The Design & Management of Effective Distance Learning Programs – Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Teaching Enterprise Systems in a Distance Education Mode

Michael Rosemann
Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Copyright © 2002, Idea Group Publishing.

OVERVIEW

This chapter discusses the needs and opportunities for teaching comprehensive business applications, Enterprise Systems, in the form of academic distance education courses. Specific factors of the educational market in Enterprise Systems such as high demand, limited resources or the increased importance of Application Hosting Centers will be described. An appropriate learning model will be selected that stresses the role of the lecturer as a moderator. The subject, Process Engineering at Queensland University of Technology, is taken as an example in order to discuss different forms of distance and also collaborative education in Enterprise Systems. The summary includes recommendations and sketches possible future directions.

THE NEED TO TEACH ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS IN A DISTANCE EDUCATION MODE

Characteristics of Enterprise Systems

A new class of packaged application software has emerged over the past decade. Variously called Enterprise Resource Planning Systems, Enterprise-wide Systems, Enterprise Business Systems or just Enterprise Systems, these comprehensive software solutions seek to integrate the complete range of a business’s processes and functions in order to present a holistic view of the business from a single information and IT architecture. An Enterprise System can be defined as customizable standard software that supports the main business processes of a company (Rosemann, 1999).

As off-the-shelf solutions, they consist of integrated applications for the main functions, such as procurement, production management, warehousing, sales and distribution, financial and managerial accounting, human resource management and quality management. In the most cases, industry-specific solutions are available, which include applications demanded by industries such as aerospace, automotive, banking, chemicals, consumer products, engineering, healthcare, higher education, insurance, mining, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, retail, telecommunications or utilities. Enterprise Systems are based on one integrated logical database. Consequently, vendor master data entered in the materials management module are, for example, also available in the accounts payable module. Enterprise Systems have one common user interface across all modules that can be individualized for users or user groups.

Currently, the main Enterprise Systems vendors are SAP, J.D. Edwards, Oracle and PeopleSoft. Among these, SAP solutions are the dominant application, claiming more than 50 % of the Enterprise Systems market. The Gartner Group forecasts that the Enterprise Systems market will be greater than $20 billion by 2002 (with a probability of 80%) (Gartner Group, 1999). According to their prediction, more than 50% of this will be Enterprise Systems service revenue, while the total Enterprise Systems license revenue will amount to about $9 billion. The Gartner Group also estimates that more than 90% of Fortune 500 enterprises have purchased a module or a set of modules from an Enterprise Systems vendor. The market for small- and medium-sized enterprises is identified as the main customer group, as more than 50% of these enterprises have not yet selected a next-generation Enterprise Systems. For 2001 (2002), the Gartner Group predicts market growth of 25% (28%). These figures show that Enterprise Systems initiatives are among the biggest investments to which enterprises are currently committing. This trend is likely to continue as a second wave of Enterprise Systems (ERP II) is emerging, which extends these systems towards interbusiness processes such as Customer Relationship Management and Supply Chain Management (Gartner Group, 2000).

A range of influences has encouraged the increasing uptake of Enterprise Systems, which already account for a substantial portion of the world- installed base of application software. Global competitive pressures promoting the adoption of “best practices,” the paradigm of continuous business engineering postulated by the large management consulting firms, and an international trend towards privatization of government services, have all contributed to a climate of change that has facilitated the growing acceptance and adoption of Enterprise Systems. The global rush to deploy information technology in support of re-engineering and rightsizing the firm demands both substantial and relatively rapid change to the information systems portfolio, a pace of change not possible with custom software development. The backlog in IS departments, problems integrating systems, the inability of legacy systems to cope with the “Year 2000” problem, and the introduction of the Euro currency have further increased demand for application software packages. Enterprise Systems are used because they allow a cost-effective, company-wide integration of data and processes.

Brief Overview about Enterprise Systems Education at Universities

While a significant and growing proportion of Information Systems graduates are integrally involved with the selection, implementation, operation, maintenance, support, management, development and use of software packages, Enterprise Systems as a distinct phenomenon of interest remain largely under-researched and absent in Information Management and Information Systems curricula (Gable, 1998; Klaus et al., 2000). Paradoxically, a serious dearth of Enterprise Systems expertise exists in practice. This shortage in supply contributes to heated competition for staff with related experience, project budget-overruns, and over- reliance on external consultants and contractors.

Universities started quite late with the integration of Enterprise Systems-related subjects into their curriculum. A main facilitator for the integration of Enterprise Systems is the range of university programs of the major Enterprise Systems vendors. This university to Enterprise Systems vendor link has spawned new curricula at the post-graduate level, either under the banner of a new breed of MBA program (Winter, 1999), or within the Information Systems area as a Master of Science program (Holmes and Hayen, 1999b). Individual experiences of universities implementing SAP R/3 into their IS curriculum can be found in Lederer-Antonucci (1999), Watson and Schneider (1999). Foote (1999) describes a SAP-accounting class and other SAP-related courses in the U.S. Shoemaker (1999) sketches a six-hour introduction to Enterprise Systems for sales and marketing professionals. Rosemann et al. (2000) and Hawking and McCarthy (2000) discuss Enterprise Systems courses with industrial work experiences.

