“I always encourage my students!”

An interview with Kerstin Fischer

Kerstin Fischer teaches first-year students of Business Informatics at Heidelberg University of Applied Sciences (SRH). The students are to develop ERP applications for the companies of tomorrow. In five one-day seminars, the first semester students get to know a Cloud ERP solution such as NetSuite and the main processes of a company. 

Cloud ERP using the example of NetSuite in 5 days - is that possible? 

"Sure, that works!", laughs Kerstin. "It's a great challenge that I'm happy to take on. I am happy to offer young people a practical introduction into the world of ERP software. The university puts great emphasis on combining theory and practice. The practical experience – seeing the advantages of Cloud ERP directly in the NetSuite system - has a more lasting effect. In this way, the students get to know the needs of the customers from the very beginning. I start the seminar with a short theoretical introduction, and then we go straight into the practise with questions like: You want to start a company. What resources do you need?

Working in small groups, the students quickly realize: What must a software offer to meet the customer's needs? For me it is important that students understand basic ERP structures: What does a company need? How can I control my resources? How do purchasing and sales interact? What is a balance sheet and why do I need a profit and loss statement? We gain basic accounting experience practically every day by looking in our wallets: How much money do I have? What do I need? How do I get it? If the students understand from the beginning, which problems the application has to solve, the more successful they can work as developers in their professional career.

You have been teaching at the university for four years now. What makes your lecture successful? 

Students experience the understanding of ERP concepts at an early stage of their professional education. For example, I introduce the concept of master data. When the students maintain a product for a real customer situation, including basic data for purchasing, sales and inventory management, such as product description, unit of measure and price etc., it very quickly becomes clear that data, once entered, is available in different areas. You only have to maintain the data once and then it is available throughout the entire system. 

The concept of an integrated end-2-end business process becomes very transparent as soon as students try to sell a product that does not yet have inventory. Prof. Dr. Anke Schuster, head of Business Informatics at SRH, is enthusiastic about the lecture and plans to extend it into further offerings at the university.

The universities switched to online learning offers due to the corona situation. How can this be combined with your lecture and what new opportunities are emerging? 

That is not a problem at all, on the contrary. A cloud solution like NetSuite is easy to use. All you need is a solid internet connection and off you go! Students can work directly online in the NetSuite Cloud - and, above all, learn about practical challenges. I taught online courses at Bentley University (US) 15 years ago. For me, the biggest advantage of online teaching is that I can take a more individual approach to students. However, not everyone always comes to an online session… (she laughs). By the way, it has recently become possible for each student to have their own NetSuite system (i. e. their own company) or to work together on a company in a NetSuite system. In this way, they can jointly build an ERP solution for a fictitious company. With all the different areas and responsibilities: Purchasing, Sales, Controlling. They have to interact with each other like in a real company and experience the integration live.

From the perspective of your work experiences as a consultant for cloud solutions - for which content should universities be more open to in the future? 

In my opinion, there are still too few connections between theory and practice in teaching. From my professional experience, I know that this is something that falls on the feet of many students after they leave university. As far as education is concerned, I would like to see even more practice-related elements in education and a closer link between business management knowledge and technical implementation.

...the famous look beyond the horizon.

Exactly, I always like to give the example of my railway construction studies.  Back then, we had to learn on the test field about the signal settings: When does the train leave? How fast does it go? One person gave the signal "go", then the others had to react quickly and operate the signal box, set signals and points. I needed to know: How fast does Train A and Train B go, and especially where? Now this is no longer done manually, but digitally - but: the principle is the same: I can respond better to my customers the more I know about their needs. 

You have gone through different paths in your professional career - what do you advise young people to do? 

I always encourage my students: Be open for new things, even after graduation! Be courageous! Do what you enjoy to do - and all paths will be open to you. I myself worked in controlling at Deutsche Bahn after graduating in railway construction and that's how I came to ERP solutions. And I still enjoy helping customers to master their business challenges.

When Kerstin Fischer is not teaching at SRH…

...then I support customers in implementing NetSuite. Above all, I support them in implementing their own business processes in an integrated ERP system. These projects often take several weeks - depending on complexity, data volumes, interfaces, available resources and other factors. It is a lot of fun to work with many different people, companies and their requirements. 

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