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Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 15(3)
Teaching Tip
Twelve Tips for Successfully Integrating Enterprise
Systems Across the Curriculum
Jane Fedorowicz
Ulric J. Gelinas, Jr.
Catherine Usoff
Department of Accounting and Information Systems
jfedorowicz@bentley.edu ugelinas@bentley.edu cusoff@bentley.edu
George Hachey
Department of Finance
ghachey@bentley.edu
Bentley College
175 Forest Street
Waltham, MA 02452
ABSTRACT
The use of enterprise systems in business curricula is recommended for the purpose of demonstrating both an integrated
view of the firm and the use of information technology to support the efficient and effective performance of business
processes to achieve organizational objectives. Based on the experience of a core group of faculty at a private business
university who integrated SAP into various business courses, the authors provide twelve tips for others who might want to
do the same. The tips are presented in three categories: 1) curriculum issues, 2) training and outside support, and 3) student
and faculty related issues. As more colleges consider inserting enterprise systems within their business curricula, effective
planning and efficient use of time and resources in these areas will help to reduce start-up time and bolster success.
Keywords: ERP, enterprise systems, business processes, business curriculum, SAP
for a newly minted graduate to grasp even more complex
interorganizational supply chains and information flows.
1. INTRODUCTION
One of the primary goals of a business education is to equip
students with the knowledge and skills to “hit the ground
running” when they begin their first jobs. Employers expect
new hires to understand how companies function in today’s
economy, which requires knowledge of basic business
processes and the technology used to support them.
Students need to be able to transcend the traditional
stovepipes of academic disciplines that have little
correlation with the elaborate relationships needed to
support business processes that frequently exceed
traditional company boundaries (Antonucci and Muehlen,
2000). Without an appreciation of a company’s internal
business processes and workflow, it is especially difficult
A business process perspective dictates that students also
be exposed to an enterprise-level view of data flows that
correspond to these processes (Gelinas et al, 2004). While
published case studies (e.g., Brown and Vessey, 2003;
Volkoff, 2003), process models, and data flow diagrams
give students a theoretical overview of a process, it is the
authors’ collective experience that students gain a better
understanding of the real workings of a business through
personal interaction and hands-on exercises.
Large-scale enterprise systems (ES) are well-suited to
support the hands-on component of a business curriculum.
There are two compelling reasons for this. First, the
235
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 15(3)
complexity of large-scale ES such as SAP, Oracle
Applications, or PeopleSoft, exposes students to the
elaborate interdependencies involved in running a large
business (Joseph and George, 2003). No amount of
textbook explanation or case work can impart this message
as well as personal interaction with such a system.
Alternatively, coursework based on a single-user, easy-touse ES downplays the critical role of technology in
managing typical business complexity and supporting
complicated intra- and interorganizational relationships.
The second reason for integrating a large-scale ES across
the curriculum is to imbue in students a deeper appreciation
for the capabilities of ES than can be gained through
readings, class lectures or discussion. Graduates who have
first-hand familiarity with an ES become new employees
who have a better understanding about any ES their hiring
firm uses. If our educational goal is to equip students with
knowledge and skills that match the needs of today’s
business environment, we as faculty must incorporate ES
technology that closely replicates the processes and
interactions students will encounter as they begin and
advance in their careers.
were learned about projects of this sort, scope, and size.
First, they cost more than ever imagined. Second, they take
longer than ever imagined. Third, they take more effort
than ever imagined.” The implementation at our college is
well represented by this quote. We note that many of our
initial successes and failures parallel similar efforts
observed at other adopting colleges and universities.
Our college became a member of the SAP University
Alliance (UA) and faculty began to work with SAP R/3 in
Spring of 1997. A number of trial-and-error attempts at
incorporating R/3 exercises into business courses followed
(Fedorowicz et al., 2004).
Rather than provide a
chronology of our successes and failures, we offer twelve
suggestions for how faculty at other colleges and
universities might adapt our experiences to their own
curriculum. These suggestions are oriented around three
themes: curriculum and implementation issues, training and
outside support, and student and faculty issues. Table 1
summarizes our themes and tips. Although we have yet to
meet our ultimate objective of integrating SAP into all
business disciplines, our success has been steady and
incremental. Our goal in this article is to share our
knowledge with our academic colleagues so they may be
able to move up the learning curve more quickly.
Many colleges and universities have recognized the value
of student ES experience. However, along with curricular
benefit come integration challenges (Guthrie and Guthrie,
2000). Unlike some other recent technology innovations
(e.g., distance learning, groupware, and Internet-based
search tools), true integration of ES in a course will alter
course content as well as pedagogy. It is especially
beneficial when ES issues are intertwined with the content
of business courses so students gain a full appreciation of
the true impact of such systems on organizations
(Fedorowicz, et al., 2005).
3. CURRICULUM AND IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES
3.1 Tip 1: Go with What You Know
From the onset of the UA, SAP offered extensive training
programs through its regional facilities. Faculty were
encouraged to attend scheduled training programs to
acquire a working knowledge of the modules they wanted
to use in their own courses. These training programs would
seem to be a good source of hands-on material for quick
inclusion into existing courses. Unfortunately, that was not
the case.