The impact of reorganizing Enterprise Systems subject matter into existing curricula and the special challenges posed to faculty has been reported by Stewart et al. (1999). The benefits and pitfalls of teaching conceptual knowledge with Enterprise Systems as a learning vehicle have been critically evaluated in terms of learning outcomes and effort by Noguera and Watson (1999) and Scott (1999).

An example of a syllabus for the remote delivery of an introductory subject via the Internet is given by Holmes and Hayen (1999a). They describe the design of a course consisting of ten lessons that introduces the concepts, fundamentals and framework of Enterprise Systems (see also http://sap.mis.cmich.edu/sap-esoft00.htm). The main teaching tools were HTML-based websites generated from PowerPoint slides, Lotus Screen Cams and a web-based discussion forum. Stewart and Rosemann (2001) propose an increased international collaboration at universities in order to educate in the area of Enterprise Systems more cost-effectively.

In comparison with its dominance in industry, SAP is also the most popular Enterprise System in use at universities. A worldwide survey about teaching and research related to SAP R/3 showed that most universities (outside Germany) started in or after 1997 with their initiatives in Enterprise Systems (Gable & Rosemann, 1999). Since then, it has become an area of fast- growing interest in academia demonstrated by the continuously increasing number of subjects dealing with Enterprise Systems. The international survey, for example, consolidated data about more than 180 SAP-related subjects at universities. In the U.S., until 1997 almost no university was teaching SAP R/3, while in 2001 more than 200 institutes of higher learning are using SAP solutions. Most of these universities report a significant increase in enrolments due to their SAP offerings. SAP’s Enterprise System R/3, as an example, is used worldwide by more than 400 universities in more than 35 countries and more than 50,000 students access this solution.

Moreover, research in Enterprise Systems is rapidly developing. In 2000, all major conferences on Information Systems (ICIS, AMCIS, ACIS, PACIS, ECIS) had a special track on Enterprise Systems. The Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) has, since 1999, a special track on Enterprise Systems that regularly includes papers on teaching Enterprise Systems (e.g., Holmes & Hayen, 1999a; 1999b; Noguera & Watson, 1999; Stewart et al., 1999; Rosemann et al., 2000).

Furthermore, many academic IS journals had special editions on Enterprise Systems in 2000 (e.g., Journal of Information Technology, Information Systems Frontiers, Communications of the ACM, Journal of Decision Systems, Journal of Management Information Systems, Business Process Management Journal, Australian Accounting Review).

Demand for Distance Education in Enterprise Systems

An analysis of the current course offerings shows that Distance Education in Enterprise Systems is still the exception, although various factors recommend an increase in the off-campus offerings of Enterprise Systems-related subjects. Overall, the market for Enterprise Systems education can be characterized as a situation of global demand and worldwide limited resources. These are the typical characteristics of a market for distance education.

On the one hand, the demand for graduates with Enterprise Systems experiences is significant. Experience at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, indicates that many IT students (in this case especially from Southeast Asia) are selecting the QUT because it is offering subjects related to Enterprise Systems.

On the other hand, the number of lecturers with sufficient qualifications and Enterprise Systems hands-on expertise is still rather limited. This is also the case for appropriate, non-product-specific Enterprise Systems textbooks and teaching material. Furthermore, the management of Enterprise Systems at universities is a very challenging endeavour. These applications require immense hardware. Their implementation and continuous administration demand product-specific knowledge that cannot be found within the classical technical services of universities. This situation is further challenged by the continuous release of comprehensive upgrades of the Enterprise System. Thus, it is even more difficult to satisfy the students’ demand.

Distance education is usually seen as a way to extend the market (providers’ perspective) or as an approach to offer customers an increased course selection. In the area of Enterprise Systems, however, distance education can simply help to overcome the still under-represented offerings of Enterprise Systems subjects. It also allows sharing investments in Enterprise Systems made by one institution. Consequently, Enterprise Systems seem to be an important topic for distance education.

The Role of University Application Hosting Centers

As Enterprise Systems are very complex and comprehensive systems, an effective model has been developed in which selected universities host Enterprise Systems solutions for other universities. Instead of dealing directly with hundreds of universities (in the case of SAP), the Enterprise Systems provider donates the software only to selected Application Hosting Centers. Universities that want to use the Enterprise System have to have a contract with the Enterprise Systems vendor and an Application Hosting Center. In this model, universities can completely outsource their system administration and save significant costs. Instead of acquiring hardware and qualifying and paying a system administrator, they pay an annual fee for the system use. Lecturers and students can access the system via a web browser or through product-specific interfaces (e.g., SAP-Graphical User Interface). This also includes the very comprehensive online documentation, which is available in HTML format.

