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Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 22(1)
Enhancing Student Learning of Enterprise Integration and
Business Process Orientation through an ERP Business
Simulation Game
Ravi Seethamraju
Business School
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW-2006, Australia
Ravi.seethamraju@sydney.edu.au
ABSTRACT
The sophistication of the integrated world of work and increased recognition of business processes as critical corporate assets
require graduates to develop ‘process orientation’ and an ‘integrated view’ of business. Responding to these dynamic changes
in business organizations, business schools are also continuing to modify their curriculum and introducing innovative teaching
and learning strategies. An ERP business simulation game is one such initiative that helps in understanding business processes
and enterprise integration and develops process orientation among business graduates. This paper reports on a study
investigating the influence of ERP simulation game on learning effectiveness, skills development and decision making. Its
impact as a teaching and learning tool on the students’ ability to develop an integrated view of business is assessed and their
generic attitudes towards the learning of SAP analysed. The results reveal the significant impact this game had on students’
abilities and points out the challenges in the process and pedagogy. The study found that the game contributed to deep learning
in addition to resulting in significant improvement in their process orientation and integrative skills. The study, based on
feedback from participants and the experience of academics, recommends further improvements to the deployment and
curriculum design of the game.
Keywords: Enterprise Resource Planning, Simulation, Pedagogy, Business Process Management
1. INTRODUCTION
Understanding the concepts of cross-functional business
processes and their management are key graduate
requirements today in process-centric organizations. In
general, it is difficult to teach these concepts to business
students using traditional teaching and learning methods. In
particular, it is challenging to teach post graduate students
who have limited or no business experience. Enterprise
Resource Planning (ERP) systems and the industry-standard
ERP software solutions are considered a powerful tool for
teaching these concepts. With strong encouragement and
support from leading ERP software vendors, such as SAP,
Oracle, Microsoft and others, several university business
schools have incorporated ERP systems into their curricula.
While these initiatives have helped immensely in teaching
these concepts and imparting much needed SAP and other
software skills to students, the pedagogical benefits are
limited. Introducing innovative teaching and learning models
is considered necessary in order to improve the learning
effectiveness and deep learning of these skills and concepts.
The ERP simulation game is one such initiative that
exposes students to an authentic learning experience in a
simulated, yet complex business environment and offers an
19
exciting and stimulated learning environment (Leger 2006).
By exposing students who typically specialize in one
discipline and have limited or no understanding of business
operations and practical experience in industry-standard ERP
software, this game is expected to impart necessary business
process orientation and retainable SAP skills to business
students in a dynamic and stimulating learning environment.
This paper reports on the effectiveness of that initiative
and discusses the challenges and opportunities involved. It
will first present a review of literature on business process
orientation in business education and provide background to
the ERP simulation game. It will then explain the initiative
undertaken by an Australian business school and the
methodology adopted in conducting this evaluation research.
It will present the findings of this study and discuss
implications and challenges.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
Business processes are central to the way organizations and
individuals interact with one another (Malone et al 2003) and
are now considered the most valuable corporate assets
(Gartner Research 2006). Organizations of all sizes have
achieved, and are still achieving, significant improvements in
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 22(1)
quality, cost, speed and profitability by focusing on
modeling, measuring and redesigning their customer facing
and internal processes (Hammer 2007). The concept of
‘process orientation’ is almost a decade old, with most of the
literature on process orientation from the popular press and
industry reports and therefore it lacks an empirical research
focus (McCormack & Johnson 2001).
Process orientation refers basically to the awareness of
the interdependencies and information sharing between
various functional units and business models, with an
underlying focus on integration, customer and customer
needs. Business process orientation violates, in its logic, a
classic
management
principle
called
‘functional
specialization’ (McCormack & Johnson 2001). However, it
helps in better understanding the perspectives taken by other
functions within a business, developing a collective sense of
belonging and facilitating the reduction of cross-functional
conflicts (Huang and Newell 2003).
Even though it is considered an important skill for
graduates, acquiring this skill is not a one step activity and is
an ongoing process. In addition to basic understanding and
appreciation of the concepts, it requires a high degree of selfawareness, critical thinking and deep learning (Quinn et al
2003). In addition to helping graduates in their future work
environment, pedagogically this process orientation is
expected to improve understanding of intersections and
interactions in and between traditional disciplines such as
marketing, operations, accounting and human resources
(McCormack & Johnson 2001; Burrack & McKenzie 2005;
Kohlbacher 2008).
The existing pedagogical model of business education
embeds functional structure and continues to produce
graduates with good technical specialist skills and
knowledge in functional areas such as accounting,
marketing, logistics, finance and human resources (CecezKecmanovic et al 2002; Karpin 1995). Increasing class sizes,
limited availability of resources, diversity of students and
changing student demographics are placing demands on
higher education to explore new pedagogies. In addition to
these, business schools are facing dual challenges – first to
make their courses relevant by incorporating industryrelevant skills and knowledge, and second to design and
implement innovative learning methods and pedagogy
(Mortais et al. 2006).
