Business simulation game provides real-life benefits

No one dared utter the words “It’s just a game” in the McGuirk Arena at Central Michigan University’s Mount Pleasant campus on February 14. The 200-plus students and 40 businesses participating in the 7th Annual ERPsim (Enterprise Resource Planning simulation) Invitational Competition knew the unfolding event was much more than that.


Scholarships were on the line.


Jobs were on the line.


In this competition, teams of three to five students from Central Michigan University’s College of Business Administration were paired with a business to mentor them. Together, they used SAP (Systems, Applications and Products) software to come up with a strategy that would make their business (a cereal company) the most revenue by the end of the game. To do so, the team had to manufacture their product, forecast demand, determine product pricing, manage a loan, and make other business decisions – all while on a shortened timeline. The teams all played two games; each game had 4 rounds and each round was 20 minutes with every minute representing an entire day in the business world. Members from eight high-scoring teams receive a plaque and scholarship to further their education at Central Michigan University, and the top-placing team moves on to the international competition in June.


Students had been preparing for this one day for months. Teams were formed in October and practices started in November, says Stephen Tracy, Co-Director of the ERPsim Invitational Competition and Director of the SAP Next Gen University Alliance at Central Michigan University’s College of Business Administration.


“Yesterday, we practiced for six hours,” says Luyi Huang, who was part of last year’s winning team, which went on to take second place at the international competition. This year, Huang was a member of the team mentored by Stryker.


Many of the businesses who mentor teams at this competition hire students as a result of it, explains Denise McBride, Co-Director of the ERPsim International Competition and faculty member of the College of Business Administration at Central Michigan University.


“They watch how the student performs under pressure, in a team, and watch their strategy,” McBride says. “It’s quite an interview.”
Keynote speakers Scott King, Ford Motor Company, Jeffrey Anderson, SAP, and John Wassick, The Dow Chemical Company answer student questions prior to the beginning of competition.
One such business is The Dow Chemical Company, which mentored two teams in this year’s competition. John Wassick, Integrated Supply Chain Technology Fellow at The Dow Chemical Company, says The Dow Chemical Company has gotten employees as a result of this competition in the past because it identifies top candidates for positions within the company. He adds that this competition provides a more realistic interview of a potential employee than a standard interview and resume can.


“The risk involved in hiring someone is that they look good in an interview and they come to work completely different… In this competition, you see their ability to work. You see their ability to draw data-based decisions,” Wassick says.


While some students may find this intimidating, others enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.


“If you’re going to a job fair, [employers] are just looking at you as a student. At this competition, they’re seeing how you’re working,” says Naveen Uppu, who was also part of the team that took second place at the international competition last year, and a member of team Stryker this year.


Some businesses come to the ERPsim competition specifically for the opportunity to offer internships and jobs, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, which also mentored two teams.


Shawn Rule, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield, says he hired four full-time employees and seven interns at this year’s competition.


“We have been coming to this for five years, and we have hired people every year,” he says.


One of the former hires is Sam Seidell, Systems Analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield. She met a Blue Cross Blue Shield recruiter last year while competing in the ERPsim Invitational Competition, and returned this year to help mentor one of the Blue Cross Blue Shield teams.


“This is a great competition,” says Seidell. “It really connects you to each company that you’re working with. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity otherwise.”


With businesses serving as mentors, connections like that are one of the many benefits students gain from this competition, says Tracy. Students built professional relationships with high-level executives at major companies who are now within their network of people to ask for advice or letters of recommendation.


“Those are priceless opportunities for students – things that are so far outside the classroom,” says Tracy.


Tracy explained that when the competition first started, 13 businesses mentored teams. This year, there were 40.
More than 200 students participated in CMU's 7th annual ERPsim invitational

The investment of time to mentor a team is worth it, says Scott King, Manager of Global Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Internet of Things at Ford Motor Company. Ford Motor Company mentored a team in the competition, and King said 11 percent of Ford’s College Graduate program in Information Technology will come from Central Michigan University next year. That number includes students they have met through the ERPsim Invitational Competition. Aside from the opportunity to hire new employees, though, there are other benefits to being a mentor in this competition, King says.


“We get an overall window into what the capabilities of students are today,” King says. “What are they learning? And not only what are they learning, but we get to show and tell them what skills they need today.”


The active participation of mentors in this program and their partnership with the faculty at Central Michigan University helps shape the programming and classes that are offered, resulting in students who are more prepared for the workforce, says Tracy. That in turn, comes back to benefit the college and the community the college is in, he adds.


“How do you get students to come to CMU? You get your students good jobs,” says Tracy.


Even before starting this invitational competition, the College of Business Administration at Central Michigan University was known for its SAP University Alliance Program, started in 1977. Through the program, Central Michigan University leads the nation in SAP TERP10 certifications. Out of the 98 students who took the exam last year, which was prepared for during an intense two-week course comprised of 80 hours of instruction, 78 percent passed, says Tracy, adding that the national average is a 55 percent passing rate. Holding that certification can result in high salaries for students with the same degree, he says.
Dart Team 1 team mates Bernad Nelson and Manjunath Madarampalli hoist their team’s trophy in the air after they received first place in the championship round of the 7th Annual ERPsim Invitational Competition
In June, Central Michigan University’s College of Business will once again be represented on the international stage by this year’s winning team of the 7th Annual ERPsim Competition. The team was one of two sponsored by Dart, and was made up of team mates Manjunath Madarampalli, Nishi Mishra, Bernad Nelson and Swetha Samson Parisapogu.


Parisapogu and Madarampalli competed last year, bringing experience to the team, say their teammates.


“From the very first day, we were trying for this,” says Nelson.


With several months before the international competition, the team will continue practicing and perfecting their strategy. That competition will take place in Montreal, Canada; however, McBride says the team will be able to compete remotely from Central Michigan University.


“I always wanted to be famous,” Madarampalli said, laughing with his team mates.