University Application Hosting Centers do not only provide system access. A main purpose of the establishment of these Application Hosting Centers is to build up a user community that shares experiences and actual course content. This model allows building up markets for course offerings and is an ideal platform for distance education purposes (Stewart & Rosemann, 2001).

Current University Application Hosting Centers for the market dominating SAP solution are at locations including Passau and Magdeburg (Ger- many), Taiwan, Seoul (Korea), Brisbane (Australia) and Chico (USA) (Gronwald, 1999).

LEARNING MODEL

Characteristics of Courses Related to Enterprise Systems

Teaching Enterprise Systems requires a model that takes the special characteristics of these applications into account. As part of the worldwide survey participants were asked to rate the importance of alternative SAP R/ 3 training opportunities for staff (1=unimportant, 5=highly important) (Gable and Rosemann, 1999). The results in Figure 1 clearly indicate the importance of hands-on experience.

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Figure 1: Alternative training opportunities

This importance of hands-on experience (only one respondent rated this less than 3 out of 5) emphasizes the criticality of staff access to an operational SAP R/3 system. The breadth and depth of Enterprise Systems is difficult to comprehend and more difficult to demonstrate without hands-on access. University Application Hosting Centers conveniently offer at least the opportunity for hands-on exercises without the need for investments in hardware or software. Thus, the model of using University Application Hosting Centers could also be interpreted as distance education in the sense of using distant resources.

The necessity of hands-on expertise forms a major challenge for lecturers in Enterprise Systems, as they have to keep up with the speed of system upgrades as well as having to maintain a certain comprehensiveness of Enterprise Systems knowledge. This is virtually impossible given that many Enterprise Systems have more than 100,000 different screens and major updates annually. Thus, an academic instructor in Enterprise Systems is typically not familiar with the comprehensive and detailed system functionality.

An adequate learning model has to consider that Enterprise Systems are a fast developing area with high complexity. During one course, students will sometimes gain more product-specific knowledge in a certain area than the lecturer. Consequently, it is necessary to have a learning model in which the lecturer is more in the role of a moderator than an instructor. This demands a shift from a lecturer-centric paradigm to a more student-centric perspective.

Selection of an Appropriate Learning Model

The sheer size and degree of integration in Enterprise Systems packages often results in a steep learning curve, leading to problems in both classroom and corporate training environments. Critics argue that an Enterprise Systems learning model should avoid information overload and provide a strong bridge between concepts and hands-on experience (Scott, 1999). Scott (1999) has proposed five potential learning models that can be used to manage and enhance Enterprise Systems-related education. These models are based on the work of Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995). Table 1 summarizes the key features of these models.

Table 1: Features of learning models

Learning model

Features

Objective Model

The goal is to transfer knowledge from the instructor to the students. It assumes that the instructor has all the necessary knowledge, provides the stimulus and is in control of the material and pace.

Constructive Model

The students decide the focus and control of the learning material. The instructor provides support more than direction. Engagement and motivation of the students are usually high.

Collaborative Model

Prior knowledge and experience of the participants are shared to enhance interpretation and learning. The engagement is typically high.

Cognitive Information Process Model

Assumes the importance of individual’s learning styles and suggests the need for individualised instructions.

Socio-cultural Model

Heterogeneity of the learners in terms of prior knowledge and social and cultural backgrounds is carefully analysed to adjust the teaching process to the students’ background.

Due to the overwhelming importance of hands-on experiences and the extreme comprehensiveness and complexity of Enterprise Systems, the learning model has to consider that any academic instructor would struggle to provide detailed feedback on the entire system functionality. Thus, an objective model will often not be practical for Enterprise Systems education. If possible, students should rather be allocated to teams, in which experiences and interpretations can be shared (collaborative model).

The following two cases will describe examples of how the collaborative model can be used for Enterprise Systems distance education.

CASE 1: OFF-CAMPUS DELIVERY OF PROCESS ENGINEERING

Design and Techniques of this Distance Education Course

This paragraph discusses how one particular subject in Enterprise Systems, Process Engineering, has been offered over a period of two years in different forms of distance education. The subject is embedded in a comprehensive Enterprise Systems-related curriculum at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia. Built on an introductory course, Issues in IT Management, which explains the basics of Enterprise Systems and SAP R/3 as an example, two main streams are offered. In a more technical stream, students have the opportunity to gain knowledge in the areas of administering Enterprise Systems and in SAP’s programming language ABAP. In a more business-oriented stream, process management represents, along with knowledge management, the main focus. The subject Process Engineering introduces the students to different approaches of process management like Business Process Reengineering or Process Innovation. Explanations are given as to how business processes can be modelled. Selected SAP processes are discussed and it is demonstrated how they can be configured and executed. This subject is a prerequisite for subjects covering extended Enterprise Systems concepts such as Customer Relationship Management and Workflow Management. In “Projects in Process Engineering” students are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real-life context. Organized in groups, they analyze (with the support of SAP Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers) selected business processes at a Queensland Government Agency (Rosemann et al., 2000). Figure 2 gives an overview of these process-related subjects within the Enterprise Systems curriculum at the Queensland University of Technology.

