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Understanding Business Process and Operations Management

November 17, 2020
Two people at a work table planning out a business process

Christine Witt knows what it’s like to be a full-time graduate student with a career and growing family. She earned both her master’s degree and PhD while writing papers with one hand and holding an infant in the other.

“I tell my students that the first day at class,” said Witt, an assistant professor in the Online MBA program at California State University, Chico. “I've designed this class knowing what's going on in a graduate student’s life.”

In the online program, Witt teaches Operations Management and Execution. In the course, students learn how to navigate large-scale enterprise systems and implement new business processes.

Witt dedicates her career to researching and implementing better ways to teach these systems and processes, in and outside of the classroom. With eight years of teaching in the online environment, she’s excited to be a part of an MBA program that’s committed to bringing its on-campus program to online students.

“What we're trying to achieve with our online program is the type of program I want to be involved with,” Witt said. “We're taking an already internationally accredited graduate program and placing it in a virtual environment. Our OMBA is going to reach continuing learners and working professionals anywhere life has taken them.”

Real-World Decision-Making

Witt specializes in SAP, which stands for Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing. This software tool is an ERP, or enterprise resource planning system, that allows different departments and entities in a supply chain or large organization to communicate and provide real-time information to one another. That information can be about production, disruptions, or other day-to-day updates to the business supply chain. Used by Fortune 500 companies and other large organizations, these ERPs can be difficult to navigate without the right knowledge or training.

As an assistant professor in Business Information Systems, Witt knows how critical understanding them is, so in her MBA classes, she challenges her students with ERP simulations. Students are broken into teams to compete against one another to analyze business reports and make logistical and marketing decisions. Competing against a clock in what feels like an emergency preparedness drill, they need to handle challenges as they arise, whether it’s a supply chain disruption or increase in the cost of raw materials.

“They’ll run a business quarter in 20 minutes,” explained Witt. “They have time to strategize in between each quarter, so they really get into it, especially at the MBA level. They get their rankings at the end of each quarter and can benchmark how they are doing related to the other teams in the class. Then they want to go back to do better or they want to keep their lead.”

Even with the fun of a little competition, students gain a better understanding of how integrated business processes are executed in a large system. In real-time, they see how communication breakdowns can impact an entire business. Even some of Witt’s students who use SAP in their day-to-day have walked away with a new perspective.

“A former MBA student that worked at PG&E once told me, ‘I've never had the experience of understanding how I'm impacting other departments with what I do daily,’” Witt said. “I thought that's a good quote for MBA students because they're learning not just how their decisions impact a department, like marketing, supply chain, and production. As future managers, they're learning how all of those functional areas of business impact each other.”

Teaching Business Processes

Witt became aware of ERPs and similar software in college while she was working full-time as a sales manager at a wireless phone retail store. Her company implemented a new information system, but did not properly train employees how to use it. So, she jumped in.

“I found I really liked diving in, learning the system, and then teaching other people how to use that system,” Witt said. “I even developed training manuals for other stores and other members of the organization that would help them teach their employees how to use the system, generate reports, or get key information. That's how I ended up where I am today, because I thought, ‘I wonder if I could do this for a living?’”

Today, Witt knows that not offering training is common at many companies. However, because of the size, complexity and the number of users and stakeholders involved in ERPs, navigating them thoughtfully is critical.

Much of her research focuses on how to use real-world experience to better teach. In addition to the ERP simulations, she focuses on instructing other business process management techniques, including process improvement and lean strategies. Often, Witt brings her past experience working at the North Coast Small Business Development Center, a California nonprofit that advises and trains area small businesses, particularly utilizing her experience developing an in-house team focused on teaching lean process methods.

“A lot of times students have had similar experiences where a standard operating procedure at their job just doesn't make sense to them,” Witt said. “They've noticed it could use improvement, but they just don't have the toolset to change that.”

It’s important for Witt that online students gain these insights and skills through their own hands-on experiences or by learning from others, like herself, who have navigated these processes and challenges in the real world. To her, it showcases the core values Chico State brings to the Online MBA program.

“We're not just giving them multiple choice tests. We have a bigger goal,” Witt said.

Meet Your Future Online

At Chico State, students can earn their MBA online without putting their career, family, or life on hold. In addition to a general MBA, our AACSB-accredited program offers two specializations: Enterprise Information Systems and Project Management, so you have the tools to pursue your goals. Learn more about the coursework and the experienced faculty in our program.

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