Continuing education in the SAP ecosystem was a central focus at the inaugural ASUG Arkansas regional meetup earlier this week. Hosted at the University of Arkansas, the event featured an overview of the college’s SAP undergraduate and graduate education programs in the university’s Walton College of Business Information Systems department.  Students also had an opportunity to pose questions to the room full of SAP experts and professionals. 

Expanding SAP education efforts is an incredibly important conversation, especially as the IT skill gap grows. Speakers and attendees mentioned this gap at numerous points during the meeting. ASUG Members are keenly aware of this growing hurdle, with 29% of respondents of the 2024 ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer Research revealed they view maintaining knowledgeable staff and organizational turnover as challenges for their organization. Additionally, developing internal skills to manage new products is a challenge for 28% of respondents. 

“I view continuing education as a way to pursue your interests that are in a different area than the one you are currently in,” said Dr. Ron Freeze, Teaching Professor and Director of the Enterprise Systems Program at the University of Arkansas Walton College of Business. Dr. Freeze noted how one of his students present at the event initially received an undergraduate degree in music before changing gears and enrolling in his program later in life. 

“We’re really glad to be here,” said Amber Peck, Technical Administrator for the State of Arkansas. She noted that having an ASUG event close by enabled her to easily participate in an ASUG event, something she has been unable to do. She also highlighted the ability to network with fellow SAP practitioners—even if not many of them are municipal entities—was a highlight. 

SAP Education at the University of Arkansas 

The meetup began with a session giving attendees an overview of the University of Arkansas Walton College of Business Information Systems department hosted by Freeze; Dr. Susan Bristow, Teaching Associate Professor and Associate Director of Graduate Programs at the Walton College of Business; and Michael Gibbs, Senior Instructor and Associate Director Enterprise Systems at the Walton College of Business. The faculty walked through the “trilogy” of classes focused on SAP ERP. 

During ERP Fundamentals, students learn the basics of ERP and dive into the non-technical side of implementing the technology, including change management and business process modeling. Additionally, students get their first hands-on experience with SAP S/4HANA and complete lab assignments, walking them through different parts of the complete cash-to-cash cycle. Finally, students are split into teams competing to sell a product. Leveraging SAP S/4HANA, they work to differentiate their company from the other teams. 

“We really get their feet wet and give them a fundamental understanding of ERP,” Gibbs—who was himself a student in the program—told attendees. “We are giving them really good tastes of ERP, SAP, and business processes.” 

Next, during the ERP Configuration and Implementation course, Bristow laid out how the curriculum teaches students about organization structure data, master data, rules, and transactional data. Then, students actually build a new ERP system from scratch, learning about the implications of certain actions. 

“They go through a very realistic project where they put everything together,” Bristow said, noting that the students learn to troubleshoot and complete project and change management tasks. 

Finally, during the ERP Development course, students get experience with SAP Fiori and SAP HANA Studio. Freeze noted that the goal is to teach the students to meet deadlines nimbly. 

“We prepare them for what you need them to do in your organizations,” he said. 

Insights for Students  

Six students in the Information Systems program joined the meeting for a “reverse panel” where they asked the room full of SAP professionals and experts questions ranging from what hard and soft skills they should emphasize on a resume to the importance of certification 

One student asked what the biggest challenges newcomers to the SAP ecosystem face and how they can overcome those hurdles. 

“Everyone is worried about making mistakes,” one attendee said. “Don’t worry about that.” 

The attendee encouraged the students to learn from their mistakes—as they will inevitably happen—and for leaders to look for employees who admit their failure and learn from the experience. 

Another attendee told the students to leverage sandbox environments available at most companies to “go around and break things without impacts.” 

Finally, an attendee told students always to be curious and admit when they’ve reached the extent of their knowledge. 

“It’s okay not to know something,” the attendee said. “It’s okay to say I don’t understand.” 

Further Focus on SAP Education and Learning 

The themes of education, reskilling, and upskilling continued throughout the event. Jennifer Dubler, SAP Director of Customer Evolution for the U.S. Southwest, and VerNeil Mesecher, SAP Senior Director of Customer Engagement Events Liaison for North America, delivered a presentation—aptly titled One Skill, Two Skill, Upskill, New Skill—aimed at discussing the entitlements of SAP Enterprise Support available to all customers. 

“Everything we’re going to show you today you already own,” Mesecher said. “There’s nothing to buy.” 

The two highlighted valuable support options including SAP Enterprise Support Value Maps, SAP Enterprise Support Academy, and the SAP Support Portal. 

Dubler noted that there are about 1,400 SAP learning assets and services available to customers to help them make the most out of their SAP investments. 

In another session, David Wascom, ASUG Senior Vice President of Executive Programs, gave a presentation examining the important areas of focus in the ASUG community. Informed by the 2024 ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer Research, the session was very conversational, with Wascom encouraging attendees to chime in and discuss their own experiences. He covered important topics including moving to SAP S/4HANA, RISE with SAP adoption, and AI. 

Toward the end of the presentation, Wascom discussed the challenge of maintaining knowledgeable staff and mitigating turnover. He noted that 29% of ASUG Members indicated this was a challenge—a decrease from 37% in 2023. 

Attendees discussed some of the skill gaps they observe in their organizations. One attendee said that new employees broadly don’t know how to “dig” and find answers themselves. 

Another said learning table structures and how they relate to one another was a gap. 

Future Arkansas Meetups  

ASUG is responding to an interest in Arkansas and has future events scheduled in the region over the next year. Stay tuned for more information. 

“I am excited to be a part of something new at ASUG,” said Taylor Weathers, ASUG Director of Community Operations. “It’s been wonderful working to establish an ASUG presence in a part of the country that has such an appetite for our incredible community.” 

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