As part of our MIS 585 class (Strategic Management of Information Systems), my group and I participated in an Eller case competition sponsored by E&J Gallo. For those unfamiliar with the process, case competitions involve teams of students in a real world or fictional business scenario where—most of the time—something has gone wrong. Teams compete with one another by presenting their analysis, solutions, and justifications to panels of judges who will most likely engage the presenters with numerous questions. Unless a team completely misses the ball, Q&A tends to be the main differentiator—this is where a team can truly press home their point and convince judges of their recommendations.
The case chosen for the Gallo competition dealt with a company—ForemostCo—whose future was threatened by a poorly developed and implemented ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Essentially, the company had underestimated the difficulty of designing a program capable of integrating all their processes and, after installing the resultant buggy software, found that they could no longer deliver customer orders or bill correctly. As with many cases dealing with crisis situations, our group decided to attack the issue with both a short and long-term plan.
Working out solutions and preparing the presentations for case competitions is always a major time commitment. Depending on team dynamics, one can spend ten hours simply discussing the issues and another ten to twenty getting ready for the presentation. Ultimately however, the experience is invaluable; presenting on a topic you’re by no means an expert on forces you to 1) learn enough to defend your recommendations in front of experts and 2) think on your feet.
While our presentation had some flaws that prevented us from moving to the final round of competition, the judges—as always—provided worthwhile feedback on our performance both in terms of content and presentation. Had we won, we would have been rewarded with several nice bottles of Gallo wine and a fancy dinner to boot. At least the disappointment in losing is tempered by learning from professionals about the issues they actually face in similar situations…and there’s always next time.