University professors, SAP University Alliances program and SAP Mentors team up to grow talent for the new economy

This is the third article in the 2012 informational series called “Meet the SAP Mentors.” SAP Mentors are a super-smart, engaged global cohort of nearly 110 professionals customers, partners, employees, bloggers, consultants, business people and technical wizards expert in all things SAP, nominated by peers in the SAP Community Network and selected by SAP. Every day, SAP Mentors demonstrate their personal and professional commitment to leadership by helping SAP customers and practitioners solve the business and technical challenges that come with achieving better business results via SAP-based solutions. As a byproduct, the SAP Mentor Initiative is enriching the culture of SAP with a more open and collaborative dialog between SAP decision-makers and stakeholders. A shared commitment to dialog, collaboration and customer success helps to make the SAP ecosystem a predictable source of competitive advantage to the world’s leading organizations.

It’s a tough world, faster and more competitive than ever.

This core concept underpins not only SAP’s new technologies, such as SAP HANA with its record-setting processing power, but also SAP’s commitment towards developing future talent, that is, IT’s next generation.

Truth is, organizations need leading-edge technologies – and talented young professionals – to achieve their potential.

That’s why SAP founded the SAP University Alliances Program (UAP) program in 1996. The goal of the program is to bring SAP technology to the classroom to which students would not otherwise have access.

Today the program serves more than 1,100 higher education institutions from around the world. SAP donates technology licenses to these institutions of higher learning, fully supports professors to provide students with “in-depth, hands-on experience with SAP software and solutions,” and fosters “connections between university leaders and students, SAP customers and partners, and SAP internal experts.”

The SAP University Alliances Program and the associated SAP University Alliances Community (UAC) provide higher education institutions with the latest technologies, as well as practical skills, so that a growing number of graduates can be productive right after they’re hired.

Extra edge

Nitin Kale is a senior lecturer in the Information Technology Program and the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, California.

It’s a mouthful of a job title.

Simply put, Kale has helped build one of the most robust ERP specialization programs in North America, in partnership with the SAP University Alliances program.

“There’s very little lag between industry and our program at the university,” he says. “The connection between academics and industry has become really tight and it’s really helped with developing future talent.”

At present, Kale is helping his students gain an extra edge by teaming up with SAP Mentor Tammy Powlas, a senior business analyst at a water utility based in Virginia.

Powlas, a business intelligence volunteer with the Americas SAP User Group (ASUG), brings her insights to Kale’s course curricula and thus to his students’ knowledge of cutting-edge business analytics.

According to Powlas, students need to know which technology is in the pipeline and which future skills are valuable “especially because data and reporting are so important.”

“Tammy helped me to better understand and see how industry is using SAP business analytics,” adds Kale. “I collaborated with Tammy to bring that SAP BusinessObjects technology into the classroom within a year, which allowed my students to be far ahead of others when entering the job market.

“Industry is surprised at how much experience our students have with cutting-edge tools,” he notes.

And what’s the reward of Kale’s commitment towards leadership in ERP education?

“My reward is intrinsic,” says Kale. “It’s former students who get jobs, work for a few years and then come back and recruit from us once they’ve established themselves.”

Real depth

Dr, Bih-Ru Lea is associate professor of Business & Information Technology at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) located in Rolla, Missouri.

She is also director of the university’s Center for Enterprise Resource Planning.

“We provide our students with a realistic view of ERP complexity,” says Lea, “which is why we teach the entire ERP lifecycle, so that everyone learns the integration of the entire business.

“We do lots of industry projects, including actual projects for SAP-based organizations, and bring in lots of industry people, including SAP Mentors, to coach and meet with students.”

Lea believes that SAP Mentors add real depth, including practical state-of-the-art know how that “gets students into process on the tools side, explains how it works in a company and in a job in a specific field.”

For example, she appreciates that SAP Mentors, such as Powlas and Ingo Hilgefort, provide valuable and practical insight on business intelligence technologies.

This is important, according to Lea, because recruiters are today more demanding about job candidates’ abilities than in previous years.

In response, Lea and her colleagues emphasize that case studies sometimes shared via webcast are central to advanced ERP education. As part of the required curriculum, students must tackle very challenging scenarios and come up with ERP solutions or reports that address a real business problem.

“Whether we’re looking at core ERP processes, business intelligence or data warehousing, or whether we’re looking at core systems or the embedded ERP side, the cases are very practical,” she says. “That’s where we get the most value from SAP Mentors’ contributions, because they are top specialists in their field.”

“Our program,” she continues, “is so well-regarded by industry that our students are recruited by top SAP consulting companies such as Accenture, Cap Gemini, Deloitte and IBM, as well as prestigious SAP users such as Coca-Cola, Monsanto, SAP Labs and Walmart.

According to Lea, the Missouri University of Science and Technology has had a number of its former students recruited by SAP Labs.

Tree of talent

Kale of USC and Lea of MUST agree that SAP events fertilize the tree of talent by inspiring faculty and student beneficiaries of the SAP University Alliances Program.

In order to stay abreast of new developments that should be evaluated before entering the classroom, Kale typically attends SAP Tech Ed and SAPPHIRENOW events.

“Faculty and select students are invited to SAPPHIRENOW, SAP’s premier conference, each year,” says Kale. “It provides a meaningful opportunity to connect with the technology.”

Lea calls attention to the annual SAP Academic Congress as an event that supports bridging the worlds of academia and big business.

That bridging of worlds drives Lea’s curiosity – and her motivation to equip students for success.

She adds: “One of my recently graduated students said, ’I was so prepared for the real world by our program that the people I work with at Accenture think I’m an experienced hire.’”

For Lea, such success is a real source of pride.

Her former students’ professional mastery validates the SAP University Alliances program, her ongoing engagement with SAP Mentors and her commitment to higher education as her life’s vocation.

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LEARN MORE

Link to Nitin Kale’s web page at the University of Southern California

Link to Dr. Bih-Ru Lea’s web page at the Missouri University of Science and Technology

SAP University Alliances Program

Winner 2011-2012 SAP University Alliances Program North America Scholarship

SAP.info Article on Mentors at SAPPHIRE NOW

SAP Mentors: A Rare Breed – May 2, 2012

Other Articles in “Meet the SAP Mentors” Series

Advocating for Excellence – May 9, 2012

The Inside Track on Community Engagement – April 6, 2012

Trust + Results = Success – December 21, 2011

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