Last week, the Wharton School began a groundbreaking initiative that will allow companies to accurately target customers based on past consumption patterns.

The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative — launched as an expansion of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative — will also be integrated into the undergraduate Wharton curriculum.

The WCAI helps companies analyze data about customer preferences in order to maximize profits. What differentiates this initiative from “other customer-oriented research centers” is that it is “data-driven,” WCAI co-Director Peter Fader said.

Since 2006, WIMI has had a similar purpose, but the recent expansion of WIMI to WCAI will make the initiative “increasingly undergraduate focused” and “even more attractive to applicants,” co-director Eric Bradlow said.

“People in admissions are flagging applications that mention [customer analytics],” he added.

According to Fader, Wharton undergraduates who like “crunching numbers” will have an opportunity to follow a “curriculum that’s more interesting and just as rigorous” than more traditional majors, such as finance.

Until recently, the courses Wharton offered in this area often “lagged terribly behind” what occurs daily in the business industry, Fader said. “We’re changing all that.”

Shawndra Hill, assistant professor in Operations and Information Management, is spearheading a new “Business Analytics” track for undergraduates.

“We didn’t want to ignore the fact that large scale data was changing business,” she said. Students with technical and business knowledge will have an “extreme advantage” in the job market, she added.

“There is absolutely nothing like this program at any other school,” according to Fader. Not only is Wharton helping to fulfill job positions that have already been posted, but it is creating new career opportunities.

“The response to this has been great,” Nicole Berlucchi, the business administrator of WCAI, wrote in an e-mail. “Many companies from diverse industries are building or already have analytics departments.”

According to its directors, this project has the potential to change the entire marketing industry itself. “Most of marketing is just campaigns,” Fader explained. “We are trying to reverse that, and have the data lead the campaigns.”

Fader cited the example of companies such as Google, which have already utilized data-driven customer analysis.

“We want to jump on that bandwagon and get a head start,” Fader said.

According to Bradlow, the University has been “extremely supportive” of WCAI. The data-driven customer analytics is “potentially unique to Wharton and is an area that MBAs have shown strong passion for,” he said.

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