Teaching Decision Support Systems using Spreadsheets

Prof. Abdel-Aziz Mohamed

  California State University-Northridge


The management science field has evolved for over 50 years and is now a mature field within the broad category of applied mathematics. Many of the management science algorithms are however very complex mathematically and cannot be understood by managerial users. However with the power of the Microsoft Excel macro language, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), those algorithms can be made accessible to non-experts by providing them with simplified input screens and output reports. Users no longer need to understand all of the technical details behind the algorithms. If one can teach the power of spreadsheet modeling to management science students in quantitative analysis and decision support systems classes, students will view those algorithms as something useful. 

This paper illustrates the effectiveness of using Excel spreadsheets with VBA to teach an undergraduate course in Decision Support Systems (DSS). Several examples are presented to show how one can make management science algorithms accessible to non-experts. The paper shows how to manipulate the Excel Solver with a VBA program to solve a specific business problem. Detailed explanations of how the VBA code is developed are also presented. The DSS course is offered to undergraduate students at California State University-Northridge. Most of the students who take the course major in either management science or management information systems. The students who take the course must take three prerequisite courses in database, quantitative analysis and operations management as well as pass the upper division writing proficiency exam. The course covers the components and the development methodologies for building decision support systems. Two group projects are required: 1) an analysis of a current DSS and 2) development of a spreadsheet-based DSS.

The aim of the first project is to familiarize students with some existing DSS. Each group is required to present and demonstrate a DSS in class. DSS News (Vol. 1, No. 10) presents several examples of DSS software that can be downloaded from the Internet. DSS News is a free Internet newsletter published by D. J. Power.

For the second project, each group selects an application area and goes through the process of developing a specific model-driven DSS. Students are asked to develop a user friendly decision support system that can be used by non-experts. The next four sections illustrate specific model-driven DSS that have been developed for car loan analysis, blending analysis, stock portfolio analysis and selection, and site location analysis problems.


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