CEL practicum turns data into decisions

CEL practicum participants Katrina Wu, MSCA ’19, Phoebe Do, MBA ’20, and Yukti Malhotra, MBA ’19 contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

Direct Supply, the nation’s leading provider of equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions for senior living has been committed to enhancing the lives of the elderly. With continuous innovation, the company offers them comfortable environments and updated facilities.

Through WashU Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning consulting practicum, a team of graduate students comprised of two MBA and four master of science in business analytics students had the opportunity to learn about Direct Supply and their growing industry.

Under the guidance of the Center of Analytics and Business Insights co-Directors Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall, the group has been studying more than two million transactions, building predictive models, and generating insights about Direct Supply’s customers and product returns—all with the intent of improving profitability while optimizing the consumer experience.

Improve profit, optimize experience

This “product return predictive analysis” project is structured in four phases:

  • Estimate the probability of a given transaction resulting in a return.
  • Categorize and segment returns based on various attributes.
  • Forecast the probability of a “good” or “bad” return based on the customer experience pre- and post-return.
  • Devise strategic business and technological recommendations to improve the return experience.

In March, Direct Supply executives visited Olin to attend the students’ midterm presentation. They included Randy Kirk, executive vice president and chief data scientist, Nithin Ramachandran, director of business intelligence, and his team, Chandana Andipakula, Christopher Mooney and Rajarsi Mitra.

By delivering key insights from the data overview and early-stage models, they impressed Direct Supply with their findings. Ramachandran, MBA ’13, and his team praised the project as the group’s best so far.

The students strengthened their relationship with Direct Supply over dinner after the presentation, where they learned more about the company’s history, culture, and future vision as well as project-specific details. They visited Direct Supply in Milwaukee in early May to share their final recommendations.

Real world impact

The project has offered a valuable opportunity for the consulting team to gain experience by applying classroom learning toward real-world impact. The combination of MBA and customer analytics expertise creates an environment conducive to learning. MBA students learn to support their recommendations with robust data, while analytics students learn to translate their findings into clear, meaningful, and client-facing business insights.

Additionally, the client benefits from engaging savvy and energetic students who are committed to solving the most pressing problems.

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