Skip to main content
The Data Revolution

Leading in Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Smith’s world-renowned analytics and AI ecosystem is developing the next generation of leaders in analytics, big data and machine learning.

If you’ve won the top prize in your field, where do you go next? If you ask Yuri Levin, you build on the momentum to innovate internationally.

Capping off the 2019-2020 academic year, in May Smith School of Business received the 2020 UPS George D. Smith Prize from INFORMS, the leading international association for professionals in operations research and analytics. The award recognizes excellence in preparing students to become practitioners of operations research and analytics.

The INFORMS judges were impressed by the holistic nature of Smith’s analytics and AI ecosystem, which includes graduate degree programs, research and collaboration with big businesses and top analytics institutions.

“The win was a pleasant surprise, as it is unusual for a Canadian school to receive this kind of award,” says Levin, executive director of analytics and AI for Smith. “It is solid evidence that what we've been working on for the last seven years is being recognized by the professional community in analytics and AI.”

The path to the George D. Smith Prize was several years in the making for Smith. The cornerstone was laid in 2013 with the launch of the Master of Management Analytics (MMA) program. “We were one of the first Canadian schools to offer a management analytics program, and now there are several schools offering programs with the same name,” says Levin. “We graduate some 220 professionals per year in the MMA program, a scale that is unprecedented in any other North American school.”

The MMA has since been joined by the Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence (MMAI), which graduated its first class of 63 in 2019 and is set to graduate another 84 this fall. The third class of MMAI students will begin their studies in August, where they will be greeted by new case studies featuring major companies like Coca-Cola and BMW and government departments like the Canada Revenue Agency.

Smith’s strength in AI and analytics has also resulted in a new program called the Global Master of Management Analytics (GMMA), which launched with 42 enrollments in February. The GMMA allows students to earn an analytics degree from anywhere in the world.

Watch Smith professor Stephen Thomas explain the importance of artificial intelligence managers in business today and the crucial role they play as the “translator” within organizations.

Thanks to Smith’s deep industry connections, these programs benefit from access to real-world data and capstone projects that allow students to tackle real-life business challenges. For instance, students in Smith’s graduate AI and analytics programs have worked on a prediction model for employee departures, a store layout optimization project, and an algorithm to predict the cost to resolve customer issues.

These graduate programs also benefit from an advisory board featuring some of the biggest names in AI, analytics and business. This impressive group of 40 global leaders lends significant credibility to the programs, and board members are tasked with helping to guide the programs’ curricula and appearing as guest speakers in classes. Smith’s Analytics and AI Advisory Board includes leaders such as Sarah Davis, president of Loblaw Companies; Michael Zerbs, chief technology officer at Scotiabank; Lori Bieda, head of the Analytics Centre of Excellence at BMO; and Gary Kearns, executive vice-president at Mastercard. In January, Mark Shafer, senior vice-president of decision science and integration at The Walt Disney Company, was appointed board chair.

It’s not just the advisory board putting their stamp on the three Smith AI and analytics programs, however. In 2019, the GMMA joined its sister programs in receiving a Vector Institute accreditation, allowing students in the MMA, MMAI, and the GMMA programs to become eligible for scholarships and research grants through the Ontario and Canadian governments.

“We were the only business school on the Vector Institute list at the beginning,” notes Stephen Thomas, director of the MMA and MMAI programs. “That first-mover advantage resulted in a lot of attention in conferences and tremendous support from industry.”

"Thanks to Smith’s deep industry connections, analytics and AI students get to tackle real-world business challenges for companies.”

That industry support has created a wide range of partnerships and opportunities for Smith students. The 2019-20 academic year included a series of events with Analytics by Design Toronto; and the Conflict Analytics Lab, a research partnership between Smith and Queen’s Faculty of Law that has, for instance, developed a legal tool called MyOpenCourt. It uses AI to help people better understand their legal rights when they are put out of work. Applied projects have also continued with partners like Scotiabank, which sponsors the Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics.

In addition to the launch of more traditional post-secondary programming, Smith’s executive education also benefits from this ecosystem approach. For example, an AI Jumpstart for Managers program is planned for this fall through Queen’s Executive Education. Such a session allows business managers who are not fully immersed in the AI world to gain a practical understanding of the topic through the expertise available at Smith.

With new opportunities, possibilities and technologies emerging daily, it can be a challenge to stay current on the latest and greatest in AI and analytics. But Smith’s successes highlight the importance of Levin’s underlying philosophy: to use a flexible, bottom-up approach. “I enjoy the fact that we can provide faculty and organizations within our ecosystem, such as the Conflict Analytics Lab, with the resources they need to launch,” he says. “That approach helps bring out the best talent and ideas.