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Figure 2: Subjects related to Process Engineering in the Enterprise Systems curriculum at the Queensland University of Technology

The course rationale of Process Engineering is described in the study guide as follows:

“This unit presents strategic and tactical, business and IT management issues involved with a process-oriented perspective on enterprises and their IT-applications. Based on a discussion of different Process Engineering approaches like Business Process Reengineering or Process Innovation, a procedure model for Process Engineering will be introduced. This procedure model includes the identification of relevant processes, as-is and to-be process modelling, process implementation, process execution and process change management. This unit focuses on process modelling issues. The participants will understand and use the ARIS-Toolset 5.0, the market leading business process modelling tool (Scheer, 2000). Regarding the IT applications, this unit emphasizes the Enterprise Systems marketplace. It gives students exposure to SAP R/3 4.6, the leading Enterprise System, and helps to prepare students for a range of Enterprise Systems roles in industry. The SAP-modules MM, SD, FI and CO will be discussed from a process-oriented perspective using the SAP reference models and predefined processes. A main focus is the clear presentation of the interrelations between modelling, implementing, configuring and executing Enterprise Systems processes. Among others, the SAP implementation methodology, Accelerated SAP, and mySAP.com will be introduced.

  • This subject has the following theoretical objectives:

  • Provide students with an awareness of the issues concerning the management of business processes.

  • Develop in students the capability to identify, model, reorganize, introduce, and manage continuously processes in a business organization.

  • Describe the characteristics of Enterprise Systems.

  • Explain how the reference data and process models of Enterprise

Systems are structured.

  • Explain the relationships between the modelling, the customization, the execution, and the redesign of Enterprise Systems-based business processes.

  • Develop in students the capability to understand and customize the processes of Enterprise Systems according to given requirements in a business organization.

Students have to work on three assignments. In these assignments they explore the Enterprise System SAP R/3. Students don’t get step-by-step instructions on how to use the system, but only a general introduction into the system navigation. They have to explore the system on their own and follow predefined processes. In their assignments, they discuss how to model, execute and configure these processes. This learning style puts the students into an active role and helps to build general skills in understanding the system design. This approach is based on the selected learning model. It is of importance for any off-campus offering as it reduces the necessary conversation between lecturer and students.

Every student gets the required software, the user interface, in order to access the SAP software from home.

Coordinated On-Campus and Off-Campus Offer

Process Engineering is offered as a traditional on-campus unit as well as an off-campus unit. The content and the assignments of these two are nearly identical. The only difference is that off-campus students have a choice between a final exam and another assignment, whereas on-campus students must take the exam. This assignment usually applies the theoretical knowledge about process modelling and process improvement to a workplace. During semesters in which Process Engineering is offered on-campus and off-campus, local off-campus students have the opportunity to select one form of delivery. Most of these students prefer, if possible, attending the lectures.

All slides of the lectures are password-protected, published on the courses’ website and available for download. They include further notes and audio data captured with the tool, RealPresenter (www.real.com). Further explanations and experiences regarding this software can be found at Lightfood (1999).

At the beginning of the off-campus offering of Process Engineering, students could interact with the lecturer in weekly Internet chats. These chats tried to simulate a classroom atmosphere. The slides for the week were the guideline for the chat session. Students could ask questions and the lecturer gave further information. Furthermore, he asked students questions so that they were actively integrated in the lecture. After this virtual lecture, the chat was saved, revised and uploaded to the homepage of the subject. Thus, it was available for all students.

Table 2 shows an extract from such a chat session. In fact, this chat was made in a semester in which the lecturer was located in Germany and the students were located all over Australia and New Zealand. A local tutor (Chris Nagel) supported this lecture. Microsoft’s NetMeeting was used as a communication tool. The tutor hosted the session and controlled the participation to this chat session.

Table 2: Extract from an Internet-based chat with students

….

Michael Rosemann

…and that is where ARIS can assist you can import processes from SAP into ARIS, modify them in ARIS and make additions, and export them again to SAP R/3.

Joseph Lam

You mean modify them in SAP?

Michael Rosemann

No, you modify process models in ARIS.

Frank Hilpert

Why export again to R/3? It doesn’t change the module.

Michael Rosemann

It does not change the functionality – that is right, but you can individualise the exported models in ARIS.

