Category Archives: ERP

Teaching Real Business Skills

SAP University AlliancesI recently attended the SAP Academic Conference Americas 2015 in Tempe, AZ. I was invited to help present a session on how we had stimulated teaching and research with the purchase of our own HANA appliance at our university. I have mentioned this in previous posts but that was more about the strategic reasoning for why I invested in the leading “Big Data” solution. This conference was for the business professors who are committed to teaching SAP ERP and are excited about teaching the upcoming S4HANA Business Suite.

Yes, everyone was very impressed with how we have integrated HANA into our teaching curriculum and have shown how it can aid in scholarly research. But that success is due to our dedicated and talented professor, Bih-Ru Lea, who totally gets what our corporate partners want from her graduates. The conference attendee audience really could not fathom how a CIO would invest in technology that would actually advance their academic mission. This was flattering for me but what I took away from interacting with these professors was far more interesting. I sensed that most of the academics were just glad to have a job and teaching SAP ERP was a dependable niche. Many were at the conference hoping to discover options for how to get their research publication selected by an accredited journal with the inevitable goal of achieving tenure.  And most seemed to be very frustrated with the lack of support they receive from their institution.

There were a few shining stars at the conference though, such as Robert Léger at HEC Montreal who helped develop and now champions the use of the ERPsim simulation or Bret Wagner at Western Michigan, another ERPsim contributor who is developing improved algorithms. This was encouraging to see this commitment to giving students an education that directly translates into real life jobs. However, the stars had to buck the academy in pursuit of this more effective teaching strategy. You see, developing this real life business simulation gains very little credit toward promotion and tenure. What I loved was that this didn’t really matter. They were way beyond that lunacy.

There is change in the air but Higher Ed is not behind it. The underlying stimulus for building a curriculum of these useful business skills is coming from the private sector. Obviously SAP has a vested interest, but they have to balance their commitment. SAP still wants to make a profit off their professional training but expanding awareness of their product justifies their support of the higher education ERP program support. It is the consulting companies who are beginning to supply the fuel to this development.

We have been working with a group from Deloitte who are doing their own research on enhancing their student recruiting strategy. PWC was at the conference and I’m sure the other firms are aware of the value of hiring a more experienced work force from higher ed. I know that the graduates who have been fortunate enough to acquire this hands on ERP knowledge are being well compensated. So why isn’t higher education catering to this demand? Because this model does not fit into their academy. And it is the pressure to adapt to the academy which is generating the greatest stress among the professors involved with the SAP Academic Alliance. They need to get published.

I don’t have the time or the stomach to debate the current state of the promotion and tenure process of higher education, but it is broken. I just applaud the professors out there who have abandoned their concern for the process and are actively working on improving their teaching deliverables.

The Great Potential of SAP HANA

DeloittePresentationSM

The experiment with integrating SAP HANA into teaching and research here at Missouri S&T is paying off. Last week I observed our Business and Information Technology, BIT, students presenting their ERP Simulation projects to a team from Deloitte SAP Service Line. What caught my eye was that the students are now incorporating data from our Autism gene mapping research project, which is a university research project that my IT DBA staff are collaborating on in order to learn how to better support SAP HANA. This goes back to my original strategic decision to invest in SAP HANA to allow our researchers and students to align more closely with the desires of our corporate employers. See my blog post from last year. I elaborated on the concept of IT’s changing role as a facilitator of teaching and research in this article published in “CIO Review” last Fall. Observing our students understanding of the potential of SAP’s HANA for the Business Intelligence support for their projects is justification enough for the investment. But the excitement is now being generated by how HANA fits into our overall STEM teaching and research environment.

 The Autism project was a fortunate opportunity to learn and explore the potential of HANA. Feedback from my DBA’s about how HANA is different from their traditional relational database experience is encouraging as well. What I hear is that HANA is initially daunting in it’s complexity. However, it makes the initial database layout easier because it shows you so many more possible relationships. Of course this is the Hadoop foundation based on large in-memory utilization. The HP SAP HANA appliance just packages it all into a more effective tool chest. Combine HANA with an already rich set of BI and Visualization tools, then let talented students run with it and you see the potential is endless.

