It’s the data, stupid!

It’s raining cats and dogs on a chilly February afternoon. But inside the classroom nobody seems to notice. Professor Rudolf Müller is explaining new algorithmic techniques that will improve the use of data for better decision-making. Students are listening attentively, taking notes on their laptops and asking questions.

The students of the Digital Business elective of MaastrichtMBA flew in from all around the world for an educational week on campus in Maastricht. Digital Management is one of this week’s topics. “Data are hot”, professor Müller states. “Data potentially create enormous opportunities for business, but also profoundly change the rules of doing business. They increasingly determine the relationship that companies have with customers, suppliers, markets and society in general. All the core functions are changing and that’s why IT will lie at the very core of every business. Companies, great and small, are being faced with challenges to adapt and redesign their business processes in order to survive and thrive.”

Effectively dealing with opportunities

This is exactly what the Digital Business elective focuses on: the impact of digitalisation and data on today’s businesses and society. “We aim to guide students to deal with the opportunities and challenges of data and data management. We help them to identify opportunities for innovations and prepare them to understand the newest analytic and data science techniques. This helps them to interpret data correctly, enables them to draw the right conclusions, to make accurate predications and take the right decisions”, says professor Müller.

Not taking the data for granted

Ameur Handous is an IT consultant of Tunisian/French origin, working and living in Germany. “My company is specialised in data management. I am taking this elective because it brings me up to speed with the newest scientific papers and latest innovations in the field of data science. I am eager to learn how to apply those in daily business to add value for our customers. Key takeaway so far is that we should not take the data for granted. In the end it’s humans who decide.” Ameur regards the resistance to change as one of the main challenges of digital business. “Taking the digital route means that ingrained habits will have to change. Digitalisation is so much more than building a new infrastructure; it’s about changing a company’s way of working, mind-set and culture.”

Interpreting the numbers to make sense

Hazel Ceneño Cervantes is an engineer from Costa Rica, presently based in the Netherlands. “I feel fortunate to be here. I am curious and want to learn and understand what’s going on outside my company. I hope to gain new insights and use those to bring the company and our customers to the next level of improvement.” Her main takeaway after two days of attending lectures is that decision-making is not just about the numbers. “It’s about interpreting them in such a way that they make sense. Only humans can do that.”
“I work in a very competitive environment”, she says. “Understanding our customers is key to success and effective data-management can help us do that. Our customers’ needs change every second, we just need to stay on top of things and smart use of data is the only way to do that.”

Moving on to the next level

Andre Hieke is German, working in the Netherlands as a global segment manager for mainly the automotive sector. “With our product – thin film coating – we improve the performances of our customers’ products. We are constantly redeveloping our product to reach and exceed our customers’ expectations. Our company is already using the data from our ERP- and financial systems. The next step is to monitor our production processes. By effectively using data we can improve our processes and compete with low-cost countries. One of the great challenges of digital business in general is to actually make use of the data right in front of us, make new connections, improve processes and develop new products, maybe even products we can’t imagine ourselves yet.” Andre is taking the elective mainly because he wants to learn how to run a digital project. “I can’t do everything by myself and need support from IT or an external supplier to develop the right software tools. Therefore, I need a profound understanding of the value, the trustworthiness and robustness of the data we want to use.”

Beyond technical

MaastrichtMBA is not the only MBA programme offering modules on Digital Business. “However, our approach is kind of unique”, says professor Müller. “In Maastricht we go beyond the technical aspects, making the direct connection with human decision-making. Our classrooms are small-scale and our programme is flexible. This is attractive for students who have to combine their studies with a demanding job.” 38 Students (34 nationalities) are participating in this first Digital Business elective; the group is divided into two subgroups. “More work for me”, the professor laughs, “since I have to give all lectures twice. But it’s worth it, for it allows for better interaction and optimal learning circumstances. Our goal is to start a community in which our students really get to know each other, hopefully become friends and support one another during their studies and future endeavours.”



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