An ERP simulation game is one initiative that can help
academics deal with both challenges simultaneously and
successfully. Simulation games are one of the most powerful
tools in learning because of their potential to provide a realworld business environment and their engaging active
learning experience (Mortais et al 2006; Westernberger
1999). Though most simulation games predominantly focus
on functional concepts and are taught in the context of one
function (such as logistics, marketing, international business,
strategy, IS development etc.), the ERP simulation game
featured in this study is different. This simulation game
focuses on cross-functional business processes and managing
transactions and processes, employing a much needed multidisciplinary perspective.
Incorporating ERP software solutions into the business
curriculum for improving learning and pedagogy is not new
and has been in place in several university schools for more
than 10 years. In fact, there are several studies that have
investigated the impact of deploying SAP software in
business and information technology curricula (Seethamraju
2007; Federowicz et al 2004; Peslak 2005). Earlier attempts
at incorporating SAP and other ERP software skills in the
curricula involved regular lectures and lab sessions.
Typically the concepts of business processes, enterprise
resource planning (ERP) systems, implementation options
and challenges, and the technologies behind these systems
are taught using a traditional lecture mode. SAP software
skills are taught using lab sessions where the lecturer carries
out demonstrations and students are required to perform
several activities.
Students are trained to do various activities in SAP,
including creation of master data, performing transaction
cycles that take students through various application modules
such as sales and distribution, production, materials
management, accounting, and configuration. While these
achieve some benefits and learning outcomes in terms of
SAP skills and understanding of the enterprise systems
concepts, their pedagogical effectiveness and ‘deep learning’
outcomes are limited. In fact, understanding and appreciating
a business process perspective has been reported as a major
challenge (Seethamraju, 2007).
Students have found it difficult to understand the crossfunctional perspective of business processes in SAP and the
information flows behind the transactions they are routinely
performing (Cannon et al 2004). In fact, in one study, some
students rated this experience as a ‘routine data entry
exercise’ and did not seem to have experienced deep learning
opportunities (Seethamraju 2007). Students, however, value
the exposure to an industry-standard ERP software solution
such as SAP, during the course. Learning SAP software
skills with hands-on work on the industry-standard software
was considered a better learning experience than a routine
theoretical teaching of ERP systems (Hawking et al 2004).
In these attempts, students’ ability to develop a deeper
learning objective, i.e., business process orientation and the
appreciation of interdependencies, and its potential to
internalize that understanding in their managerial decision
making and thinking processes was limited. Some of the
reasons identified in previous studies include the resource
intensive nature of such courses, individually (not as a
group) working on processes and transaction cycles,
complexity of the software resulting in an overwhelming
experience, and undue focus on completing transactions
without allowing students to explore the underlying issues
(Seethamraju 2007; Hawking et al 2004). In addition, the
complexity of the system makes it hard for students to
understand the links between information, business
processes, and managerial decisions and distinguish between
the limitations of the software functionality and key
managerial requirements.
The study of business management, characterized by its
relatively ill-structured and complex nature, requires
interdisciplinary focus and is difficult to teach using
traditional methods (Draiijer & Schenk 2004). Simulation
using enterprise systems software solutions is expected to
facilitate understanding of business processes and impart
valuable skills in using industry-standard software solutions
such as SAP (Draiijer & Schenk 2004; Leger 2006).
Simulations can reduce the complexity of early experiences
with business processes (and hence cognitive load), allowing
20
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 22(1)
students to develop process orientation, and in the
development of software skills. Even in real businesses,
execution as learning will deliver better business
performance rather than mere flawless execution
(Edmondson 2008) and simulation games with learning in an
unthreatened environment will deliver that learning as
students are executing and managing several business
processes. Even though computer based simulation games
have become popular pedagogical tools, research is only
beginning to consider how these simulation games impact
learning outcomes (Anderson 2005, Seethamraju 2008; BenZvi 2007). For example, Ben-Zvi (2007) has found the
simulation game a better method than the lecture and case
study method while teaching information systems.
3. STUDY OBJECTIVES AND METHOD
There are several studies on the conceptual basis, strategies
for deployment and effectiveness of business simulation
games (Anderson 2005; Mortais et al 2006). Similarly, there
are a range of studies on the effectiveness of incorporating
ERP software solutions in the business curriculum
(Seethamraju 2007; Federowicz et al 2004; Peslak 2005).
There is, however, only one study reporting on a curriculum
model that incorporated an ERP simulation game into a
business curriculum (Leger 2006), which not only
incorporates a simulation game but also ERP software
solutions.