Frank Hilpert

So you do process reengineering and then can not implement using SAP R/3?

Michael Rosemann

That is why you have to do customizing in SAP R/3.

Michael Rosemann

…to change the system in line with your business requirements.

Frank Hilpert

But customizing only goes so far.

Michael Rosemann

That is right – the implementation of R/3 will also affect established business processes, information flows and responsibilities within the company.

Paula and Adam

This way you can start with the reference models in R/3, export then and change then in ARIS. You don’t need to start with blank models.

Chris Nagel

(Privat) I have to leave the PC for about 10—15 min.

It turned out, that the students enjoyed these chat sessions very much. In fact, they tried to participate in these lectures even on their business trips. Extreme examples were the cases in which students were in airport lounges or even on an overseas holiday (Bahamas, 3:00 a.m.). It took approximately two weeks before all participants felt comfortable with this form of distance education. Furthermore, it took time before a “classroom atmosphere” with a moderating lecturer and attentive students was developed. Trials with participating students from other universities and more than one lecturer failed because of inexperienced participants. On average, 60-80 % of all off- campus students participated in these online chats. Their participation had no influence on their marks.

Occasionally, external experts were involved in these chat forums. In one case, for example, the SAP implementation methodology Accelerated SAP (ASAP) was discussed in the lecture. After one hour, a SAP employee from the German SAP headquarters, who was involved in the product development joined this chat session and students had the opportunity to ask questions. Later, a SAP consultant who was using ASAP for the implementation of Human Resource Management solutions in London, UK, participated in the chat. In that way, the students learned the concepts and could talk to the product developer and user.

In following semesters, off-campus students also received weekly videotapes of the lecture, which they very much appreciated. Since then, the interest in weekly chats via the Internet was significantly reduced.

In the next semesters it is planned to use a more sophisticated environment for distance education that also allows bidirectional many-many audio communication (Virtual Classroom).

The comparable course content allowed an analysis of the differences in the performance of on-campus and off-campus students. In correspondence with similar studies (e.g., Dobrin, 1999; Smeaton & Keogh, 1999), it turned out that focusing just on the grades in the identical assignments, no significant differences could be observed. Table 3 shows the average results for the most recent semester (Second Semester, 2000).

Table 3: Comparison of students’ performance (November 2000)

number of students

assignment 1

assignment 2

assignment 3

on campus

31

8.19

8.26

8.39

off campus

10

8.10

8.40

8.20

CASE 2: COLLABORATIVE EDUCATION IN ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS

Collaboration in Education in Enterprise Systems

The participants of the international survey regarding teaching SAP R/3 (Gable & Rosemann, 1999) were also asked if they were collaborating with other universities in their SAP R/3 initiative. Interest in collaboration was also gauged. A surprising number—50% of all respondent institutes—stated that they are collaborating in various ways with other universities; 35 % of all collaborations are on an international basis. There are no obvious patterns of differences across countries. Only two universities indicated that they are not interested in collaboration. Table 4 shows the areas of interest in cross- university collaboration. Respondents often mentioned multiple areas.

Table 4: Areas of interest for cross-university collaboration

Area of Interest

Answers

Area of Interest

Answers

Research

19

Staff/Student Exchange

10

Teaching Material

15

Curriculum Design

8

Exchange of Knowledge/Experiences

15

Interactive Teaching

6

Case Studies

3

Research is obviously the most popular reason for collaboration between universities (see also, Hazemi et al., 1998). It is expected that Enterprise Systems-related research will be the “second wave” of Enterprise Systems-related activities at universities once systems are established in curriculum. Sharing of teaching material like lecture notes and the general exchange of knowledge and experiences are further main reasons for collaboration. In many cases, universities that have just commenced their SAP initiative are interested in input from experienced universities.

Collaborative academic education in Enterprise Systems adds interaction between different faculties or universities to the distance education mode. An example for collaboration within one university is the Virtual Enterprise Project at the University of Missouri (University of Missouri, 2001). Participants from four campuses collaborate in this project in the design of a virtual enterprise. Each of the four participating institutes contributes knowledge from different areas such as logistics, accounting, human resource management, or data warehousing (see Figure 3). They all use the same SAP installation, which requires detailed coordination of activities.

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Figure 3: The virtual enterprise project

Collaborative Assignments

A simple starting point for collaboration between universities is the definition and use of the same assignment (content and specification, such as deadlines) for students at different universities.

This approach conforms with the proposed learning model. Rather than following the objective model and, for example, providing lectures from one university to other institutes, students interact and learn from each other under the moderation of more than one instructor. This format is open-ended and places responsibility on the participant. Instead of passive consumption, the participants have an active role and face a continuous pressure to contribute.

The following description of such an initiative in collaborative and distance Enterprise Systems education is based on a project between Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, The University of Texas at Austin (UT), and the Louisiana State University (LSU) (Rosemann et al., 2000). This pilot was the first step towards a more comprehensive participation and understanding of global collaboration in the area of teaching SAP R/3. It took place in September and October 1999.

