When theory becomes practice: A Change of Perspective – Part 1




published on 7 July 2022 


“Theory and practice...” – an often-heard phrase that smiles smugly at how far away what has been learned is from “real life”. At the Institute for Business Informatics at the Technical University Ilmenau, things are different: It has been offering the seminar “PROBAS” for 25 years now. Students, University and experienced professionals from various management consultancies set themselves joint tasks, just as a process and IT project does in business. The somewhat unwieldy name with the long tradition stands for “Project Seminar for Business Application Systems”. As a training partner, Rödl & Partner contributes training, coaching and energetic support in the area of data analysis. 


Shortly after I started at Rödl & Partner, teammates – themselves PROBAS alumni – asked me if I could support PROBAS. With my experience as an industrial clerk, trainer, and BW consultant, I couldn't say no, and so I took on regular coaching sessions with students in addition to my existing activities for the government computer center of an EU country and for a traditional medium-sized company.

PROBAS: What is it?

PROBAS is a model company with a real ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning) from the market leader SAP, which can map all basic commercial processes. A connected business warehouse system (BW system) allows the consolidation and preparation of the data that accumulates in the company (and far beyond). Reports from the BW can look completely different – depending on the target group. The detail-conscious controller wants to analyze figures down to the individual business transaction, while his management needs presentable statements on trends, causes and forecasts. PROBAS thus offers a real playground for students who want to get to know a “full”, corporate IT landscape. These are personalities who dare to get to grips with the details of a complex system (right down to the programming), while at the same time keeping an eye on the big picture. Prospective professionals who gather skills that are currently in demand like never before.
Each semester, students are required to complete a semester assignment. Tasks from previous semesters were for example:
  • the connection of an external store system,
  • migration to the current technology with S/4HANA and BW/4HANA,
  • flexibly expandable data extraction from the ERP,
  • Inventory reporting of goods logistics based on HANA-optimized business content.

PROBAS: What is the benefit?

A seminar like this connects: Students from different disciplines bring different methodologies and exchange business process knowledge and IT technical know-how. The start of the last two semesters that I have been involved in has been correspondingly colorful. One of the first tasks in each semester is to set the “corporate culture”: Advanced students help the beginners, the ERP group guides the BW group through the logistics chain, and vice versa, the BW group sets the requirements for the data to be transferred and prepares correlations. Peeking and googling is encouraged, but above all trying things out on the live system. In the end, it runs almost like in a real company: Cross-team, with real blurbs and misunderstandings, and with shared learning.
While the beginners familiarize themselves with the technology and the SAP way of thinking, the advanced learners are increasingly independent. As a coach, it is simply fun to observe how the students' horizons broaden from week to week: The questions are less and less concerned with buttons and transaction codes. Instead, they learn to “model”. Over time, practice examples become solution patterns and fundamental approaches. Students no longer just solve an (exam-relevant) problem, but develop (at least a little bit) into consultants and idea providers. Orientation to scalable standards and solid software architecture is only a small part of the material that is not on any syllabus.

And after the certificate?

When professional paths part, wouldn't you exchange contact information with colleagues you've worked well with? “You always see each other twice” – this is especially true for business intelligence consultants. And so PROBAS is also a good platform for students and companies to see each other again; for example, as a working student or junior consultant.
Accordingly, as a mentor of a group of students, I not only observe the work result, but also the way there: Who among the students brings others forward with their skills? Who motivates? Who is more likely to become a technician in the future, who a consultant, and who a user with profound domain knowledge? Better and more relaxed than any job interview or assessment center, such a seminar brings clarity for the students and con­sul­ting companies. Maybe it even saves some professional “detours”. 

Coaching keeps young

A good consultant is constantly developing – and clients benefit from this as well. On the other hand, metho­do­lo­gies also “sneak in”. Seminar participants who question self-evident facts are a good compensation. A senior consultant should therefore remain a mentor. One of the “rewards” is a growing team. My colleague Franziska Burgschat is such a “growth”. First she was a PROBAS participant, now she is a colleague and supports our team as a working student. But read for yourself – in the next blog post, Franziska describes her perspective as a working student and PROBAS participant.
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