Opinion: Why we drink our own champagne

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By Sal Laher, chief digital & information officer, IFS

Both service providers as well as their customers rely on technology to help their operations and business growth. Technology can be used to break down regional barriers, and to enhance the ability to operate as one global team. Many service providers have acknowledged the need to modernize business operations and get onto the latest solutions.

In keeping with this, IFS formally acknowledged the opportunity to improve the way it works, and therefore took the decision to experience what its customers experience, the way they experience it. In early 2019, the Company moved from eight disparate instances onto a single instance of IFS Applications 10.

Validation of Product

Building a proposition based on ‘customer asks and requests’ and then evolving it as a result of feedback then further iterating it based on observing user behaviour are all valid ways for a software vendor to become more customer-centric. But nothing beats walking a mile in the shoes of your customer. In 2019, IFS successfully walked six months in the shoes of its customers. We learned first-hand that the experience of implementing your own software and setting your business up for success can have a profound effect on everything from internal process improvement, through to any company’s culture adoption of new technology like cloud Software-as-a-Service. IFS aimed to ‘stress test’ itself and perform this exercise faster than it had done for any individual customer to that point, knowing that time-to-value, ease of use, simplified best practice processes and total cost of ownership remain the most important things for customers.

Intelligence and Insights

All great teams must have access to data and insights into how their business is performing. When data and related analytics are consistently captured across an organization, they add transparency and inform better decisions. So, this program wasn’t a “nice to have” for our business, it was imperative for us to be able to run the business as effectively as possible.

Getting Integrated and Getting Digital

One of the major wins of this program was the integration across the different parts of the business. IFS used a combination of IFS Applications, third-party legacy technology, and manual processes across our regions and business units.The challenge with using disparate systems and having unconnected processes and data is the obvious inaccuracies and breakdowns that will inherently risk your ability to make informed decisions based on accurate information. Getting all our people and processes onto one central platform would be a challenge, both technologically and culturally, but the potential benefits were enormous. 

Internal team centricity

One of the things I’m most proud of is that IFS ran this program just as our customers do. There were no shortcuts or secret work-arounds for us. This was delivered by our own people all over the world.

Many lessons both good and bad were learned from this program and we will use this to better inform our implementation methodology, our product, and our cloud operations so as to improve for you our customers.   

Efficiencies and cost savings

One of the most exciting things is that IFS is a showcase for its own customers. Plus, we’re now able to benefit from the latest technology while at the same time providing real business value to our customers and really proving that this works. 

It is thanks to the ambitious pace of delivering go-live in just six months that not only a number of tangible business benefits have been realized already, but it has also proven what’s possible for customers – and indeed to the rest of the industry.

A Valuable Experience

This program has been an eye-opening experience for IFS and the entire business. It has taught new ways of empathizing with the customers when it comes to change and transformation. It has also given us renewed confidence in our solutions and our people. After all, carrying out such a complex program in only six months was no mean feat. 

Looking ahead, I’m confident our technology will help us not only scale the business, but help in provide cutting edge solutions in the area of artificial intelligence. IFS has since integrated the IFS BoT (essentially an intelligent chatbot) where staff can request leave or complete expenses through native language with the BoT – as well as to continue our journey to digitalize further processes to ensure our customers are set up for success.’

Proof

The intelligence and insights were the genesis of what would become the most comprehensive program in the company’s history – aimed at getting all 4,000+ IFS employees, across more than 60 entities, across 27 countries, working with one global set of processes in one central version of the solution providing one version of the truth. 

It’s worth pointing out that the deployment of IFS Applications 10 is just one part of a much larger transformation program that involves unifying and centralizing all aspects of the way we work.So, even though this added to our workload, it addressed old constraints and bottlenecks at the root level.

When the decision was made to move the entire business onto IFS Applications 10 in the Cloud, it was approached as any other customer deployment program. An ambitious but doable six-month implementation program was implemented. 

When mapping out business processes, it was started with a relatively small group of people, which was successively expanded as things started to progress. 

To make the six-month deadline, the focuses were: 

  • A set of global best practice processes 
  • Standardizing reporting across the business 
  • Transforming both internally and externally to the Cloud 
  • Selecting a few processes to start our digital journey: 1) we started our journey to only supporting electronic invoices; 2) remove paper from timesheets and expenses; 3) remove printing of paylsips where this was taking place. 

In parallel with the implementation, a change management exercise was undertaken to ensure every single IFS employee knew what was coming, why this was being done, and how to use the solution. Working together with process owners and super users, roadshows, prototype sessions and training were run to get people comfortable and confident with the new solution. 

Sensible Solutions

The decision was made to deploy in the IFS Managed Cloud, which would give us a robust and secure infrastructure as well as a swift way to roll-out new innovations coming from product development in the future – what is kown as ’evergreen’. You will note that the IFS Managed Cloud and IFS Applications 10 integrated very well with many other cloud solutions we chose including marketing, payroll, e-invoicing, Office365, and our internal intranet . 

Driven off IFS Aurena, our modern UX, the term ’evergreen’ describes the ability of IFS solutions running in the Cloud to always have access to the latest features, without costly and disruptive upgrades. Capitalizing on the opportunity with our latest product that has significantly delivered hundreds of new features to reduce the number of modifuications we had from over 70+ to just seven, and then five of these will be in the core of IFS Applications in a later release truly keeping us evergreen.

After launching the program in January, IFS went live on IFS Applications 10 on 29 July 2019, which is a phenomenal feat given the size and scale of the deployment. IFS has this digital platform in which to continuously evolve, innovate and grow.  

Having a consolidated view of how the business is performing globally is crucial for everyone, especially the leadership team which is highly focused on structuring the business in order to deliver value for our customers. A crucial element that enables this is having reliable data, all in one place, with meaningful analytics.  

It has really taken all the guesswork out of planning and decision-making for IFS as a business. Like any new major ERP implementation, there were teething issues within the months after cutover that included access and permission set challenges for users; basic data set-up coming off an old legacy data structure; and getting people used to the new global processes, there were absolutely no performance issues within the cloud. We were much more cyber secured on our data and processes, and the business were successfully operational from day one.  

Our understanding that getting reliable, real-time data into one place is only half the battle – having tools to analyze the data and make smart decisions from those insights is where real value is found.

We drink our own champagne because our priority has always been to provide technology that is easy to use and fast to deploy. This program is going to help us get there, for our customers.

Sal is Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO) at IFS. His appointment in 2018 sees him lead the talented team that is driving all information technology, as well as the continued digitization and automation transformation of IFS.