The main objective of this project was to facilitate further exchange of knowledge and experiences among the lecturers as well as among the students. Furthermore, through interactive teaching between the universities, students gain valuable Enterprise Systems industry knowledge while they simultaneously learn how to communicate effectively using the latest Internet technologies and services (Hanna, 1998; Kimball, 1998).

The participating students had to work on one common assignment. Every student had to pick one of the following five topics. The numbers in brackets indicate how many students (first number) from how many universities (second number) were in each team: Customer Relationship Management (5/3), Supply Chain Management (4/2), Internet-based Processes (7/2), Workflow Management (4/2), and Activity-based Costing (5/2). Each team had to write one consolidated report within seven weeks (max. 25 pages) and to design a PowerPoint presentation. Both had to describe their chosen concept in general (50 %) and the current support offered by SAP-products in particular. The students had to present the results in their classes.

In addition to the three lecturers, every team received further support from associated “experts.” These experts were academicians or experienced practitioners committed to

  • provide the students with reading recommendations,

  • recommend further material and information (e.g., web links),

  • participate in a discussion group, and

  • review the final assignment.

The following experts took part in this project:

  • The head of the area Telecommunication at the German consulting company, Mummert & Partner. She was an expert in the area of Customer Relationship Management, in which she worked on various projects.

  • A guest lecturer at the University of Tartu, Estonia, and head of the task force, Resource Modeling’ within the Workflow Management Coalition.

  • Two lecturers from the Cicade University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They were experts in the area of Supply Chain Management and familiar with the SAP approach. Another supply chain management expert came from the Technological Educational Institution (TEI) of Thessaloniki, Greece.

  • A lecturer, who has taught SAP R/3 for many years at the University of Harz, Germany, and at the Florida Gulf Coast University, USA. As an expert for Internet-based Enterprise Systems processes, he developed a workflow-integrated Internet scenario to have students from different countries collaboratively participate on an international sales process.

  • Two lecturers from the Department of Information Systems at the University of Münster, Germany. They are both working within their Ph.D. thesis on topics related to Activity-based Costing.

The following three paragraphs describe the subjects and the participating students at the three institutions.

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

The 16 students from Brisbane were enrolled in the postgraduate subject Process Engineering, which was offered on-campus (in total 51 students) and off-campus (7 students) in the second semester 1999. Most of the off-campus students were not located in Brisbane. The students had the choice of working in a local team or participating in this international project. For these students this assignment was the last one of a total of five assignments. They had been working on group assignments before, although all previous group work was done with local students.

The University of Texas at Austin

Forty-three students were enrolled in an elective graduate course called “Cross-functional Systems Integration.” The course is an overview of various aspects of Enterprise Systems and systems integration. Students were full- time, most studying for MBA, MPA and PPA degrees. A few students were from Engineering and Computer Science. The class had eight teams, each of which had four to six members. All teams had a group assignment due in the last week of the semester. They were given the option to participate in the global virtual team project. One group, with six members, chose to participate in the virtual team project. The other seven teams collaborated locally. The six students in the virtual team participated in the CRM, ABC and Internet projects, although their classmates did projects on just one topic.

Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge

Thirty-two students were enrolled in an elective graduate course called “Enterprise Systems.” Similar to UT Austin’s course, this course is an overview of Enterprise Systems and the processes that they support. These students were full-time graduate students from various programs: MBA and MS in Information Systems, Computer Science, and Engineering. Early in the semester, three students volunteered to participate in the global collaboration exercise as an extra credit project. These students turned out to be among the best in the class in terms of attitude towards learning. They each joined a global team: Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, and Workflow Management. Later in the semester, the class was split into five teams: Customer Relationship Management, Data Warehouse, Supply Chain Management, B2B, and Enterprise Application Integration. The original global team members became the natural leaders (and local experts) for their teams. These particular project teams produced a report that was clearly superior compared to the report from the teams that lacked the head start.

The Infrastructure

The entire communication between the three participating locations was done by Internet services. At the beginning, the list of all participants, lecturers, students and experts was distributed, including all email addresses. Chat sessions were recommended for the coordination between the group members. Moreover, a newsgroup was offered to all participants. An exchange of audio or video data did not take place.

Students’ Feedback

After the assignment was completed, but before it was graded, the participating students were asked some questions related to their evaluation of this form of assignment. Nine of the twenty-five students answered (36 %). The main feedback was:

  • 88 % of these students said they enjoyed this exercise.

  • All students answered they would take part again.

  • 77 % of these students thought the outcome was higher than in pure local teamwork.

The students saw the following reasons for the improved outcome:

  • shared knowledge,

  • different ideas contributed to a higher level of work, and

  • higher motivation, in part due to their attempt to impress their colleagues at the other universities.

