I have just returned from the 2011 University Alliance Program Congress and would like to share some thoughts on this very important program that is provided by SAP to promote the inclusion of SAP content at Universities around the world, both in IT and business school programs, and both under and post-graduate. Since this program was started nearly 15 years ago, SAP’s involvement in supporting higher education and SAP content has continued to grow every year with important results from the perspective of client employers and systems integrators alike. Whether the graduates are directly affecting company performance or are more able to work with the SI Consulting organizations to design, implement and manage using SAP, they are making a contribution to the ability of SAP to deliver business results.
This Program now provides curriculum support, IDES clients (International Development and Education System) to support classroom exercises, and certification support for TERP 10 boot camps (Associate Certification in Business Process Integration), among other things. Central Michigan University, where I am part of adjunct faculty, has been involved in this program from the very start and has grown each year, adding courses and sessions to undergraduate MIS and BSBA degree programs each year, and conducting 25 TERP 10 academies over this period of time. Students graduating from either of these programs now have had the opportunity to learn key skills and knowledge of how SAP systems are implemented to support a business and derive business benefits. The other 180+ schools in the program (US) have joined over the years and are mostly on similar tracks of building SAP content into their teaching. The University Alliance Program has become an extremely valuable asset to the University community and promises to continue to address the issue of supporting our schools as we graduate students with marketable and deployable skills in companies who use SAP Applications to operate their businesses.
The program has grown and matured into a significant SAP sponsored partnership organization for Universities and it continues to grow in importance, as evidenced by increased investment in support for the programs over the past couple of years. The University Alliance Program Congress is a key part of keeping this community growing, and as well the program provides training and support sessions held at other times of the year on member campuses. At the Congress this year, I found a very good mix of subjects and presenters that provided a great cross-section of material for almost anyone looking for ways to enrich their knowledge of SAP and to collaborate on ways to increase the effectiveness of their pedagogy and the supporting tools. Here are the components, briefly, that I found useful:
- Future view of where SAP, ERP, and Enterprise Applications is headed – whether it is “in-memory” data storage or SaaS from a cloud, clearly our universe is either changing again, or continues to change at an ever-accelerating pace. Educational systems are and will continue to be pushed to keep up with the pace and depth of these changes.
- Sustainability can either be a PC catch-phrase or can be supported in a way that is meaningful. Some of sustainability is simply performing some business functions more thoughtfully or calculating the cost of environmental impact into cost benefit analyses. Sustainability goes well beyond that, however, and our ERP systems have to continue to develop methods to identify, measure and report on performance parameters so that sustainability efforts become an integral part of how we do business. SAP is heavily engaged in this effort and shared much about their corporate programs as well as the software to support it.
- We need to continuously push SAP (ERP) education deeper and deeper into our MIS and Business School programs and our ability to do so will have a lot to do with how well we remain relevant a decade from now (or today, for that matter). There was a thought provoking keynote on this subject but more on this in the last section of this article.
- For those participants looking to become more engaged in the SAP programs or SAP content of their courses there were good sessions for nearly all levels of experience with teaching using SAP. It was impressive that whether you were just joining the University Alliance Program or had been coming for years, there were sessions that provided valuable content for everyone.
- To close out the week, we had valuable ½ day workshops on key tools and new approaches ranging from the ability to participate in the ERPsim games, or learn about how Business by Design could be used to promote the learning of cross functional business processes. It also offered an opportunity to discuss the relationship between narrowing options for configuration (ByD) and the Organizational Change Management challenges that are presented by that approach.
So, the obvious question is where next, and how should the University community develop programs that are designed to meet this need? Peter G W Keen in his book “Shaping the Future” (Harvard Business School Press, 1991), stated that: “Senior business executives lack a well-established management process for taking charge of IT. Business managers consequently have not developed the kind of experience and expertise in IT that they have in finance, human resources, and accounting.” This was 20 years ago and yet, it is fundamentally not changed today. If anything, the advent of configurable, integrated business applications packages has made the absence of this education even more evident, and even more critical. Today, business executives are constantly barraged with business improvement challenges that cannot be effectively addressed without the inclusion of the design and operation of their back-office applications. Whereas in the “old” days (can you believe we are talking just a decade or two ago?), you could throw the problem over the wall into the IT department who would design a single-function program change and deal with divergent systems through interfaces. Today, this cannot be done without the ability to understand cross-functional integration and design business processes that span a couple or several functional areas of responsibility at the executive level. Where in our Graduate Business Schools have we stepped up to the need to develop and deliver this critically important component of an MBA curriculum? I admire the large number of graduate programs which now include Introduction to ERP/SAP in their programs as either electives or core courses. Many have also included SAP in courses on Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Management, and other market facing programs, or included components in core courses on leadership, strategy and Organizational Change Management, as well as more traditional courses in programming and data warehousing. This is all good, needed, and imparts a large amount of knowledge for mid-level executives attending these programs. I would like to encourage the University Alliance Program business schools, however, to think beyond that and embrace the fact that these IT Applications are so critical to business improvement opportunities and financial responsibility that they need to be expanded and evolved to focus on “How to operate a business using SAP to enable business process optimization and derive business benefits.” Whether this is through developing and offering full MBA SAP Concentrations (and Graduate Certificates derived from the same curriculum), as we have at Central Michigan University, or by emphasizing ERP as the business applications concepts (likely using SAP systems through the University Alliance Program as support programs), the expansion of this is critical to growing tomorrow’s business leaders. Graduate concentrations in Logistics, Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Management, Sustainability, Financial Responsibility (SoX, IFRS, Basel) and others need to have this as a key component of the instruction. It is unusual at a time of rapid transition in business methods and tools such as we are challenged with today, that there is as strong a support system as we have in the University Alliance Program. This is why I chose to become involved with Central Michigan University and why I believe as a business executive that we need to continue to promote this level of business education. As interesting as the technology is, we can never lose sight of the fact that it is always about the business.