A partnership between SAP Canada Inc. and Nova Scotia’s St. Francis Xavier University will turn out a greater number of graduates wise in the ways of managing and implementing ERP systems.

But while the deal with help meet the demands of both the marketplace looking for ERP-skilled help and

students looking to find those skills, the success of the arrangement is dependent on StFX finding enough professors with ERP backgrounds who are willing to turn down those six-figure private sector salaries for the greater — if somewhat humbler — good of the teaching profession.

“”I find it’s hard to retain the ERP faculty members,”” says Ramaraj Palanisamy, chair of the Department of Information Systems in the Gerald Schwartz School of Business and Information Systems at StFX. “”That’s true for every other university offering ERP-related courses.

“”Since the ERP job is very lucrative, they go to consulting companies and make a lot of money. The pay for ERP faculty is low.””

StFX has enough staff to teach the program at the moment, but “”in the long run, I don’t know,”” says Palanisamy.

StFX was recently selected as a University Competency Centre by SAP’s University Alliances Program. All institutions in the program are provided with access to the mySAP Business Suite family of solutions to incorporate the enterprise software into curricula.

StFX will be using the software as part of its recently launched ERP specialty in its BA in information systems.

Palanisamy says additional challenges include dealing with the constant hardware updating that is required of the university.

“”SAP keeps on upgrading their software and that is also costing us money,”” he notes.

“”We thought of collaborating with some hardware companies, but still the problem is not resolved. We are just exploring the opportunities.””

StFX, which also offers majors in e-commerce and information system management, was chosen as a competency centre due to the fact it is a long-time SAP user and hosts an annual SAP user conference. As well, says Palanisamy, there is a big demand for ERP skills from today’s IT students.

“”This year especially we found there was a huge demand among students for an ERP major,”” he says. “”We know ERP is the hardest topic in business and that SAP is the most widely used software in business. That was the motivation for our department to get involved.””

Students in the ERP program will learn about managing and planning an implementation, how to maximize the benefits of ERP and how to program and troubleshoot, as well as how to configure and customize implementations.

Palanisamy says he recently received a letter asking if he could supply 20 experienced ERP experts, indicating to him the demand in the marketplace.

Besides helping the school attract more IT students, the partnership also generates about $12,000 a year for the school by hosting the software for Ryerson University and the University New Brunswick of Saint John.

According to Doug Peebles, manager of the SAP University Alliances program in Canada, StFX is the second competency centre in Canada. The first was established at Grant MacEwen College in Edmonton.

There are 25 member campuses in Canada, and more than 400 worldwide.

“”The UCCs are a way to save costs because they don’t have to have their own servers or their own internal systems in order to run the platform,”” says Peebles.

“”We can also build a much more robust platform at the two UCCs than any one campus could do on their own, so it’s economies of scale.””

Better for customers

Peebles says SAP is trying to build a diversified membership of educational institutions across the country. The most recent campus to join the alliance is Laurentian University in northern Ontario, he adds.

The benefit of the UCCs to SAP, he says, is that the more ERP-educated graduates there are, the more satisfied SAP customers will be in the long run.

“”Most grads end up going to our customers and our partnering consultant firms and what we get is higher satisfaction out of our customers, because these are well-educated students who have some degree of SAP literacy,”” he says.

About 30,000 students graduate from the alliance programs worldwide each year, and while that helps feed the growing demand for such qualifications, it’s still not enough, says Peebles.

“”We’re not tapped out; we’re a long way from doing that. It’s going to be a constant evolution, a constant growth over the next few years,”” he says.

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