Back to the Autism Project, the study is fascinating, especially to me with my bioinformatics background. The research investigators include: Drs. Tayo Obafemi-Ajayi, Bih-Ru Lea and Donald C. WunschHere is a portion of their abstract:

Several studies conducted on autism gene expression analysis suggest that autism can be linked to specific genes though there are still no genetic markers that are undeniably diagnostic for idiopathic ASD. What is known is that the genetic landscape of autism is complex, with many genes possibly contributing to the broad autism phenotype. Genetic data analysis involves big data analytics. The ASD HANA in-memory database project will facilitate the goal of the ECE researchers to develop novel computational learning models for analysis of ASD genetic data. The genotype data of these ASD patients is available through the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC).

So the research is progressing and we expect significant new funding thanks to the proof of concept work already done. Chalk up a win for stimulating research. But another win is how the students have applied a portion of the data to create BI class projects. Now they see the connection to the Health Science industry. Because we now understand the potential of HANA we have also validated a research connection for the petroleum industry. This was the hope for the HANA investment, a perfect storm matching STEM savvy Business students with corporate recruiters identifying research ideas is a Win for all. This is the type of IT support flexibility needed by the emerging higher education teaching and research model of the future.

SAP Community reference to our use of HANA to leverage research and teaching

Why Invest in SAP HANA for Academic Pursuit?

“Big Data” has definitely become an overused term eclipsing the barrage of vendor connections to sell new solutions. It seems like any group that is dealing with data is now referring to it as “Big Data” and in some situations like large research data sets the term is technically correct. The actual definition “data sets that are too large and complex to manipulate or interrogate with standard methods or tools” does create a broad category. I think of “Big Data” from the manipulate or interrogate standpoint that requires techniques to manage (hadoop) and process the data (MapReduce) using computers with large amounts of RAM. And it gets very confusing as we apply our traditional relational DB and BI concepts. But I’m not the one worrying about how it works, I’m trying to figure out the most effective way to make it work, and that relates to skills, budgets and data centers.

A major stimulus for “Big Data” visibility at Missouri S&T is our commitment to offer new Graduate Certificate Programs through Distance and Continuing Education. This has created a flurry of activity in the Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Business Information Technology programs with respect to the creation of new courses and the associated support of “Big Data” teaching resources. We also have significant growth in the need for high performance and throughput computing so I ask why can’t all of the computing hardware be more effectively utilized across these disciplines. Maybe it can, but today we approach the challenge with our traditional operational methodology and the solutions don’t play well together. I was recently encouraged to find out that others in higher ed are exploring this terrain of HPC and hadoop operations. One of our collaborators, Kansas State Beocat, is running into resource scheduling challenges, but they hold out hope that there must be solutions.

So what can we do with a meager budget and limited infrastructure to become a player in “Big Data”. We start with enhancing our skill sets by adapting our traditional DBA talent to hadoop concepts and we steer our analytics specialists to experiment with these new BI tools. Luckily it is affordable to venture into hadoop based data management and there are plenty of open sources BI add ons to get your feet wet. This is building a strong foundation that may produce valuable breakthroughs for more effective teaching and research. But we are going to take this one step further. 

Working with hadoop may establish some “Big Data” concepts that relate to the commercial space, similar to how working with mysql may simulate Oracle DB principles. But is that enough? Does higher education need to be offering teaching and research for what our employers use. I recognized a disconnect a few years back when I took over teaching an “Information Services” class for our business school. They had been teaching basic concepts of spreadsheet, programming and database to students that were being groomed as bean counters. I instead taught them basic concepts of ERP, CRM, BI, DW and had them actively participate in the web by way of blogging and understand SEO. The motivated students thrived and the others survived. I did get some validation from this approach when one of those students now pursuing her MBA commented how far ahead she was because of her understanding these real world solutions.