The purpose of this article is to provide guidance to faculty
on ways to effectively integrate ES across the business
curriculum in such a way as to accomplish the synergistic
goals of (1) illustrating real-world business processes and
(2) exposing students to the caliber of technology with
which they will work in their careers. To do so, we offer
twelve tips on how to support both the content and
pedagogical challenges of ES integration. In the next
section we describe our philosophy of learning from our
efforts and those of others. We then describe our twelve
tips in three categories or themes. The article concludes
with an appeal for research on the inherent value of ES
integration for classroom learning and career success.
The training courses offered by vendors like SAP are
designed for their corporate customers to point out the
major features of each module and to help users navigate
the system for a role-specific purpose. In addition, these
courses are generic, in the sense that they are taught in the
same way and cover the same material whether offered in
Boston, Atlanta or Düsseldorf. This approach is necessary
so a global company like SAP can provide the same
training experience to all of its customers all over the
world.1 But just as many corporate customers want training
on the system to be customized to reflect their unique
circumstances and processes (Wheatley, 2002), a
university-based instructor might expect similar tailoring.
However, they find that they cannot take SAP training
exercises and just drop them into a college course.
Exercises must be redesigned and augmented to reflect
course content and objectives.
2. LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES AND
SUCCESSES OF OTHERS
Many business schools have acquired an ES with the
intention of incorporating the system into new and existing
courses. Their efforts have met with a range of success.
What is clear from published accounts of these efforts is
that ES integration is harder than expected (Fedorowicz et
al, 2004; Farrell, 2001). Hensel and Alexander (2000, p. 6)
summarized learnings from their project that might easily
be applied to any curricular ES effort: “Three major lessons
Our first few efforts to integrate SAP into our courses were
faculty demonstrations and student exercises that mainly
involved the extraction of data from the IDES database that
is provided with SAP installations at academic institutions.2
236
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 15(3)
Attempts were also made to replicate exercises that faculty
had completed in the courses that they took at SAP training
centers. However, these approaches exhibited limited
success for two reasons. First, the IDES database that the
faculty members were using on campus did not contain the
same data as the database at the SAP training centers,
which had been specially configured for the training course
exercises. Second, these exercises appeared to be “out-ofcontext” for the students because they could not appreciate
how the data had come to be in the system, nor did they
fully understand the business activities represented by the
system.
through the efforts of one or a small number of faculty
champions. To be truly successful in reaching across a
curriculum, these champions must bring other faculty on
board who are willing to teach about the impacts of ES in a
broad spectrum of courses and disciplines. This necessitates
familiarizing colleagues with a topic about which they may
have little prior knowledge or interest. It will also require
champions to accept the lead in developing and
coordinating course materials. Champions do their best to
encourage faculty to attend these workshops and to
integrate SAP into their courses. In the end, each faculty
member must decide how to respond.
To solve both problems we developed our own set of
exercises to execute the transactions that make up basic
business processes. The extensive exercise sequences cover
the creation of records and entry of transactions for two
specific business processes: the order-to-cash process and
the purchase-to-pay process. Detailed instructions are given
to the students to help them to complete these exercises.
Our philosophy is to make the data entry steps as
straightforward as possible while emphasizing the learning
that can be gained through their descriptions and analysis
of the steps that they are performing.
In our case, we developed the exercises described in Tip 1
as a “proof of concept” to promote SAP integration into a
few initial courses. Once our initial exercises were in use in
the classroom, we designed workshops around each one.
Two day-long faculty workshops were created. The first
includes an introduction to SAP and the order-to-cash
process. The second focuses on the purchase-to-pay
process. The faculty member presenting these workshops
shares his PowerPoint slides, which include adaptations of
SAP training materials and some SAP screen shots, to
describe the SAP system. After each major element,
workshop attendees complete related exercises. At several
points during the workshops there is discussion about how
to use the SAP system in the faculty members’ courses.
Discussions cover how to use SAP effectively in a variety
of courses and also how to coordinate SAP coverage
among courses and majors.
These exercises solved our two problems. We do not need
to rely on the data in the IDES database because the
students create the master data and generate transactions as
part of the exercises. For example, they buy goods using an
inventory record that they create and they sell them to the
customer whose record they also create. Second, as the
students work through the steps in these exercises, they
begin to picture the process flow. In the order-to-cash cycle
exercises, they create a sales order to represent a sale; they
create an outbound delivery, record the picking of the
order, and post the goods issue (shipment) to represent
preparing and shipping the goods to the customer; they
create a billing document; and finally they process the
customer’s incoming payment for the goods sold.3
These workshops illustrate the benefit of having campus
experts or advocates leading efforts to diffuse ES into the
courses of a broad spectrum of faculty. By providing
exercises that are known to work in the campus
environment, the more experienced users among the faculty
spare less experienced faculty users the frustration of
creating new exercises with inadequate knowledge of the
underlying SAP infrastructure. In addition, the student
experience is enhanced since the exercises have common
themes that build a cohesive set of skills while minimizing
topical overlap across courses.
