express; Alexander Blaha, senior strategy associate at Eldridge Industries; Osman Nal, 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 Oles, senior vice president, fulfillment operations & 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 is a two-time William & Mary alumna earning her undergraduate degree in 2003 and online MSBA in 2020, also 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 the teams as well as the business acumen they applied to translate the business problem into technical solutions,” she said. “While all the teams came with a slightly different approach, there was something valuable to be learned from each of the presentations.”
In addition to William & Mary alumni and esteemed judges, the proudly hosted Christer Johnson, chief analytics officer at Healthfirst who delivered opening remarks at the May 15 event. Michael Jacobs, Senior VP supply chain at Ferguson, delivered the program’s keynote address; Guillermo Rodriguez-Abitia, faculty director and business school associate clinical professor of operations and information systems, kicked off the live Q&A between the judges and students.
“Our team worked together to develop a user-friendly, data-driven solution for Estes Express Lines. We worked through lots of complicated data to generate our solution,” explained Dave Maser, MSBA ’23. “It was great to get some hands-on experience working with a team. We generated a great and very easily implementable solution that the Estes team loved. Data Feast certainly contributed to my overall Mason experience in a positive way. Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition?”
The top business team and top technical team were each awarded a $1,000 prize.
The winning teams of the 2023 Data Feast Case Competition were:
Business Acumen Team