I mention this correlation between what we teach and research vs what the commercial world relies upon to explain why I am purchasing an SAP HANA platform to support teaching and research at S&T. Today I would equate HANA as the leader for the utilization of “Big Data” in the commercial sector. Sure it is based on hadoop but it is a fine tuned appliance specifically designed to produce results for the “Big Data” market place. I am finally ready to make the purchase but it has not been an easy process. I first got the idea when corporate partners who are always trying hire our SAP ERP trained business students mentioned their need for HANA experience. I then equated that to “Big Data” research partnerships especially with our engineering projects producing large amounts of diverse data. We uncovered some of this with our visualization efforts. But I could not find anyone at SAP that knew how to sell me a HANA solution that was not based on a commercial vertical market. Thankfully Hewlett-Packard who has a strong relationship to the HANA hardware appliance saw the opportunity. They had customers all around us who were cautious about committing to HANA because of the lack of qualified talent to drive it. HP saw the potential of S&T graduating students with actual HANA experience so they helped connect us to the right people in SAP to make this happen. 

Is this investment in HANA strategic? That is my hope, but at a minimum I do believe that there will be tremendous value from the exploration. Any exposure for the students will be a win at least as long as HANA remains a commercial leader. And I believe having our own HANA system will open doors for corporate research collaboration by helping us to overcome licensing and intellectual property challenges. The side benefits may be the help for us in understanding how to position “Big Data” processing into our HPC mentality. Or applying this experience to challenges we have in managing our own cyber security, learning analytics, retention and recruiting. Maybe the greatest value is to help our academic culture explore a different path.

Update – 6/27/14 – Support for the HANA purchase is strong so we have moved forward with the purchase.

US News Article “Taking the Tech Track” validates why, March 26, 2015.

Producing “Big Data” Scientists

I wish that I would have attended the Big Data in Higher Education Conference at SUNY last week. Harper Reed @harper, former Obama campaign CTO, was the keynote speaker and according to the Chronicle review, he told it the way it is. ‘Big Data’ is Bunk. His message highlighted how the Obama campaign utilized analytics from “Big Data” to help win the election. And it sounds like he presented how higher education could take advantage of this technology but that the vendors for “Big Data” solutions were using the term “Big” to mostly sell big computers. I agree that we don’t need huge computer resources to utilize “Big Data” analysis concepts. However, we are going to build a Big Data system that probably leans toward an In Memory model. I also realize that higher education rarely utilizes “Big Data” effectively for business or academic advantages but that is a discussion of its own.

Harper also offered some advice in another session, “Data Scientist: the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century,” which hit home for me here at Missouri S&T. We are currently building a new cross discipline program around the buzz term “Big Data”. We have our Business and Information Technology, department contributing to the client end including the tie in to ERP. We have Computer Science and Computer Engineering focusing on the infrastructure, data models, analytic algorithms, programming and visualization needed to produce the kind of data scientists that Harper said he wants to hire. This is why I came to S&T, to help a world class STEM institution create products that can help change the world.

Comments from Disney Educause Week

The best place to hold an Educause conference is in the happiest place on the earth, Disneyland, especially during a week of sun and 70’s. This is the time of year when all collegiate techies compare notes, renew friendships and chart the future of higher education. Educause keynote speakers try to shock us, console us and then inspire us. But there rarely are any roadmaps provided for us to follow. We know we must continue to increase our WiFi density, move stuff to the cloud and relax our outdated control policies. But mostly we network with our peers.

Trends discussed at Educause that I have interest and insight had to do with the future of ERPs and LMSs. Lot’s of my colleagues are looking for answers to their ERP dilemmas. And it seems like many Blackboard customers are planning their exit strategy to a Canvas or Moodle. And in the background are all of the solutions that will insure that teaching and learning takes place more effectively. This all threatens our old school technology empires but can generate great excitement for the new school.

Yes we do need to get our act together with respect to running the business of higher education. We drank the kool-aid served us by corporate ERP solutions that we were told could be adapted to higher education. And they have been adapted at a ridiculous price. However, did we ever receive serious advice to simplify our business processes? I was recognized at the Oracle booth as the poster child champion for the most successful PeopleSoft implementation they have seen. But not for the most profitable. When I implemented PeopleSoft 3-4 years ago I forced business process change to adapt to the base system because of budget and talent constraints. But that was just a consolidation of best practices for higher education. We did not have an opportunity to redesign our business. So my advice to all of us looking for solutions to our ERP predicaments; maybe we should investigate a more effective way to administer the business of higher education first. We might be shocked at how easy it could be to adapt an ERP to a business process that made sense.

