IFS: Evolving Alternatives to Traditional ERP Solutions

Updated: October 08, 2010

Every business must effectively manage and plan the life cycles of key assets and resources, from people to raw materials to equipment. The ability to succeed at these critical tasks can largely determine the ability of that business to thrive -- or even to survive.

Many businesses have invested significant resources to develop processes and acquire technologies intended to address these critical challenges. However, such investments have typically taken place over time and across multiple shifts in technologies, market conditions and business priorities. Too often, the result is much more investment of resources than achievement of desired business benefit.

Even at companies succeeding on some level with ERP, asset management and/or supply chain management, that success can be expensive and hard-won. Integration of disparate solutions and processes, essentials to maximizing the business benefits of the investments made, can require significant support from IT teams often already understaffed and overburdened. This problem is often exacerbated at smaller companies or remote branch facilities with few to no IT resources available.

Business and IT decision makers have looked to vendors such as SAP, Oracle, SYSPRO and others to deliver integrated, multi-function, premise-based software suites and packages that address these challenges effectively and economically. And many of these decision makers have succeeded with such solutions. However, for many others, these traditionally market-leading solutions are too expensive, too complex, too difficult to tailor to specific business requirements or otherwise unsuitable.

Cloud computing offers promise to some of these frustrated business and IT decision makers. However, users and others seem to see current cloud-based ERP and asset management solutions as suitable only for smaller companies or those with limited needs for integration and/or cusotmization. (Cloud-based solutions are gaining "enterprise-class" functionality steadily, setting the stage for more rapid shift of these perceptions.)

While these developments have been proceeding, however, IFS has been building a portfolio of customer successes around the world, particularly in specific markets such as defense, logistics, oil and gas and utilities. The company was founded in 1983 in Linköping, Sweden, where Saab's aerospace and defense efforts helped to spawn a nexus of the early IT industry. At one time, IFS, Intentia (which became Lawson Software) and Oracle's European headquarters shared an office here. Today IFS has some 2,000 customers supporting 830,000 users, as well as 2,700 employees and representation in 50 countries, executives recently stated.

The company also enjoys positive and growing revenues, earnings and cash flow, the executives added. Net revenues in 2009 were approximately 2.6 billion Swedish Krona, or approximately $US 390 million, up from approximately 2.5 billion Swedish Krona or $US 380 million in 2008.

To build upon this foundation, IFS is now focusing on delivering a single, integrated suite of solutions, known collectively as IFS Applications. These are built upon a single, standards-compliant and component-based service-oriented architecture (SOA). IFS Applications are available for a wide variety of business functions, from CRM, ERP and supply chain management to project management and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). This portfolio of high-level and more granular solutions enables users to mix and match the precise combination of functions they need to execute and support their business processes.

The company is combining its component-based SOA with a focus on support of key business processes that cross multiple industry lines. This enables cross-industry synergy of both applications and effective processes. Users in one industry can take advantage of applicable successful processes and applications proven in other arenas. For example, many of the asset management features and processes developed for other specific needs are now also used to track factors affecting manufacturers "eco-footprint," such as carbon emissions.

In addition, IFS is forging relationships with resellers and integrators with strong industry-specific knowledge and experience. These relationships increasingly complement the company's internal global services and consulting resources, giving users more choice and access to more help in deploying and succeeding with IFS Applications.

Further, the IFS Applications architecture uses a browser-based user interface and a Java-based application tier. This combination enables relatively easy support of a Microsoft-like "software plus services" approach to integration of mobility features or cloud-based resources.

These technological strengths and the company's strong financial situation are allowing IFS to intensify its focus on mergers, acquisitions and partnerships to grow its market presence. IFS recently acquired 360 Scheduling, a leading provider of solutions for mobile workforce scheduling. This function is now available from IFS as an integrated element of the IFS Applications suite or as a standalone solution. This acquisition and rapid integration of the functionality from 360 Scheduling demonstrate the agility of both the IFS Applications architecture and the company's business strategy.

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