Alumnus Establishes Analytics Labs in IC’s School of Business

By Kyle Hornyak, March 6, 2019
John J. Neeson ’84 makes gift to establish dedicated lab spaces for students to hone business analytics and digital marketing skills using the latest tools and technology.
students work on projects in an accounting analytics class

School of Business students work on projects in an accounting analytics class led by assistant professor Margaret Shackell-Dowell. This space will be upgraded to become one of the new business analytics labs.

(Photo by Allison Usavage/Ithaca College)

When making crucial choices that can lead an organization to its boom or its doom, business professionals have access to an abundance of data thanks to myriad web analytics tools. But when it comes to interpreting the data, it’s critical to have a working knowledge of the latest tools of the trade. Now, two dedicated business analytics laboratories at Ithaca College will provide students with hands-on experience to help them thrive in a world that relies on data to drive innovation.

The endowment to create the lab spaces, slated to open in the fall of 2019 in the Roy H. and Dorothy D. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise, was established by John J. Neeson, a 1984 School of Business alumnus. Neeson’s gifts support the creation of the Neeson Business Analytics Lab and the Neeson Digital Marketing and Analytics Lab and establish the John Neeson ’84 Endowed Software and Database Fund to support software updates and future upgrades to the Neeson Business Analytics Lab.

One of the two forthcoming lab spaces is currently an electronic classroom that will receive a full upgrade with modern workspaces. Business administration students will use the classroom, as well as students who choose to take advantage of the School of Business’s minor in analytics (classes in the new lab space will be open to all students at IC, not only those who are enrolled in the School of Business).

The second space will also receive an upgrade, transforming from a technology-free conference room to a robust analytics lab where students can conduct research and develop projects. While it is common to find educational resources such as virtual trading rooms in business schools across the country, IC’s School of Business will be among the very few institutions (and the first of its size compared to far larger competitors) to offer lab spaces fully dedicated to the study of analytics.

“The analytics labs in the School of Business will provide students with resources and hands-on experience that will empower them to understand and adapt to evolving business trends across all industries,” said School of Business Dean Sean Reid. “Our community is very grateful to John Neeson for his incredible support of IC’s students and Ithaca College.”

John Neeson, president of IC’s Class of 1984 and crew team commodore during his time as a student, views his contribution to the college as “an opportunity to help the school achieve its vision and create an experience that builds on what the school already offers. It’s my hope that students will get more thorough experience with digital marketing, have access to the latest tools and techniques, and graduate with real experience.”

Describing some of the concepts that students will explore through their work in the labs, Department of Marketing professor and chair Scott Erickson shared, “Students will learn how to apply customer relationship management (CRM) systems, making marketing decisions based on customer activities and communications. They will also develop skills in using predictive tools such as regression, neural networks, decision trees, and clustering, all of which will help prepare students for the new, data-driven environment in marketing.”

“As a student studying marketing and analytics, I am very excited for the labs,” shared business administration major Rachel Cadet ’20. Cadet, who is planning to obtain a minor in analytics, is most looking forward to gaining hands-on experience with the latest tools through the new analytics labs. “I think having the opportunity to learn software that’s currently used in the industry I am going to pursue will definitely help propel my career.”

“Most organizations today are going through some form of a digital transformation. The digital marketing and analytics labs will give students the skills businesses are looking for today.”

John J. Neeson ’84

Neeson’s gift to the college speaks to both his love of IC and to his expertise. Neeson is considered an authority on business-to-business (B2B) marketing and analytics, having held leadership roles at top organizations in management, sales, marketing and brand strategy before co-founding global B2B research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions in 2001. The company helped to define many business marketing best practices and concepts, including lead scoring and marketing operations, and developed the “Demand Waterfall” model that is widely used by B2B companies to measure and describe their lead-to-revenue funnel.

Neeson explains, “In my world, we look to see why companies are growing. Analytics has been the fastest-growing area in business over the last seven years, and understanding analytics gives businesses an edge, as they can be more precise in their actions. They don’t need to rely on intuition as much, because now they also have the intelligence to back up strategy. Businesses who utilize analytics well are growing much faster than their peers.”

“Most organizations today are going through some form of a digital transformation, “ Neeson continued. “The digital marketing and analytics labs will give students the skills businesses are looking for today.”

Neeson’s dedication to supporting his alma mater and its students goes back to his own days as a student. “During senior year, our class created a scholarship as a class gift, and that scholarship is still going on today,” Neeson said. The Class of 1984 Endowed Scholarship is awarded to a junior or senior with demonstrated financial need, solid academic achievement, and active involvement in campus organizations. “I would get these amazing letters from recipients, and it felt very rewarding. And so I wanted to continue giving back, this time in a more sizable manner.”

One of Neeson’s primary goals in supporting the analytics labs is to equip Ithaca College students with the knowledge and skills to stand out among competitors. “I think employers across all industries struggle to find people with the right experience especially in business analytics,” Neeson said. “Everyone is looking for young talent they can utilize, but not have to retrain. So imagine you’re an employer who’s interviewing a student or recent grad for an opportunity, and they already know these fairly complex systems. That’s an enormous advantage for both the employer and the candidate.”

For those who would relegate analytics-related tasks to their more quant-savvy colleagues, Neeson notes that the applications of analytics extend far beyond fields such as business administration and accounting. “No matter the business, you’re using analytics to be more precise,” said Neeson. “Even in creative industries. Say you’re a writer and you need to target a specific audience. You can look at data and say, ‘here’s my market, here are the trends, and here’s what I want to achieve.’ [Analytics] provide focus and can inform strategy; there’s an application in pretty much all industries.”

Construction on the new lab spaces will take place over the summer of 2019, and Neeson is enthusiastic for the first wave of students who will have the opportunity to use the analytics labs this fall. He also hopes to encourage fellow alumni to get involved with the new labs. “To have other alumni come in with project work that students can apply their skills to would be a great way for students to gain even more experience.”

Overall, Neeson hopes that his gift will give IC students more flexibility in the professional world. “The labs create a distinctive experience that makes students more agile with analytics and technology, and the software fund helps the school stay on top of trends,” Neeson said. “Ithaca College has meant a lot to me, and my hope is that students will feel like even more competitive candidates when they come out of school.”