However, the students believed their virtual teamwork required more effort than the corresponding local group work. Moreover, they saw problems in the existence of different deadlines per universities, which led to different motivation and pressure. Further suggestions from the students included the availability of pictures of all students on the web and the availability of more interactive chat sessions to improve the involvement of all members.

In a face-to-face interview with the Austin team at the end of the semester, the students expressed satisfaction with the project. However, they explained that there were communication problems at times and confusion on what to post and what to email. Apparently, other students told them “Don’t post till the end because other teams could see the information.” For the ABC project, it worked well. The student leader (QUT) organized and emailed the report and slides before posting. The students recommended an interim deadline for posting, “…we thought UT was late—but we were first to post.” Although everybody was invited to use MS-NetMeeting, this Internet-based chat could not be conducted, because of the time differences within this project.

They thought it would be good, at the beginning of the project, if the members announce themselves. This could have been a worthwhile team- building exercise.

The students in Austin thought that the participants from QUT had an advantage as leaders of the project. They coordinated among themselves and probably got feedback instantaneously from the head of this project.

The students did not consider that trust was a problem, although the literature stresses the importance of trust in virtual teams (Knoll & Jarvenpaa, 1995; Lipnack & Stamps, 1997; Jarvenpaa et al., 1998). Students from Louisiana commented that trust was an issue only in the capability of all members to prepare the presentation; “For this, we all trusted each other.”

  • Some further feedback received via email from the LSU students included the following:

  • “Though this project provided an opportunity for collaboration, there was a lack of coordination for a very long time. Probably it would have been better if there were one person assigned to lead and coordinate in each team from the start.”

  • “Basically what happened is that I ended up doing my part of the presentation and the paper and emailing it to everyone. I couldn’t get anyone to work. I tried emailing them assignments after I became ‘Team Leader’. Most of the time that I wrote to them I didn’t receive a reply—until another team member realized that his deadline was approaching quickly.”

  • “It is difficult to say if this was a successful collaboration. We were on time and we covered the scope of the project.”

  • “This project provided a good opportunity to learn virtual team management and coordination on a global scale. There was excellent support from the experts. This provided a unique learning experience.”

Basically, the students perceived the fact that they were all being evaluated at different times as a major problem. Because of this, their time-based goals and priorities were misaligned. And although most students did not perceive trust as an issue, their behavior and comments indicate isolated incidences of unreliability, a symptom of lack of trust. The consolidated recommendations from the students for the design of these kinds of exercises were:

  • “A leader defined from the outset with clear roles and responsibilities,

  • teams of roughly equal size responsible for equal bodies of work,

  • evaluation milestones that occur simultaneously across teams, and

  • a better communication method than email – maybe chat room.”

Although some of these comments are due to management and coordination issues, there was clearly an issue with the effectiveness of the communication mechanism for teams distributed across the globe. However, from various further statements, a quote from the Austin students’ team summarizes the impression: “Overall, this has been a great and fun learning process for all of us.” Other students’ perspectives on Enterprise Systems distance education can be found in Figueroa and Foerster (2000). In this case, two students reflect on the learning outcomes of a German-American initiative (see also Scheruhn et al., 2000).

Collaborative System Configuration

The experience gained in this collaborative project was a useful learning experience not only for the students, but also for the involved lecturers. In the most current project, the common assignment is not only a theoretical exercise, but does also include hands-on experiences. This project was restricted to only two universities (Queensland University of Technology and Louisiana State University) and one group of students from both places.

The task was to define the system organizational units in SAP R/3 4.6b for a model company that was described regarding its organizational structure, product program and core business processes. System organizational units depict the structure of an organization in an Enterprise System. Examples of system organizational units are plant or distribution channel. The Australian students were responsible for the modules financial accounting and controlling, while the students from Louisiana were in charge of the logistics modules. Though this task could be done in parts independently, it definitely required interaction in order to design an integrated solution. Examples of interrelations are the structure of the profit centers (controlling) and its linkage with reporting units in sales or the links between factories (logistics) and legal entities (financial accounting). The students were provided again with an Internet discussion forum that allowed the upload of information. All students had access to the SAP system in Brisbane. The final report had to be delivered on the same deadline. All participating students got the same mark.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND FUTURE CHALLENGES

Enterprise Systems form the core business operating system in most medium-sized and big companies. Thus, most IT graduates will be exposed to problems related to Enterprise Systems. This leads to an urgent need to establish topics related to Enterprise Systems more comprehensively in the academic IT and business curricula. Universities, however, do not have technical support like the one that can be found in companies that typically use Enterprise Systems, as they lack the financial and personnel resources to implement Enterprise Systems. Rather, they depend on the services of University Application Hosting Centers. These Application Hosting Centers help at least to overcome the technical problem of running and maintaining the system. They allow distance education in the form of using distant resources.