Though Leger’s study predominantly focused on the
learning model, not much is known about the game’s
influence on teaching and learning. The current study
attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of one such curriculum
model that extends the Leger (2006) model and provides
insights into the pedagogical effectiveness of the simulation
game and the process orientation imparted by the ERP
simulation game. This study evaluates the effectiveness of
one such strategy that integrates ERP Sim game into
business curriculum with an aim to teach business process
orientation and ERP software skills at a single university.
The findings of this study are expected to contribute to the
field of enterprise systems and business simulations. The
research objectives of this study therefore are to analyze the
design and instructional strategies employed in the delivery
of an ERP simulation game as a case study in an
organization and provide guidance to other business schools.
Thus an in-depth case study approach that incorporates a
questionnaire survey data collection method consistent with
the case study methodology (Yin, 2003) was employed in
this study.
3.1 Learning Objectives
The key learning objectives of introducing this ERP
simulation game into a course titled ‘Business Process
Integration’ are: i) to develop business process orientation;
ii) to teach ERP and SAP skills; iii) to provide business
students with an authentic and exciting student-centered
learning experience that is integrative and motivates them to
learn. In addition, the aim is to offer students a quality
information-rich environment in which graduates typically
work in groups and make day-to-day managerial decisions.
Importantly, the aim is to encourage effective skill
development, a sense of enjoyment in learning and embed
21
process orientation in their thinking and managerial decision
making. This ERP simulation game is explained in detail in
Leger (2006). This research study employs a modified mdel
where students are exposed to six sessions as against the
Leger (2006) model of the game. The objectives of this study
therefore are to evaluate the effectiveness of this initiative.
Details of the methods employed in the data collection and
administration of the game deployed is explained below.
3.2 ERP Sim game
The ERPSim – a simulation game originally designed by a
team of academics in HEC Montreal and implemented by
about 20 leading business schools in the world so far is a
team based game with each team operating a firm. Each team
interacts with customers and suppliers by sending and
receiving orders, delivering their products, determining
pricing strategy, cash flows, credit management, using
business intelligence and reporting in successive quarters and
completing the cash-to-cash cycles. The game relies on the
information, transactions and reports provided by SAP, an
industry-standard enterprise resource planning (ERP)
system. The ERP simulation game offers students the
opportunity to reflect, test and find out what works and what
does not, and gain insight into business processes,
information systems, business strategy, managerial decision
making, analytics and team dynamics. This game provides
students with process guidelines and tools that enable realtime collaboration and collection of process data and
incorporates disciplined reflection, a key requirement for
deep learning.
The SAP Asia-Pacific application hosting centre at
Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane
hosts various SAP software solutions for universities in the
Asia-Pacific region. The University of Sydney, as a
relatively late entrant into the SAP curriculum space, has
become a member of the SAP University alliance and
accessed the ERPSim game software via QUT. While the
QUT application hosting centre hosts the software for the
game, HEC Montreal provides a detailed manual for a price
and a few aids for carrying out SAP transactions. All the
students have used this manual as a resource for
understanding company background, transactions, reports
and data used in the simulation game. In addition, students
also have access to the SAP manual that provides detailed
documentation about SAP in general, instructions for the
creation of master data, and for carrying out various SAP
transactions in order-to-cash processes, procure-to-pay
processes and production planning processes. In addition,
students have access to generic SAP help and other
supporting documentation.
3.3 Schedule and Structure of Simulation
The game is scheduled for six sessions of three hours each
during the semester. There were eight teams in the class,
with each team having five to six students (a total of 52
students in class). This game can be played differently using
different sequences and by choosing to automate some
processes. The time line of the simulation game employed is
shown in Figure 1.
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 22(1)
Lectures
Weeks 1 to 3: Lectures on concepts of enterprise systems, business
processes, ERP implementation risks & benefits
Week 4: Introduction to SAP & Creation of master data
Week 5: Procure-to-pay & order-to-cash cycles/transactions
Week 7: Game with just pricing decision & reports
SAP ERP Sim Game environment
Week 6: Demonstration & discussion – Game
Week 8: Game – with decisions on pricing, product design, process
improvements, loan repayments & marketing
Week 9: Game – with all decisions and debriefing
Week 10: Competitive game (assessment component)
Weeks 13: Review of the course
Figure 1: Simulation game timeline
22
Lectures
Weeks 12: Advances in Enterprise systems & Future
Assessment
Week 11: Team presentations and debriefing
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 22(1)
As shown above, in the first three sessions, traditional
teaching methods such as lecture and case studies were used
to introduce students to the concepts of enterprise systems,
business processes, information flows, implementation risks
and technologies. According to Knowles et al (2005) adults
are motivated to learn when they see the learning is relevant
and meaningful and when it is active and has opportunities to
practice. Employing these adult learning principles, the
program was designed to take students from ‘known to
unknown’. With a focus initially on the sales process, this
game moves on to production and then on to other strategic
issues such as marketing strategy, product design, capacity
expansions and cash flow management.
From week four onwards students were introduced to the
game in a s …
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