Ann Cleland

Partner, HORNE LLP

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background.

I am a partner at a regional accounting firm. My career began at PwC in financial audit, and over the years, I have come to concentrate in internal audit and compliance activities. My last two assignments have been in our firm’s cyber assurance/security division and our disaster recovery compliance group.

What made you decide to choose the Harvard Business Analytics Program? How do you feel this program is different from other, similar programs?

The accounting industry and most of our clients are on the cusp of fundamental change. The skills and strategies that have brought me this far in my career will become less and less relevant in the next five years. Technology will impact nearly every facet of our services. Our clients are experiencing similar disruption and need our help.

I looked at several business analytics programs before I selected Harvard. The Harvard Business Analytics Program offered a more holistic approach to data analytics. Instead of focusing solely on data science, Harvard Business Analyics Program classes dive deep into the “how” and “why” of digital transformation. Instead of just learning how to do data analysis, I am learning the business relevance and how data analytics can transform an organization.

Additionally, committing two to three years for a degree program was not in the cards for me. I need business analytics skills now, and a nine-month timeline was more realistic for my schedule.

How has what you have learned in the program impacted the work you are currently doing?

Even in the first three months of the program, I have seen my skill set level up significantly. The conversations I have with clients and with more senior leaders in my firm are more strategic, expansive, and relevant.

What has been your greatest takeaway from the program?

There are truths in each of our professions that we take for granted. These are items that we “know” are fact. The skills and knowledge I have gained in the first 90 days of the program have allowed me to be more insightful in bringing meaningful solutions to my clients and firm and challenge how things have always been.

What has been your experience collaborating with classmates in an online environment?

My classmates are phenomenal. When I was accepted into the Harvard Business Analytics Program, I expected an exceptional level of learning from the professors. While I find that is true, I also find that I learn just as much from my classmates. My classmates are from all disciplines, and each has a different gift. I can’t wait for our classes each week to see what I will learn from them.

Is there a moment—either part of a course, with a professor, or with a peer—that stands out to you as particularly influential?

Yes. One related to internal software development versus buying a software package. I have always told clients that buying is better than building. In a discussion on this issue, one of our classmates made an impassioned argument on why building was better. He made great points in his discussion that compelled me to go back to our programming team and have a more comprehensive discussion with them that generated a different approach than I have used in the past.

The second related to an off-hand comment made by Professor Marco Iansiti in discussing business ecosystems. He said that Enron went under because it took disproportionate value out of its ecosystem. I was at PwC during the Enron bankruptcy and always believed it went bankrupt because of its partnerships. As I reflected on Marco’s comment, however, I realized we were both right and that my worldview was narrow and focused solely on the accounting issue. The discussion challenged me to think more expansively and see the bigger picture.

What advice do you have for others considering this program?

Enroll now. It will be worth every penny spent and every late-night learning. I have already seen how my career and clients have benefited just after the first 90 days.

Tell us about your experience at the immersion.

I was very nervous about attending the immersion. It is Harvard, and my classmates are incredibly gifted. What I found was a warm, welcoming, amazing group of people I see as friends and colleagues.

Being in a Harvard classroom with the cohort was electrifying. The relationships that we had built in small groups and the class experience translated immediately to the real world. I can’t wait to go back.