I 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 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. Wunsch. Here 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.
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.