Today, technology changes faster than the speed of light. Graduating students need to be prepared to jump into jobs that evolve at the same speed. SAP and partner Deloitte believe in actively preparing students, so the two companies developed a co-innovation competition to offer them experience with real-world business problems.
In all, 16 teams of students are chosen from universities across the U.S. and given the same business problem to solve. Each team is asked to design a solution using SAP technology and present it to judges. From those teams, four are selected to compete in the finals.
The most recent competition was conducted over a weekend at Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas, and included a finalist team of four University of Oklahoma seniors who worked to design a solution to help a fashion retailer improve its business and supply chain issues. The customer wasn’t real—but their success was.
The Oklahoma students, Molungoa Ramataboe, Anthony Efoli, Sophonie Basquin, and Jack Sparks, impressed the judges with their technical prowess, analytical thinking, and teamwork.
“This competition attracts some of the brightest young minds from across the country. The Oklahoma team not only demonstrated extraordinary technical skills and problem-solving abilities, but also the ability to collaborate in a manner that allowed each student to showcase their own talents and then put it all together to solve a challenging business problem,” said Merry Kweiter, Deloitte executive. “Each of the four have a bright future and Deloitte congratulates them on their success.”
Working Together for Success
Each winning student received a $500 Visa gift card prize as well as the attention of Deloitte and SAP. Three of the four said they have accepted full-time jobs at Deloitte after graduation in 2019.
The Oklahoma team included members familiar with SAP technology and business consulting backgrounds. Several had competed in other tech or business competitions, but none had won.
In the competition, teams were told a fictitious fashion customer had an existing efficient supply chain but wanted to be first to market its fashions after they were showcased on the runway at New York Fashion Week. The students were asked to find a way to increase profitability and identify a solution that could be used to expand to other business segments.
“They wanted to see a growth strategy, increased efficiency throughout the company, and improved customer relationships. We didn’t all have technical backgrounds. Instead, we were a good combination,” said Ramataboe, a senior simultaneously working toward undergraduate and graduate degrees in management information systems (MIS) and data analytics.
The groups were given the problem at 4:00 p.m. on Friday and had to present to judges at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Then, the four chosen finalist groups presented again at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday after being thrown a few new wrinkles to solve.
“It was a great chance to network and meet other people. Together, we created a solution that allowed for simplification, standardization, scalability, and personalization,” Basquin said.
The Oklahoma team leveraged SAP HANA, which allowed the client to have the customer service features it was looking for and added some middleware add-ons that allowed communication among a central location, retail stores, and other third parties.
Sparks, a senior, has competed in several case-study competitions for Oklahoma, but he’d never had to do a technical implementation before the Deloitte event.
“It was very rewarding. Getting to work with team members with different working styles was a great experience. The skills we brought were synergistic. We were able to comprehend the problem quickly and get going right away,” Sparks said.
While the students weren’t expected to have in-depth knowledge of SAP solutions, some had taken classes that helped, Efoli said. “SAP is useful in and of itself because it has so many categories—supply chain, customer relationship, data analytics. There are so many things that SAP is capable of doing, so it was a solid solution geared toward the clients,” he said. “We weren’t trying to convince them of something we didn’t believe in. It solved the problem. It’s not a sales pitch, but a problem-solving tool.”
Building a Winning Solution
Efoli said he has taken a couple of SAP classes, but the competition allowed him to learn a lot more about the technology and how it can be applied in real-world situations.
“You have to put yourself in the client’s shoes and understand what they’re going through. I want to work as a business technology analyst, so this provided me with actual experience. We had to delegate and work together. That was so valuable,” Efoli said.
The four students analyzed the key objectives and broke down every detail provided for the case. Team members were assigned tasks; each did their own research and brainstorming and then presented their ideas back to the group.
They came to a mutual decision on what technology to use and what the solution would encompass, accounting for all the different problems that the case-study clothing company was experiencing.
“We focused on one SAP tool to help them in every way. From there, we built the rest of our solution,” Sparks said. “We created a business plan for the company. Not only did they have data, but they had capabilities to offer something they couldn’t do before.”
Flexibility, Scalability Leads to Winning Design
“Our job was to implement technology that would organize their business. There were data sets, but not everyone had access to the information. There was a lack of integration with logistics and no insight into the customer experience,” Sparks said. “We talked about the timeline of implementation, SAP S/4HANA deployment, cloud commerce integration, risk and mitigators, system adoption, and data conversion.”
“We found that SAP itself is such a diverse system. You can manipulate it to everything you need,” Basquin said. “This is the advantage of using ERP—it’s so broad and so manageable and so easy to manipulate.”
SAP’s flexibility allowed the students to choose between an on-premise or a cloud-based SAP S/4HANA solution.
“We came up with a hybrid solution that gives the client the ownership of on premise, but the flexibility of cloud because you can manipulate it any way you want to. It was really eye-opening for me to see how powerful SAP is,” Efoli said.
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