Further resources such as staff members with Enterprise Systems-related knowledge including hands-on experiences are also often limited. Consequently, Enterprise Systems is an area that demands distance education with the opportunity that lecturers can be located at other institutes. A learning model for Enterprise Systems education has to consider the complexity of these applications. A collaborative model seems appropriate as it defines the lecturer more as a moderator than a traditional instructor. Forms of teaching an Enterprise Systems-related subject, not only in a distance education mode, but also collaboratively, have been presented.

Based on the above experiences, the following selected recommendations can be made to universities with interest in distance education in Enterprise Systems:

  • Use a University Application Hosting Center.

    A University Application Hosting Center facilitates concentration on the content delivery rather than the complex system administration. Students can easily access the system and in cases of technical problems interact directly with the Hosting Center.

  • Accept the necessity of a collaborative model, as the system complexity does not allow the classical objective model.

    Teaching Enterprise Systems requires accepting that at some stage students might have more insights into a particular sub-module than the lecturer. The likelihood that such a situation can occur has to be communicated frankly to the participants. The lecturer has to focus on the overall architecture and structure of the system. It is up to the students to experience the details of the system. Such an approach prepares the students for a real-life situation, in which they most likely will use modules of an Enterprise Systems they never saw before. Thus, they have to understand how to efficiently gain an understanding of the relevant functionality and interrelations.

  • Use the same assignments for on-campus and off-campus students.

    The utilization of identical on-campus and off-campus assignments reduces the efforts for the development of assignments. Some students appreciate the opportunity to select between the on-campus and off-campus offering during the semester. Furthermore, it allows a continuous comparison of the students’ performance and the quality of content delivery.

  • Explore the quality and acceptance of videotaping on-campus lectures for distance education students.

    Videotaping is a reasonable low-cost approach that captures the entire content of a lecture. On-campus students value the opportunity to study certain parts of selected lectures at a later stage. Off-campus students can follow the entire discussion during a lecture.

  • Try to build up a good collaboration with the Enterprise Systems vendor and its implementation partners in order to have access to current knowledge.

    Enterprise Systems are very fast developing applications. Consequently, it is difficult for an individual to keep up with the speed of this development. Guest speakers and current product documentations can easily be integrated in distance education courses and guarantee the distribution of current knowledge.

  • Focus on the educational principles of distance education rather than the technologies.

    Various more or less sophisticated solutions for distance education are available. However, as most lecturers are experts in a certain domain rather than a distance education technology, there is a significant danger that the attempts to use a tool can distract from the actual content delivery. Thus, it is recommended to start, for example, with simple videotapes of a lecture combined with remote system access.

  • Try to collaborate with other universities in order to learn from their experiences.

    Instead of having many independent projects aiming to develop Enterprise Systems courses, it seems to be far more efficient for each participating individual and for the entire community to establish a network for the continuous knowledge exchange. The following two current projects will give an idea of how the establishment of such collaborations can be supported in the future.

The idea of 24×7 Enterprise Systems education describes a worldwide collaborative model, in which universities from different continents interact in coordinated Enterprise Systems lectures. Similar to the Virtual Enterprise project at the University of Missouri, each participating university has a certain role in the scenario of a worldwide business process. Such roles can be supplier, manufacturer, retailer, bank, logistical service provider or end consumer. This model allows the participating universities to take part quite independently from the others so that the differences in the semester periods between Australian, American and European universities can be handled. In phases of overlap between the semesters, intensive coordination and knowledge transfer between the participants has to take place. This model facilitates ongoing collaborative Enterprise Systems distance education and simulates collaborative worldwide business processes.

The project, “SMARTS,” aims exactly for such a global collaborative approach. The following universities participate in this project:

  • University of South Dakota, Vermillion

  • University of Missouri, Columbia

  • California State University, Chico

  • Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

  • University of Sao Paulo

This project integrates SAP applications for business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions. The final outcome will be robust global business processes, in which the participating universities trade virtual goods and services. Other universities can enter this scenario and take one of the available roles. This model will also be used for training purposes for SAP customers and implementation partners.

Further support for the worldwide communication between institutes of higher learning teaching Enterprise Systems can be expected from the Marketplace for Higher Education. This marketplace will increase the transparency about all activities at universities related to Enterprise Systems. Thus, it will include detailed information about universities, courses, lecturers, etc. Especially, it will also be used to trade Enterprise Systems-related lectures. Universities or individuals can offer their courses, which will be reviewed. After successful review, they will be available for purchase. This model aims to significantly reduce the costs related to the development of these courses. At the same time, it will be possible to extend the local Enterprise Systems-related offerings.

Both projects, the collaborative business scenario and the Marketplace for Higher Education, will contribute to the establishment of a worldwide community that shares experiences in Enterprise Systems education.

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