Professor’s curriculum coup gives students a competitive advantage

Supply chain management. Customer relations maximization. It’s pretty heady stuff, but it’s becoming more concrete to students enrolled in Jerry Flatto’s Information Systems classes.

In a world of cross-connecting organizational processes and integrated marketing practices, business students at UIndy are learning about the comprehensive business environment through specialized software in use by businesses across the country.And that gives students an edge in the job market.

In 2006, Flatto, an associate professor of Information Systems in the School of Business, led the initiative to incorporate Microsoft Dynamics to the Information Systems curriculum at UIndy. The software, known as enterprise resource planning systems (ERP), allows businesses to see a holistic view of the business environment—accounting, finance, human resources, manufacturing, logistics, and other functions—in a single database.

Within five years, Flatto expanded the use of this software by adding its counterpart, customer relationship management software (CRM), to train marketing and accounting students in customer “experience” optimization. Now, on average, more than 150 students are getting this experience each year and making themselves more appealing to hiring managers.

“Students need to understand the benefits of integrating information—and information systems—from a decision-making perspective. [They] need to graduate with applied experience with tools that are used to drive efficient business operations,” explains Flatto. “By using Microsoft Dynamics in the classroom, we have taken advantage of almost a million dollars in free training materials and support from Microsoft that businesses would otherwise have to pay to teach their employees.”

During classes, students get hands-on with the software by inputting fictional data into the program. Data analysis quickly becomes real as students recognize efficiencies, point out problems, and identify big-picture business concepts. Guest speakers from the Indianapolis community, ranging from accounting firms, insurance companies, and clothing retailers, regularly offer more insight into the software’s practical applications in the real world.

Rick Feterick, owner of Feterick & Associates, Inc. in Indianapolis, is a frequent visitor to Flatto’s classes and even assists in developing coursework to provide additional real-world perspective.

“Any student who gets exposed to these systems will have a distinct advantage over other students when it comes to relevant experience and knowledge in the workplace,” Feterick says. “The concepts and learned understanding of what an ERP or CRM system can do to add value to a business should be highly regarded, because these systems ‘touch’ so many areas of a company.”

Some 300 Indianapolis companies, including Feterick’s, use Microsoft Dynamics, and evidence of ERP and CSM software experience provides a distinct advantage to UIndy’s business students looking for internships in these same firms.

“While observing the work of the interns who came to us from UIndy,” says Steve Baute, senior business analyst of finance for Interactive Intelligence, “it was immediately apparent they had experience with that software. Each intern worked in Revenue Accounting, one of our most complex business areas, so it was nice that more time could be spent with them on the business processes versus having to take time to train them on the systems used.”

Joan Sojka, a student of Dr. Flatto’s, caught the attention of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee when they discovered her knowledge and experience of the software. They needed help tracking the handmade scarves pouring in for the Super Scarves Initiative for the 8,000 volunteers who will assist in this year’s Super Bowl festivities in February.

“The very first day of my internship, my supervisors showed [the database] to me and told me to make it better, and I did,” remarked Sojka. “It was pretty obvious that the committee appreciated my experience. Dr. Flatto did an exceptional job demonstrating how the material we covered in class about the system would apply to the real world.”

Flatto serves as vice chair for the international Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance Advisory Council, and his work in enhancing UIndy’s Information Systems curriculum was featured in a case study for the alliance in June 2011.

“The number one priority for businesses is to understand their ‘business intelligence.’ Students learning ERP and CRM software can make that possible.”

—Tim Coxey ’11