A New School of Thought on Enterprise Technology : Students Offer Fresh Ideas about Automation, Warehousing, Voice Recognition, and Social Media.
Carl: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise podcast, where our guests share how they stay connected to customers, vendors, and staff in today's digital economy. I'm your host Carl Lewis from Vision33, and my guest is Professor Robert Markley from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Bob, we’ve known each other for almost ten years. Through our association with the Biz One conference and other things, we've gotten to know each other well – but tell our audience about the college, your role, and especially your SAP Business One program.
Bob: Thank you, Carl. You’re right – we’ve known each other for a long time. I don't come from an academic background. When I started consulting, I owned a couple of Oracle value-added resellers (VARS) in Western Pennsylvania. In 2003 or 2004, I decided to make a career change, and started at St. Vincent College as an adjunct faculty. I loved teaching and joined full-time in 2007 as a professor in the business school, aka the McKenna School. We have 400ish business students of several majors, including marketing, management, international business, finance, and accounting.
One requirement of business-accredited schools is that they teach a business technology course. I’m the ‘management information systems’ (MIS) professor, and when I taught it, I quickly realized I wanted to incorporate an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system into the curriculum. I felt the mostly sophomore students should be exposed to a real ERP. I was using QuickBooks, which is a nice accounting package, but wanted to introduce them to the integration and functionality of an ERP system.
Our university joined SAP’s university alliance program, and we added SAP Business One into our MIS curriculum. SAP also came to us with an opportunity: they wanted more trained/certified SAP Business One consultants and users to help them grow the SAP Business One ecosystem in North America. So, we've been training students and getting them through our SAP Business One certification program since the 2007/2008 academic year.
Carl: That's quite a while! How many students have gone through that program in the last nine and a half years?
Bob: We've had 163 students in the program. Eighty-four have attended the Biz One conference, and the conference in Indianapolis is coming up. That will be the ninth conference we've attended. One hundred and seventeen students have completed the program, 83 have gotten internships, and 52 have landed full-time jobs somewhere in the SAP ecosystem.
Carl: That's a great accomplishment. These days everyone appreciates their participation in the conference – they do a lot more than attend. Congratulations on that.
Bob: Thank you.
Carl: You work with these students, ASUG, (America's SAP Users’ Group), the Biz One conference, and the SAP partners and solution providers. What technologies get the most uptake from your students? What are they interested in?
Bob: We have a minor at the undergrad level and a master's program in the business school called ‘operational excellence.’ It focuses on the supply chain. Companies are working with inventory and supply chain systems, using add-ons to the SAP Business One system. That’s one area that interests our students. Another area – we think because of their age and their affinity for social media – is the CRM and capabilities that incorporate social media.
Carl: It's on a lot of people's minds these days – how to incorporate that. SAP's come up with a name, even – they call normal data the ‘operational data’ and call the social media and other outlets the ‘X-data.’ The goal is to marry those two things together.
Carl: It's interesting the students are right on top of that.
Bob: We have some marketing students in the program every year, and often the partners and some of the SAP Business One customers are very interested in bringing them on board, whether for an internship or a full-time job. The companies struggle with social media and business development around social media, and the students can help them. They’re often more comfortable in those areas than the employers.
Carl: I can see that. You and I have talked about recent projects and people who’ve visited the college, and one of them was an SAP solution provider. Can you tell us about those projects?
Bob: We've had several, both from VARs and the software solution provider areas around SAP Business One. Several VARs have staff members visit and help, so our program is nine months. They do independent studying, quizzes, exercises, hands-on work.
Then we have a capstone project, where they spend three days configuring running transactions through a case study they prepare within SAP Business One. Some of the VARs have had staff come on campus to assist during that workshop. There are twenty to twenty-five students working in teams of three or four, so it's helpful to have additional consulting expertise. We've also partnered with Boyam and Honeywell. Many SAP Business One customers use the Boyam usability pack in their implementation. They provide the software and some of the training for our students.
One of Honeywell’s divisions isn’t far from us. They've come on campus several times to show us their solution, which is for the warehouse area and bringing voice commands to warehouse workers. Two of our students are interns this summer. They’re learning Business One better and figuring out where they could incorporate Honeywell’s solution more closely with SAP Business One. It's been a great opportunity for our students and program.
Carl: It’s estimated that up to 70% of all SAP Business One customers utilize the Boyam solution.
Carl: The Boyam IT usability package. It’s reliable and adds a lot of automation capability to SAP Business One, which is right on the cusp of what everybody's trying to do. I'm interested in the Honeywell project of adding voice to warehouse operations. What do you see as the business goals of a project like that?
Bob: Two-fold. It helps the company's warehouse workers be more productive and safer. Often, warehouse workers need to use their hands but can’t because they’re carrying scanners, etc. So they can be more productive – and it’s safe – if they have use of both hands. Honeywell's been very successful in large warehouse environments with their voice-activated solution, so now they want to bring it into the middle-size markets. They feel there are opportunities in mid-size warehousing and manufacturing organizations for their solutions. Right now, it’s only incorporated into the pick-and-pack functionality of Business One, but our students are helping them identify other areas voice automation would make workers more productive and safer.
Carl: Do you know if they’ve been able to add multiple language capabilities to this voice in the warehouse solution?