And what about Learning Management Systems? My only comment is to again step back and realize how simple LMSs are. I guess we took the opposite approach with them. We have a fairly good business process that we have over complicated by computerization. Maybe it was because we created them but were taught by our corporate ERP vendors how to commercialize them. Bottom line is that an LMS is nice to have but is not critical for teaching and learning. There are plenty of tools that can help a professor to be more efficient but no university should be held hostage to a single tool. Hmmm, that is sort of the academic way, we do all the work and another business entity charges us for it.

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

3-D Printed Smartphone Cover

So enough of the trials and tribulations of the season. What about some bright spots like my being ranked the 38th most Social CIO or how cool our rollout of 3-D Printing for all of the students at S&T has been.

TV segment by KY3 in Springfield, MO, on the rollout of 3-D printers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Library.

Good Look at our iGFU Mobile Portal

Our student News team wanted to do a story on our iGFU Mobile Portal. They tried to video record a demo off of an iPAD which was not going to work so iGFU author, Brian McLaughlin, made them a simple tutorial that we now use on our website. Checkout the tutorial if you have any interest in what a university mobile portal needs to be. Remember, our mobile portal is basically a skunk works project that leverages the flexibility and performance of HTML5 using Java and PHP to access useful data from general data feeds, Moodle and our PeopleSoft ERP.

The tutorial also highlights a couple of other useful tools. Brian made the video by using an App called AirServer that allows him to mirror an IOS device to his MacBook. He then records it with Quicktime and with a little editing on iMovie you get a very real view of a mobile app. Then we upload the video to our new ShareStream video distribution system which gives us total flexiblity to manage and distribute video (especially if we want to manage copyright). We are investigating if AirServer might offer a better path for iPad mirroring to projector in the classroom.

Year of the Mobile Portal

This year we realized that our mobile portal was ready for some real marketing. I guess up until now we were content to let our customers discover it and utilize it as they desired. What we came to realize was that way to many of our customers had never heard of our mobile portal. How could that be, isn’t IT and the services IT provides at the center of all that happens at a university??? Actually our mobile portal iGFU.georgefox.edu has received a lot of accolades mostly from Oracle Higher Education folks since we have done a great job in leveraging our PeopleSoft data for useful mobile services. So maybe it is better known outside of our university. Recently a couple of our iGFU developers were recognized by NWACC and given an Exemplary Practice Award.

This year we are actually promoting iGFU and usage stats this first week show us that most everyone may finally be using it. We have opted for some promotional gimmicks like allowing our food service provider or bookstore to offer deals that can only be redeemed on someone’s smart mobile device. This new IT Video promotes a number of services that IT provides including iGFU.The most common hits are for class schedule information right now but the administrative services especially for academics are receiving a lot of praise. The class roster service spawns options for a professor to communicate with their class, offer a survey, view photos of individuals or the entire class (on a Pad or Computer display), monitor Moodle Class Forums, show student’s major,  and academic advisor(s).

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

Information for a specific course provides all the normal course description, books required and the syllabus if available. Course schedules show you what you have today as well as for the rest of the week. Students can map their Moodle assignment schedules into their Google Calendar, and the list goes on. The real key here is that if a Professor asks for something we always seem to be able to deliver with limited complexity. The administrative side of iGFU has also grown with services. The live budget update service has generated the most praise but another useful feature allows our development officers to lookup their prospects complete with all of their notes. Zoom into the prospects house with the linked Google Earth and certain priorities can be considered.

The bottom line is that our mobile portal has redefined what efficient presentation of data should look like. The directory lookup feature is now a standard page open on most of our administrator’s desktops. A major advantage which makes the mobile portal much more effective is how we can easily use our role based access structure from PeopleSoft to customize what each user is presented. So that is enough bragging about iGFU.

Thanks to recognition from Oracle it is not uncommon to be contacted by another university asking about how we created iGFU. Why go with a web design vs. and app design? How were we able to approve features with typical university committees. How were we able to access so much data from our ERP?

