The desire to expand an ER waiting area leads to questions of how the room’s size will impact patient health outcomes. Owners of a theme park need to examine how changing a monorail system will alter guest movement across the grounds. A city manager contemplates how closing a street for an outdoor festival will affect traffic flow.

Such real-world scenarios are being tackled by College of Business students using virtual simulation technology made available through an $840,000 grant from Simio LLC. Management and Quantitative Methods (MQM) professor Dr. Askar Choudhury received a grant for 350 copies of Simio Academic Edition. Choudhury uses the software when teaching undergraduate business students in an operations analytics course.

Before exploring Simio, business students learn how to use Excel to calculate probability distribution, which is the idea that customers enter a space based on mathematical probability. They also study waiting line models to determine a line’s potential length at any given moment. Once these concepts click, Choudhury introduces Simio’s full-capacity software.

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The program provides a visual representation of these mathematical undercurrents using 3D animation, along with discrete and continuous modeling. “There’s a virtual aspect that you can see, and math running underneath the models,” said Choudhury.

Students use Simio software to create, test, and solve a problem of their choosing. Past students have run simulations based on data from the McLean County Fair. Another group took a timelier approach, opting to examine how hospitals can operate more efficiently and effectively during a pandemic.

Simulation modeling is an important method of analysis, and for good reason. It provides a risk-free setting for experimentation and innovation with results that are easy to interpret, verify, and communicate. Businesses can tweak data inputs until they reach a desired outcome. Likewise, managers can reflect on a variety of scenarios before customers, patients, or capital investments enter the mix.

As with all experiential learning opportunities at Illinois State, the goal of utilizing Simio software is to provide students with hands-on experience and knowledge that will translate to their future careers.

“This type of modeling enables managers to understand where to direct resources before investing actual capital,” said Choudhury. “We want to equip leaders to be able to create a model of a business’s operations and then analyze and understand their findings.”

College of Business Dean Ajay Samant emphasizes this point, saying, “It is very important to the ISU College of Business that our students learn cutting edge software that is currently used in industry. I would like to express gratitude to Simio LLC for their impactful gift which provides such a great learning opportunity.”

So far, the software has received positive reviews from students who must learn to embrace a new way of analyzing and solving problems. Senior business administration major Nick Duerinck used Simio to project waiting times for an imagined grocery store.

“I was not only able to look at different charts to examine the data, but could also look at 3D images of the grocery store to get a more accurate representation of the business,” said Duerinck. “At the end of the project, I was able to see how Simio was a great tool for businesses to improve their operations. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to use Simio software.”

“Like Duerinck, many students have reported how much they learn using Simio,” said MQM Interim Department Chair Dr. Roberta Seelinger Trites. “Their learning curve may be steep, but they understand what a powerful tool it is by the end of the semester.”

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