Bob: I don’t know if they have that capability yet. Business One has multi-language functionality integrated into some of the larger ERP systems. For Honeywell, I don’t know.
Carl: You mentioned earlier that there are many businesses uncomfortable with social media. And having a younger person, an intern, come figure out how to do something with social media would be helpful. Here's a company that's bringing in students who are looking at it with fresh eyes and intuition. Show us where else we need to integrate this solution in the ERP product.
Carl: That's something most businesses could benefit from – bringing in a young person and saying, “We don’t understand what we're doing with this. We want someone else to look at it and give us fresh ways to think about it.”
Bob: We all benefit from an outside perspective – maybe someone who's not ingrained in the way we've done business. As the workforce ages, companies have to look for ways to work with a generation, and this generation is used to technology. From the moment they could interact with anything, they were interacting with smart devices, tablets, PCs. So, I absolutely agree; this is something VARs and customers could benefit from.
Carl: An executive at SAP told us the developers who created their ERP solution (ECC) can’t be the same developers who create their new cloud solutions. It's like they used up all their imagination on the way we used to do it, so we need new people to write software for the future. People without preconceptions. As you look at this warehouse solution, from your exposure, has it worked against their original goals? Do they have customers live and using this solution today?
Bob: I know they have customers they're talking to, but I don't know their actual status. The students just started there. They have over a million users of the system at large warehouses. Business One only launched the product recently, so I don’t know if they have an installed base of that product yet.
Carl: You mentioned it's focused on one aspect, the pick-and-pack process in a warehouse.
Carl: Were there other surprises – things it did, things it didn't do – that the students picked up on right away that they expected?
Bob: One surprise was how fast the warehouse workers can tune the speed the solution speaks to them and they speak back. I'm sure when they're first working/training with it, they speak and read back fairly slowly, but they did videos of actual system users and how fast it talks to them and they talk back. You can see the productivity improvements as the workers get more comfortable with the technology.
Carl: I hope they don't use someone too young as the warehouse voice. I have a hard time with the speed of some of their dictation already!
Bob: And text. I'm always shocked at how fast they can text. I'll send them a text, and I can barely read what I've written before they've replied with a lengthy text. So yes, definitely a different perspective and different skill sets than maybe we have.
Carl: I had something funny happen today. I sent someone a message saying I have the original version of something and autocorrect changed ‘original’ to ‘origami.’ So it said I have the origami version. Naturally about thirty people were copied on that, and thirty people are asking, “What is he talking about? What's origami?” before I had time to send a correction. Some of that stuff just operates too fast for me.
Bob, you have a unique educational perspective into the future work space, and you probably are privy to conversations the rest of us aren't. What kind of technologies do you believe small and medium businesses will focus on as they work to stay connected to their customers, vendors, and employees? Even just five years down the road?
Bob: You’d probably get these answers from anyone, but I find that how I stay connected to this generation is different. Email is a secondary communication channel for them. I use an application called GroupMe to connect me with the students.
I do a lot through LinkedIn to stay connected with the students after they graduate and go into the workforce. Employers and companies continue to look at their social media and how they're using the social media to connect to their customers. And their employees. I see an employee feeling more rewarded when recognized via social media; that's a new way companies can compensate and reward their employees.
One thing that fascinates me is how engaged my students are. My ERP experience was more in manufacturing, but quite a few of my students are interested in the whole supply chain and warehousing aspects of the system. I don't have official data for that, so it may be unique to our program, but the supply chain and warehousing areas are of a lot of interest to this generation.
Carl: It’s changed a lot because of technology – you can buy anything within the next minute on your mobile phone.
Carl: I think there's more stress on the warehouse than people who manage inventories, especially with things sourced outside the country, to have an adequate supply – but not too much of a supply. The user needs to bring expertise to the system while the software becomes more sophisticated as well. You discussed your personal communication and how it’s changing and being on a college campus would get you the brunt of that in terms of what students are comfortable with and how they're changing that landscape.
In my company, we have an application called Yammer, which we use for a lot of intercompany communications, and your eyeball on affirming fellow staff members in that manner is meaningful. People respond to that well.
Bob: A funny story, Carl. I sent a meeting request yesterday for a meeting with the incoming class to kick off the SAP Business One program. I sent a GroupMe afterward to warn them the email was coming, and many didn’t know how to accept a meeting request. It wasn’t something they’d been exposed to and I had to teach them what that meant and why it was important for them to accept the meeting so I would know who was attending.
Carl: We assume that because students are good at social media stuff, they know how to use the more typical office-type programs. It's a good thing they have you giving them a clue before they get to their first job!
Bob, I appreciate you joining me for the Connected Enterprise podcast. Your work with students is admirable and I've seen how much they appreciate the time you spend with them. And how much you appreciate the time you spend with them.
Carl: It's a privilege to be involved with you through the years and get to know students and work with them.
Bob: Carl, thank you. You've been instrumental. It was your request that got us to that initial Biz One conference in Atlanta, which is a key component in our program’s success. You deserve some of the credit for how well our program has done, so thank you.
Carl: You're welcome. As they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
It's way too easy for me to make these things long and wrong, so I intend to stay short and to the point, so thank you, Bob. Until next time, I hope you and everyone else will stay connected.