In a nutshell, systems engineering is a way to boost the cost efficiency and competitiveness of an organisation through the use of advanced scientific modelling and computer technologies.
The first tertiary education institution in Hong Kong to set up a systems engineering and engineering management (SEEM) department, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has been offering a Master of Science (MSc) programme in SEEM since 1997. As global business becomes exceedingly complex and market competition increasingly intense, the programme has attracted a significant amount of interest from students in Hong Kong as well as mainland China.
"Systems engineering is the soul of our programme, while engineering management the body," says Zhang Shu-zhong, head of graduate division of systems engineering and engineering management, CUHK. For instance, banks need sophisticated arrangements to manage their cash flows and risk profiles. For a logistics company, effective and systematic delivery management can result in cost effectiveness.
"SEEM combines the application of cutting-edge technology and systems with management principles. It involves high-level skills in computer programming and mathematics modelling," he adds.
Take the lead
Professor Zhang notes that Hong Kong's economy is no longer centred around manufacturing, rather it has to produce value through management with the aid of advanced information technology.
"Value proposition is a cornerstone of all businesses," he stresses. "As a matter of fact, the measurement of society's advancement is its quality of management."
While the MSc programme in SEEM is the combination of both, Professor Zhang reveals that most graduates of the programme are hired by banks and logistic companies.
"Engineers only make up a fraction of the total applicants, while graduates in business, accounting or information technology may also enrol," he explains. "Engineers with certain years of experience are expected to take up managerial role. Therefore, they'll look for further training in management. And as the world is changing fast, business or IT graduates need to keep updated with the latest management knowledge and technologies."
Finance engineering and logistics management are two main streams of the programme. Over the past few years, the former was more popular due to the distinguished job opportunities in the finance industry, Professor Zhang notes. Despite recent layoffs in that industry worldwide, he anticipates a growing demand for finance engineering due to the impetus to rebuild a robust system for the industry.
The university is constantly reviewing the programme. "We're getting used to adding new courses and throwing away the old ones. Take e-commerce as an example. When it became a highlight of the business world a few years ago, we incorporated it into the programme. Now, we have set up an individual MSc programme in this stream," says Professor Zhang.
Running into its 12th year, the two-year part-time SEEM programme has established a strong alumni network. "We have the longest history, which is one of our most valuable aspects. A social network is, however, essential for almost all professions," he emphasises.
First rate training
Faculty staff teaching the programme are renowned scholars in their own fields of research. "We're a research-based university, so our teaching materials are more often than not related to our own first-hand research experiences rather than second-hand ones," Professor Zhang says.
Over the period of two years, students are required to take four core courses covering the principles of engineering management, information technology management and financial applications as well as financial analysis. They will also need to complete four elective courses in three areas — engineering management, finance engineering and information systems.
Assessments are based on presentations, coursework and examinations. Students also have the chance to take part in company visits to mainland China.
"This mainland connection is a plus, but it's also our mission to train up local professionals and help create value for Hong Kong," Professor Zhang stresses. For the part-time programme, about 30 to 40 local students are admitted every year. A one-year full time programme was open to mainland students last year and the response was encouraging.