Dr Wolfram Wiesemann is the Academic Director on the MSc Business Analytics programme (formerly Associate Professor of Management Science and Operations).
Wolfram obtained a joint Master’s Degree in Management and Computing at Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany, in 2006, and a PhD in Operations Research at Imperial College London, UK, in 2010. He joined Imperial College Business School as an assistant professor in January 2013.
We speak to Wolfram about the importance of data analytics, what he teaches on the programme and how he has adapted very technical material to be interactive in the online space.
1. As an Associate Professor of Management, what do you teach on the MSc Business Analytics?
I teach the Optimisation and Decision Models class and the Machine Learning class, which are core modules in both the on-campus and online, part-time delivery programme.
2. What stimulated your interest the field of business analytics?
From early in my studies, I was excited about an area called operations research. Back in those days (the late 1990s and early 2000s), this area was primarily concerned with creating mathematical models and solving these models to obtain decisions that are useful in practice. At that time, operations research was quite separated from the collection, processing and interpretation of data. We tried to create models that reflect reality, and we left the process of collecting data and calibrating the model to the real-world to practitioners.
Only in recent years have we spent more effort into moving towards an end-to-end process that takes data, builds models based on that data and then finds decisions that work well in view of the data, rather than just in view of the model we came up with.
That’s a fairly recent phenomenon that connects operations research, which my background is in, to fields such as statistics, databases and machine learning. I think that’s a very exciting development because it connects the power of operations research with the ubiquitous availability of data we see today in the business world.
3. In today’s business context, why is the study and analysis of data so important?
We live in a world that becomes more and more technology driven. Thus, a very important aspect of the MSc Business Analytics programme is to equip our students with a set of generic analytics skills that they can use in the future in a world where technology will play an ever increasing role.
In some sense, I believe this is an obligation and a privilege not just for the Business School, but for Imperial College as a whole. Being a university that is recognised for its technology focus, it should be our mission to equip a generation of future managers and leaders with not only a domain-specific skillset, but also with an analytical and technological mindset that enables them to drive this transformation in the future.
4. Why is business analytics an important skill for employees?
In today’s society, quite broadly we see a shift from the intuitive or gut-based decision making that we have seen in management for many decades, to a much more fact-based, data-driven approach. This development has many reasons.
First of all, we have a lot of data available that we can use, as well as the storage and processing power to utilise this data. This was not the case two to three decades back.
Secondly, managers are held more accountable for the decisions that they make. As a manager, you need to justify your decisions to your stakeholders – be it your boss, your shareholders or the general public. By their very nature, management decisions need to look far into the future. This future is uncertain, and we therefore have to take decisions under incomplete information. Nevertheless, these decisions have to be meaningful and defendable in the light of the information that is available at the point in time they are made. In order to do so, it is key to base your decisions on the data that you have.
That’s why it’s becoming much more important in a broad range of management areas that we move away from making decisions based on our gut-feeling and towards decisions that are defendable and justifiable in view of the data we have available.
5. For the new MSc Business Analytics (online, part-time delivery) how have you adapted your programme content to ensure it is still dynamic whilst being delivered online?
Topics-wise, the programme is an exact copy of the on-campus programme. That’s very important for us because we want to make sure that the students who come out of both programme deliveries are fully comparable to one another. It’s not going to be a second-rate degree: Whether you’re on the on-campus or the online programme, the quality is exactly the same in terms of material and rigour. The students will come out with the same skillset.
What we’re working on very hard is to adapt the presentation of the content to make it suitable for the online platform. The good thing here is we have the Edtech Lab, which is very experienced. They have already made very important learnings on the Global Online MBA in terms of how to deliver an online programme. We’re working with the Edtech Lab on getting the best presentation methods. Fortunately, we have quite an array of different methodologies at hand.
We’re going through the entire programme session-by-session and side-by-side with the Edtech Lab to work out how we can present each topic using the best possible medium. For example, there will be exercises for the students to complete on The Hub platform. Students can enter their solution to the exercise and get instant feedback if the solution is correct. If the solution is wrong, they receive an explanation why it’s incorrect. Students can then revise their solution.
There are also discussion questions which the students will be able to tackle in real-time with faculty members or teaching fellows. We will have live sessions as well where we will jointly discuss cases or questions that might arise from the material.
What The Hub platform will look like for MSc Business Analytics
6. What are you most looking forward to about the MSc Business Analytics online delivery, part-time?
The on-campus programme is great fun. It’s really refreshing to be around so many young and brilliant students and to exchange ideas with them. The new thing about the online programme that I am very excited about is that we expect the students to be more senior and come with more job experience. I can imagine the discussion will go beyond looking at how methods work, but how those methods help the students drive value in their organisations.
I think there will be new discussions which will be enlightening for us as faculty members as they will further open our minds about what is going on in the industry right now. It will become even more of a two-sided communication: The students will learn from us and we will learn from the students.
7. How will you combat any challenges that may arise?
Getting the technology together to make sure that students will really feel part of Imperial was one of the main challenges. In regards to filming lectures for the programme, we’re used to giving lectures in front of students and getting instant feedback from them. You can see straight away if you explain something and half of the class is staring blankly at you that you need to explain the concept again. We don’t have that immediate feedback on the online delivery so we have worked very hard on how to mimic that.
We want to make sure that the students realise that although they are not physically here, they are part of Imperial’s eco-system. It took us some time to think about how best to film the lecture videos. It was a great challenge for the Edtech Lab to ensure the platform is interactive and we have the right resources so students around the globe can communicate with us in a meaningful way.
8. Why is Imperial the place to study Business Analytics?
For me, Business Analytics is the intersection of mathematics, computer science and management. There are very few universities that are world-class in mathematics and engineering and at the same time have a top business school.
Imperial is in the perfect position to offer such a programme because we’re very strong in all of the fields that contribute to the discipline of Business Analytics. I think this is also reflected in our MSc Business Analytics programme, which is a joint effort between the Computer Science department, the Data Science Institute, the Imperial Business Analytics centre and the Business School.
9. Why should students study an MSc in Business Analytics (online, part-time delivery) as opposed to a short course in data analytics?
In my view, the short programmes are good for two groups of people. Either they already have most of the knowledge because they studied a relevant degree and they want to catch-up on the latest developments in a specialised short programme. Or they just want to get a high-level overview of a discipline. That’s perfectly valuable for some people, but our objective is a different one.
We want to take people who come with relevant experience and give them an in-depth understanding of what the current methodology and thinking is in the field of Business Analytics. That requires teaching a lot of different modules. Students need to acquire a proper background in mathematics, and we have several modules in machine learning and optimisation. These topics just can’t be delivered in a one or two-month programme. There would simply not be enough time for that.