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SAP is database driven enterprise integration software that incorporates all aspects of a working business and that is why such software is referred to as enterprise integration software. Enterprise integration facilitates communication from one department or business level to another. Increased efficiency of data flow within a company and its supply chain has a direct, positive effect on company productivity. It improves customer service and product quality, decreases product time to market, and creates more efficient inventory levels.

The Enterprise Integration Consortium evolved when the Department of Industrial Engineering recognized the need for its students to learn about enterprise integration and how to use emerging enterprise integration software. Industrial Engineering and the College of Engineering was joined by Business Logistics, Management Sciences and Information Systems (both in the Smeal College), Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State Erie–the Behrend College, and Penn State Great Valley in forming what is now called the Enterprise Integration Consortium at Penn State. The Enterprise Integration Consortium worked with SAP America, a provider of one of the leading enterprise integration softwares, to obtain the SAP software for academic use at Penn State.

The Enterprise Integration Consortium’s objective is to use SAP enterprise software to “teach fundamental concepts related to the engineering and management of supply chains and the use and management of enterprise information systems” (from the Enterprise Integration Consortium home page: Enterprise Integration Consortium courses are designed to provide students hands-on experience with state-of-the-art information systems for decision making in complex environments involving vast amounts of information
For example, SAP software can be used to show students how a manufacturing company is affected by running out of one type of part. If the company can’t manufacture its product without that part, they can’t ship the product, and Accounts Receivable can’t collect money for it. Sales doesn’t have the product available to sell it, and Accounting’s general ledger faces ongoing production costs without a counterbalancing income from product sales. Human Resources faces the possibility of having to lay people off because the production line is closed. SAP software uses the same data problem–not having a part–to inform all of these different departments. SAP’s integrated information database can be used to illustrate how one function of a business affects another, and it can be done from the viewpoint of different departments like Accounting, Sales, or Administration.

Another SAP feature is built-in business models that mimic existing companies and can be used for demonstration. Instructors can focus on one specific part of a business and directly apply that information to their course materials. For example, marketing courses can use the SAP models to examine purchasing trends for use in developing marketing plans. Mike Errigo, SAP Manager, is enthusiastic about using these SAP business models for teaching. “You’re basically giving professors a way to show students how an enterprise works,” he says.

One instructor teaching with SAP is Dr. Vittal Prabhu, who instructs IE450, Manufacturing Systems Engineering. Manufacturing Systems Engineering teaches students the mechanics of modern manufacturing systems. Dr. Prabhu says he uses SAP to illustrate how business processes need to work in tandem to make a business successful. “The way I try to tie (SAP) into my course is to say, ‘Where do we get the information for manufacturing production?’”

Emphasizing the database-driven nature of SAP, Dr. Prabhu teaches students how core data is used to create a master plan that all divisions of a corporation work from. “This is the first time students think broader than just the engineering aspects of an enterprise,” he says. Typically, IE450 incorporates a day or two of lectures on how SAP impacts the flow of
the business process, and time is also given for students to log on and learn some of the software functions as well.

Faculty, staff, and students who are interested in learning about SAP software and incorporating it into their curricula or coursework have several resources available within the university community. A main way to gain exposure to the SAP software is through ITS Training Services Web-Based Training.

For faculty, ITS Training Services offers a seminar titled “Using SAP R/3 in Enterprise Integration and ERP Related Courses” that introduces all the resources, requirements, and assistance necessary to use the SAP product as a teaching tool. .

Mike Errigo encourages faculty to take the ITS Seminar on SAP and explore ways to incorporate SAP into their courses. “There are simple examples available that have been developed by professors here at Penn State and at other Universities. Professors will be amazed at how easy it is to get started with SAP and to use those exercises to explain complicated business concepts.”

A key outlet for SAP training is through SAP America-sponsored training. SAP America offers training to professors via one-week curriculum development seminars every summer. These in-depth seminars have covered topics in the past such as: Implementation of an Integrated Business Solution, Business Information Warehouse, Production Planning and Supply Chain Planning, Financial Accounting, and Systems Administration. The diversity of topics is a good indication of SAP’s wide range of features and functions.

As database driven software that incorporates all of the key elements of a business, the SAP system has tremendous power. Teaching all of its capabilities would take much longer than a semester. However, the purpose of using SAP in courses isn’t to teach SAP software. The purpose of using SAP software is to teach course material in a way that shows how different components are integrated. SAP illustrates the interconnectedness of concepts and the components that affect decision making and operations.

Instructors can tailor SAP examples to integrate only those components that they want students to consider. The models already created in the SAP software can be used to explore the information relevant to a specific course, whether that course is in accounting, advertising, agricultural business or systems management, business administration, business logistics, communications, economics, environmental resource management, finance, health care management or policy administration, industrial engineering, information systems technology, or a host of other fields.



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