Who’s a SAP now?
Inside the university’s new SAP mega-center
“The biggest company no one’s heard of.”
That’s how Raymond Boykin, associate dean of Chico State’s College of Business, describes Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing, commonly known as SAP. You won’t find SAP’s software on most people’s desktops, but you will find it in the computers of some 36,000 large businesses. Overall, it is the third-largest software company in the world, after Microsoft and Oracle.
You also will find it at Chico State, which began using it 10 years ago, when Boykin, then a professor in the Accounting and Management Information Systems Department, began to pursue SAP. The university was one of the very first to adopt the software, and after 10 years Boykin and others at Chico State are experts on its applicability to university systems.
That’s why SAP last semester opened a “mega-center” at the university, one of only two in the United States. The center, which SAP funds, provides technical support to 55 other universities in the Americas as well as India and China. SAP is preparing to open two more mega-centers in Asia, so the Chico center will return its focus on schools in North and South America.
The center sits in several rooms in Glenn Hall and O’Connell Technology Center, the 60 servers and two storage-area networks watched over and carefully maintained by students and professors. To ensure the safety of the information, the servers and backup are kept separately—the servers in O’Connell and the backup in Glenn, where the tech center is also located.
SAP’s software is an all-encompassing business program, said Gino Edinger, a systems administrator at the center. The software merges all levels of business computing and allows the same system to access all data stored.
“A company like Chevron would have 7,000 accounting systems that would all send their data into the head office, who would collate it,” Edinger said. “With this they can keep all their accounting in one place.”
The benefit of this kind of software is that it allows all levels of a company to access all the needed data and maintains the information in one place.
Chico State’s SAP mega-center not only provides support for the software itself, acting as a helpdesk for schools with difficulties installing and running it, but also answers questions about the curriculum set out for use with it, Edinger said. This includes help for the 32 classes Chico State offers in SAP software.
“People train for years. I’ve been using it for 10 years, and I learn more about it daily,” Edinger said. “And some of these colleges just throw a tech person into it.”
Chico State has benefited from what Edinger calls a progressive MIS (management information systems) program, one that is willing to take risks with new software.
More schools are training in the software—the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, to name two, Boykin said. Many of them work through Chico State.
“I don’t see them as competition,” Boykin said. “We host them; they log onto my servers.”
The early adoption and aggressive pursuit of SAP software has also led to Boykin’s certification as a SAP systems consultant and sent him abroad to assist other universities with the software.
In Mexico, at the Technological and Superior Studies Institute of Monterrey, Boykin said, he had the pleasure of working outdoors, joining other professors on a patio and sipping coffee while communicating wirelessly with the institute’s computer network. He has also traveled to Canada and England to run workshops and is hoping to go to China and India.
There are only four professors certified as SAP consultants in the U.S. There once were five, but one quit his teaching job and became a full-time consultant, at least tripling his salary, Boykin said.
He added that the certification was originally offered as a perk to professors and didn’t have anything to do with teaching. As more and more companies have adopted the software, however, it’s become a valuable asset for students, too. Those with training in the software enjoy a 20 percent to 25 percent salary advantage over students without the experience.
“It’s something you have so you can walk through someone’s door and say, ‘I’m certified and here’s my rate,’ “ Boykin said, smiling.