As the students complete each exercise, they are asked
questions comparing their actions to textbook material.
They are also asked to analyze their activity based on
course learning objectives. For example, learning
objectives around process documentation and internal
control evaluation would be reinforced in an Accounting
Information Systems course by having the students create a
flowchart of the process represented by the SAP activities
and then compare their representation to an illustration in
the text for a comparable process. They also identify
actions that act as controls on the process and evaluate the
quality of the controls inherent in SAP functionality. These
types of assignments give the students a close look at the
details and complexity of SAP as well as asking them to
step back and understand what they did and why they did it.
These exercises force students to consider both “the forest
and the trees” of hands-on work.
3.3 Tip 3: Get it Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
Although not unique to the topic of enterprise systems, an
invitation to local practitioners to speak to a class is one of
the most powerful and easy ways to expose students to the
realities of ES. As early as 1997, our faculty invited a
number of individuals from well-known local companies to
speak to classes on ES topics. The CIO of a large
manufacturer spoke about how and why his company
selected their ES vendor, and described the significant and
painful, yet successful and beneficial, business process
changes that the ES forced upon them. Professionals from a
variety of consulting firms spoke on the differences among
leading products, the role of external consultants in the
implementation process, and how ES expertise can be
outsourced to professional service firms. Business process
owners spoke of their role in configuring an ES and how
the system is used to support their particular business
3.2 Tip 2: Practice Knowledge Diffusion
Enterprise systems are usually brought onto campus
237
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 15(3)
process. Other external speakers covered a range of
specialized topics within several courses.
These workshops are mostly offered in the summer and
during winter break and are held in a number of US
locations as well as Nova Scotia, Canada. Several formats
are used to deliver the courses. Most are comprised of a
modified SAP training course augmented by faculty led
discussions about how the material might be used. All
workshops are available to faculty from schools who have
joined the UA and are offered free of charge.
In addition to adding credibility and raising the level of
importance of ES as a course topic, these speakers give
faculty an added stable of stories to enhance future class
discussion. As will be seen in other tips, these are also
invaluable contacts to aid faculty in more challenging and
innovative course material development.
There are, however, challenges associated with this new
approach. First, the workshops are either one or two weeks
long. This means that the faculty’s institution must pay for
travel and lodging for any faculty who attend the workshop.
The faculty member must also commit to one or two full
weeks of training, rather than a few days.
3.4 Tip 4: Don’t Re-invent the Wheel or Make Others
do the Same
Within your own college, there is no better motivation for
sharing ideas than to reduce the investment of time and the
frustration level of those who create their own SAP
exercises. Faculty must be open to sharing exercises and
assignments they have created or adapted from existing
exercises, with other faculty who might find them relevant.
There are usually several offerings during each training
week, so several faculty may attend from an individual
institution and each take different courses. The choice of
faculty and the courses they take should be made
judiciously (Becerra-Fernandez et al., 2000). The goals
should be to make sure faculty receive the “right” level of
training, and that the college’s needs are being met without
unnecessary duplication. We have found that it is most
beneficial to support faculty attending these workshop who
are most likely to a) incorporate what they have learned
into one of their courses in the near-term and b) be willing
and able to present what they have learned to other faculty.
The same concept applies across institutions as well. In the
past few years, there has been more widespread adoption of
SAP in various parts of business and information systems
curricula. There are many exercises available through the
UA or through personal contacts made at workshops or
meetings. For example, the UA sponsors a website named
Innovation Watch for its members on which it has posted
exercises and materials created by its “Plug and Play” grant
recipients. Several of the academic business conferences
also have tracks that include ERP curriculum ideas (for
example, ISECON (Information Systems Education
Conference), the Decision Sciences Institute conference,
and the American Accounting Association conferences).
Faculty are encouraged to share their own exercises and
curriculum ideas through such outlets. Since there is now a
critical mass of colleges using SAP in their curricula, but
no established body of academic texts to support such
integration, sharing proven materials with others looking
for specific applications benefits everyone.
4.2 Tip 6: Outsource Non-Core Competencies
In the first years of the UA program, all of its members
were ‘self-hosted’. This meant that each school had to
devote substantial resources to installing and maintaining
their own instance of R/3. Appropriate servers had to be
acquired, technical staff had to be trained on how to
manage the system and had to devote part or all of their
time to SAP issues, and outside consultants were hired by
many schools to help maintain the system at acceptable
levels of effectiveness and efficiency. This made an SAP
initiative quite expensive. This level of effort was
especially burdensome for schools that did not have the
participation of their information systems department. In
many successful SAP initiatives, information systems
students and faculty have been instrumental in maintaining
the system (Joseph and George, 2003; Corbitt and
Mensching, 2000). In addition, many schools found that
after their technical staff had been trained and received
some experience with the system, they were hired away by
local companies who were able to offer higher salaries than
the school could afford.
4. TRAINING AND OUTSIDE SUPPORT
4.1 TIP 5: New Training Approach, New Training
Challenges
Fortunately, SAP’s UA program has evolved the training
process …
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