SAP’s University Alliances (UA) program offers a tremendous opportunity for universities to incorporate very powerful, world class software into their curriculum at a very low cost. I have been involved with UA and SAP for over a decade. During this time, I have had many conversations with colleagues about a variety of topics - curriculum, faculty, students, employers, politics, cost, benefits, etc. Universities have approached the use of SAP in the curriculum in a number of different ways. My sense is that a number of universities in the program are not taking full advantage of membership in UA, and that a number of other institutions might be hesitant to join. I’d like to offer some ideas on how schools can get the most amount of value out of their SAP programs for students and employers.
The purpose of this post is to stimulate a discussion to identify the key issues, obstacles, success stories, etc. that may help us better understand how to take full advantage of our and SAP’s investment in UA. In addition, since the companies on SCN represent all of the “consumers” of our “products” (i.e. “graduates”) that these SAP schools produce, I welcome thoughts from the broader SCN community on how to “produce” (i.e. “educate”) the right kind of employees who will thrive in your companies (see point #4 below).
Here are some broad areas for discussion:
1. Joining the UA. Joining the UA program is not trivial for most universities as it requires a significant investment in time, effort and money. How can we help other universities make the case to their colleagues and administrators that participating in the UA program is a win/win/win for all concerned? What will be the vision for a program that takes advantage of what UA has to offer? What are the goals of such a program?
What was your motivation for joining the UA? What convinced people at your institution to join? What do you hope to achieve? What are the key obstacles? What advice can you offer potential participants?
At Grand Valley State University, we have a very supportive leadership team, a highly energized group of faculty, and a very involved group of local companies (mostly SAP customers) that made this happens. Our vision is to differentiate our business school from other programs in the region, to integrate our business curriculum to move away from a silo (functional) focus and to move to a process (cross-functional) focus. We seek to provide students with skills and capabilities that will set them apart.
2. Developing a sound strategy. Once a university joins the UA program, it will need a strategy to achieve the vision and goals. What is your strategy? At Grand Valley, given our goal of integrating the entire curriculum, we developed a very detailed case of a manufacturing company (it makes skateboards and accessories), and implemented it in SAP ERP. A variety of exercises and mini-cases or case extensions are developed that address specific processes, issues, concepts, and techniques. Courses in different disciplines utilize the exercises and case, and SAP, where appropriate. We believe that the use of a common case across the curriculum and the use of SAP in many courses provide a high level of integration and give students a deep of understanding of processes.
We have now moved to Global Bicycle, Inc. (GBI), which, incidentally Grand Valley students helped develop. GBI is an excellent platform to develop cases and exercises in many different disciplines and for different pedagogical goals.
3. Motivating faculty. One of the biggest hurdles is to motivate faculty to use SAP in the classroom. My discussions with colleagues have revealed a number of reasons, but they all come down to too much effort and not enough rewards. There is always a small group of faculty that is motivated by the opportunity to do something unique and innovative, and something that provides tremendous value to our students. However, to get past the “early adopters” stage, this issue must be addressed. How are you handling this?
At Grand Valley, we have a very supportive environment that tries to reward faculty. I say tries because it is a good step, but not nearly sufficient, in my opinion. Institutional inertia is the key obstacle. We seem entrenched in our existing reward systems. Nonetheless, curriculum development grants, release time, training, and the opportunity to create and teach an interesting course are good motivators.
Another reason faculty seem reluctant to use SAP in the classroom is that they do not wish to appear ignorant in front of their students. Yes. I have heard this from many. We have all had issues with “live demos.” Some of us will take it in stride. Others will not take that chance. How do you address this?
At Grand Valley, we offer training as well as a very competent group of student interns to support the faculty. The interns are available to assist in creating and testing exercises, grading, helping students, and helping in the class/ lab.
4. Involving local and regional employers. Ultimately, the success of the program is indicated by external validity. If employers are involved, life is much easier! How do you get them involved? Involvement can take several forms. How are your local companies involved with your program?
Our program was in development mode for several years. Once the program was in place, we went into phase II – the promoting/PR mode. We actively sought out local and regional companies through connections and by hosting events (e.g., ASUG). The goal was to inform them of our program and convince them to support it. Support comes in a number of different ways. Internships and placement is a key. Several of our employers did not previously recruit our students; until we convinced them to sample our “product”. Now they come back every semester. The product has to be great; which means that the program – curriculum, faculty, and students – has to be great. Other forms of involvement include: advisory board, in-class participation (guest lectures, project mentors), speakers, site visits, and faculty sabbaticals. All have been very important in selling the program to our administrators.
5. Acquiring needed resources. Developing a good program that takes full advantage of what UA offers is not cheap. I have mentioned several activities at our university (development grants, student interns, training, etc.) that cost money. Especially in the current economic environment, obtaining the needed resources is a major issue. How are you addressing this?
We have been able to make a good case for our program. It took several years where the funding was provided on faith! (I think I told you we have a supportive leadership team). However, we do have significant, tangible results. Our students are highly recruited, locally and regionally. Our alumni are our best bets to spread the word; and they do. The hardest part is to get an employer to “sample the product” but once they do, they are hooked. As indicated in the previous section, our local companies are very involved in our program. This external validation of the program is the best way to convince administrators to provide funding for needed activities.
6. Other issues, activities, suggestions. There are clearly a number of other things to talk about. What about recruiting the best students and keeping them engaged (social media?), promoting the program (a website, brochures, etc.), student organizations (we have one – the Enterprise Systems Student Union), certifications (always a plus).
This posting is an attempt to get a discussion going to help us all learn from each other about how we can take advantage of the UA program to develop educational programs that meet the needs of the global, networked economy. There are many different paths to success. Comments, suggestions, and critiques are welcome.