Case studies traditionally have been one of the teaching tools of choice. Now business schools are making these case studies more realistic for students by mixing in historical data from business.
It all happens in the computer lab. At Purdue University, that's the new Enterprise Integration Lab, which simulates an entire firm's data flow.
"Information on accounting, finance, manufacturing and logistics all flow through the system. Working in the lab will allow students to understand the integrated nature of a business enterprise," says James Dworkin, associate dean of the Krannert Graduate School of Management.
In the lab, students see how something as simple as placing a product order triggers action within the business.
The Purdue lab, and others at the University of California-Irvine, California State University-Chico and the University of Texas at Austin, is using new software, R/3, created by SAP, a global software company. R/3 is a suite of business functions that manages operations and information across a business, such as manufacturing, finance, accounting and human resources departments. According to news reports, companies such as Owens-Corning, Compaq, Chevron and Colgate-Palmolive use R/3 and see major returns on their investment in the software.
"Students can use R/3 to discover what happens when the customer places an order for widgets," Lois Bruckner, SAP university alliance manager, says. "R/3 illustrates the flow of activity immediately. It's not as simple as placing an order and getting the product. The production schedule, the request for more raw materials, the adjustment to the ledger sheets, the invoicing system, all of these departments, and more, are affected by a single order, and a good manager knows how they all relate to one another."
Randy Williams, director of UC-Irvine's MBA Career Services Center, says students with an integrated background will have the edge over graduates who don't.
"The information technology paradigm is here to stay." Williams says. "It's not any one particular software package. It's the fact that we're teaching the next business executives to think in terms of cause and effect in their decision making. The phones in our placement center started ringing practically overnight when industries heard we were using R/3 in the classroom."
John Bartley, information technology director of Eli Lilly and Co.'s global business support department, agrees.
"We don't necessarily want or need people who only understand R/3, but there is a big gap in supply and demand right now for people who have backgrounds with integrated software," Bartley says. "It will be a huge benefit to graduate with an understanding of how these systems work and why they are important in the workplace."
SAP's Bruckner says working with business schools is a logical fit for her company.
"We depend on well-trained managers who understand what our systems software can do, so we're excited about the alliance with solid management programs like Purdue's. In bringing this program to the university setting, our goal is to teach and illustrate management tools; there is a tremendous need in the marketplace for students with R/3 experience."
Purdue's Enterprise Integration Laboratory will house 35 desktop computers and one
server funded by a $140,000 grant from Hewlett-Packard.
CONTACTS: Bartley, (317) 277-4217
Bruckner, contact Narina Sippy, SAP America Inc., (617) 672-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dworkin, (765) 494-4364; e-mail, email@example.com
Williams, (714) 824-8465
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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