Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Hands-On ERP Learning: Using OpenERP[R], an Alternative to SAP[R]

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Hands-On ERP Learning: Using OpenERP[R], an Alternative to SAP[R]

Article excerpt


As organizations face increasing global competition, organizations have no choice but to become more effective. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems provide one solution by providing management a better understanding and transparency of their business operations and have become the mainstay of practically every organization (Watson and Stewart, 2004, Winkelmann and Leyh, 2010). Accordingly, it is important for IS programs to consider ERP course(s) in their offering.

Teaching hands-on ERP skills is important for several reasons. First, learning ERP is identified as an important IT skill (Kim, Hsu and Stern, 2006). Organizations need users who are savvy to utilize ERP systems in their daily tasks. Despite this requirement, most of the students in higher education rarely come across enterprise systems (Strong, Fedorowicz, Sager, Stewart and Watson, 2006). Recent failures of ERP projects indicate that imparting ERP knowledge and skills are still required and important (Kanaracus, 2010).

Second, advances in pedagogical approaches place emphasis on active learning or learning-by-doing. Pedagogical approaches based solely on lectures are criticized as these approaches make students passive learners (Bok, 1986). Not only has the active learning gained prominence among educators and researchers, it is also argued that students seek opportunities where they can apply their knowledge to simulate realistic situations (Auster and Wylie, 2006).

Given the focus on active learning, initial growth and access to technology is viewed as an aid in enabling educators to achieve this objective. For example, the use of computer-mediated learning is known to be superior to traditional instructional modes (Alavi, 1994). We argue that IS courses are uniquely poised to utilize technology to actively teach the interaction between business and technology domains. This is amplified in the case of ERP as undergraduate students rarely have overall picture of the business operations. Most of them are focused on their area of concentration (be it Finance, Marketing, Accounting etc.). Given this academic background, the concepts of ERP are hard to grasp as the curriculum is still based on functional learning, but the ERP focuses on integration across the departments.

Educators can alleviate this problem by actually showing the students the cross-functional processes. For example, the students can easily relate to sales or purchase processes. In these processes, the students can be made aware of different units that play a role--from warehouse, sales & marketing, accounting etc. It would be most beneficial if the students can 'see' how events created in one unit initiate events for other units.

To achieve this objective of actually using ERP requires collaboration with industry. Several big firms (for example, SAP[R], Microsoft[R] etc.) provide academic or university alliance programs that are described as win-win solutions for both the firms and universities (Corbitt and Matthews, 2009). However, participation in these programs comes with a caveat--it requires significant commitment, especially in the case of SAP[R] (1). SAP[R] university alliance requires development of an ERP program. This requires tremendous commitment from universities with respect to faculty allocation and also monetarily. This puts universities that want to teach ERP concepts at a disadvantage. Also universities may want to teach just a course in ERP rather than develop a program or specialization on ERP. For these instances, it would be beneficial to utilize alternate solutions to SAP[R] that require fewer resource commitments.

However, to an uninformed educator, the first impressions to embark on such a hands-on ERP course are daunting, as there is high visibility for ERP programs that use SAP[R] in their curriculum (as discussed in next section). This article provides guidance by providing information and implementation experiences on a freely available ERP solution--OpenERP[R]. …

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