Going with the web design is the obvious choice if you want rapid and flexible deployment and no hassle device deployment. If you design your data access efficiently then performance is not an issue. This more then justifies the loss of some native app features. But the real key to our success comes from the design and development strategy. The most important design strategy is whether we are create something that would be useful for someone walking from lunch to class. Also no committees deciding or designing features. My key developer happens to be my DBA, so in his words he is able to accomplish so much because he holds the keys to the kingdom. He would never let another programmer gain so much access to the database. I let my developers respond directly to feature requests. They crank out another feature and we decide within IT whether it is acceptable for release and then we get appropriate pilot feedback if it deals with access control. But mostly we quickly turn around requests and fine tune a feature based on real user feedback.

This all may sound to simplistic but that is the key to a successful mobile portal. Of course talented programmers with great development tools working from a clean ERP system designed for web clients makes the job a whole lot easier. But any university holds the data necessary to build an effective mobile portal, finding some development talent empowered by some creative freedom could also release these mobile services to your customers. If you do not have the resources to develop a mobile portal yourselves then you may want to consider a couple of commercial option focused on PeopleSoft: HighPoint or BASHmobile

Mobile Budget Report via PeopleSoft

We just released a budget review module for our iGFU mobile site. Now that may not sound that impressive, but I don’t know of any other university mobile site that can give a budget manager a live view of their budget vs expenses complete with lots of presentation bells and whistles. The real story is how easy this was to do by utilizing the existing tools provided by our PeopleSoft ERP. The key as I have mentioned before “Bragging about our Mobile Portal” is the involvement of your DBA who holds the keys to the database and in this situation a programmer willing to tap the potential of the PeopleSoft Component Interface based Web Services via PeopleTools. The web services allowed us to leverage the existing user access security structure that allowed us to manage user qualified budget access. All we then needed to do was produce the WSDL repository which is then easily accessed and presented by our mobile web portal, iGFU.

If you are interested here is the tutorial for this Budget App.

Change is Good

A common phrase that we throw out in IT circles relates to how quickly technology is changing, yes it is, and sometimes we yearn for a moratorium on this change to give us a chance to catch up. Not going to happen, so love it or leave it, probably is the philosophy IT leaders need to live by. So I love it. But let’s make sure we understand what change really means. I think most of the time change in IT organizations means optimizing, tweaking, tuning or adjusting what we already have just as much as it means adding or replacing. But the key is not to be satisfied. Our networks are a prime example, you really have to be reviewing all aspects of your provisioning and protecting constantly to stay ahead of the game.

Another area where change is the rule is with online learning tools. Not only are you constantly trying to stay on top of what you have but usage patterns can dramatically change causing your tool set strategy to become ineffective. Oh for the days when IT did not empower academics to dream and be creative. But the work that creative faculty cause IT provides the joy that gets us up every morning. No really, that is what it is all about. We are about to finish a snappy little interface between our new PeopleSoft ERP and our Moodle based LMS that builds courses with some logic for automation where needed or faculty control where not. It will probably create all kinds of new support opportunities, this is good.

New Oracle PeopleSoft CRM for Higher Education is Impressive

Last year we completed the implementation of the Oracle PeopleSoft Higher Education ERP solution, however, we intentionally did not commit to a CRM solution. Today we took a serious look at PeopleSoft’s 9.1 CRM solution and am I glad we waited. Back when we were committing to this new ERP we did look at CRM. It is an important component for a complete HE business strategy but what was apparent at the time was that PeopleSoft’s CRM was more of a commercial business solution rather then a Higher Ed solution. Our decision was to wait and focus our attention on learning the core PeopleSoft ERP components and revisit CRM down the road.

We are now down the road and we are looking at the enterprise and on-demand CRM options. But irregardless of what we may purchase I do want to say that PeopleSoft is extremely well positioned right now with their CRM products that are highly tuned for Higher Ed. Their overall architecture is exactly where you would want it to be in this web driven world. The data integration for all of their modules is perfect for realizing ease of use and delivering office efficiency. I can rest easier knowing that my university is working with the most powerful ERP base available to Higher Education where we just try to keep up with their development rather then having to ask for it.

Maybe that was a free advertisement for PeopleSoft, but the bottom line is PeopleSoft is really starting to distance itself from the competition and if you are not using PeopleSoft then you should at least be aware of what you are missing. Oracle PeopleSoft is definitely committing serious development resources to solidify their leadership of the Higher Education market.

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