The IFS World Conference has been held in Barcelona and Boston in recent years, A telling testament to the Swedish software company’s growing importance on the global stage. However, in 2016 it was time for a successful homecoming as the conference headed to Gothenberg.
Field Service News was there to report on the key announcements made...
At the IFS World Conference in Boston held 18 months ago the headlines were all about milestones. The company had recently hit their millionth user, Applications 9 had just been launched and key partnerships with the likes of Microsoft and Accenture had seemingly launched them into the world of enterprise level organisations as a genuine challenger to the likes of SAP and Oracle.
So looking ahead to this year’s event in Gothenberg there was an anticipation of just how the Swedish ERP provider had moved onwards from those milestones - just how much progress had been made?
However, just ahead of the conference in September 2016 it was announced that private equity firm EQT had acquired 97% of the company which added a further dynamic to the backdrop of the conference’s three day agenda - what did the acquisition mean for IFS and would it change the roadmap for better or for worse?
These questions were addressed swiftly as Alistair Sorbie, CEO IFS took the stage for the opening keynote session - and the message was clear.
It was still business as usual and field service remained a significant priority for the company.
This sentiment was echoed when we spoke to Paul Massey, Managing Director, IFS Europe West, about the take over.
“They’re very hands off, have been positive in terms of their messaging and are supportive of the existing management” Massey commented.
Taking an initial view of where we might target some early investment field service is an obvious candidate because we weren’t maximising the benefit we’ve got from having that product. - Paul Massey, Managing Director, IFS Europe West
“It’s a growing market that we have got some really good stories in which we haven’t exploited as well as we might, so with EQT coming in and us taking an initial view of where we might target some early investment field service is an obvious candidate because we weren’t maximising the benefit we’ve got from having that product.” he added.
So with field service still very firmly on the agenda and the private equity acquisition looking - upon initial observations at least, to be something that is good for both IFS and their existing users the tone of the conference was able to gain sharper focus - and that tone was very much all about innovation in the technology. The headline stealing announcement being the introduction of IFS IoT Business Connector...
With IoT still very much the key technology on everyone’s buzz list it was an anticipated launch and potentially an essential one, as competitors in the FSM space at least, race to deliver similar tools.
What is interesting about the IFS solution is that as you may guess from the name it is a tool that connects other systems potentially shortening the time from ‘ideas to tangible benefits’ for IFS customers’ by providing an end-to-end architecture.
Designed to de-risk and accelerate IoT initiatives in areas such as predictive maintenance, service management, asset management, and manufacturing, it provides the ability to harness data gathered from products, assets and equipment to identify actionable observations that trigger either user-defined, automated or semi-automated workflows in the wider IFS software suite.
Another important benefit is that it also comes with plug-and-play connectivity to the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite (but also has open APIs to connect other IoT platforms also.)
Essentially the IFS IoT Business Connector is designed to bridge the gap between analysis of IoT data and using the output to then execute maintenance and service more efficiently.
A number of earlier adopter case studies were rolled out during the announcement including Songa Offshore, an international mid-water drilling contractor, ATS, a leading provider of factory maintenance and IT services based in the U.S., Anticimex, an international pest control company, and Hecla Mining, the North American precious metals mining company.
By working with our customers and partners we are able to connect the dots so that investments in IoT not only yield piles of data and pretty charts, but result in real actions... - Dan Matthews, CTO IFS
ATS Automation Director of IT Christopher Lebeau said. “By connecting our field service value chain we are able to automate our processes in a new way and use the insights to make smarter business decisions.”
IFS CTO Dan Matthews added, “By working with our customers and partners we are able to connect the dots so that investments in IoT not only yield piles of data and pretty charts, but result in real actions that are co-planned and executed in an optimal way together with everything else that is going on in a business. For our customers it means an easier way to get started with IoT, lower risks, and faster time to realised value.”
The new version of our dynamic work scheduling solution represents a major product investment aimed at helping our clients streamline and automate their scheduling processes... - Jørgen Rogde, FS product director for service, asset, and project based solutions
Major feature updates include automated resource planning, rostering and shift scheduling as well as extended deployment options in the cloud. Commenting on the updated solution IFS product director for service, asset, and project based solutions Jørgen Rogde commented,“The new version of our dynamic work scheduling solution represents a major product investment aimed at helping our clients streamline and automate their scheduling processes while maintaining and enhancing the flexibility of the solution through new options for cloud deployment and big data management.”
“It will help our customers use their resources more effectively, ultimately saving them time and money.”
Another important announcement made at the conference was the unveiling of a new version of IFS Enterprise Operational Intelligence (EOI).
Included within the new version - the first major release since the solution was acquired through the acquisition of VisionWaves in July 2015 were a number of new features such as capabilities for adding custom visualizations,
plug-and-play integration with IFS Applications, and of course integration with the IFS IoT Business Connector.
A number of elements of EOI are particularly suited including of course the scheduling element, which is powered by the IFS dynamic scheduling engine that users will be familiar with.
This tool used in combination with the ability to customise maps by incorporating drawings, illustrations or performance data onto a map could be a fantastic tool for prescriptive analytics and potentially modelling different schedule scenarios. In combination with the in-memory database technology demonstrated in Boston last year could theoretically mean that running simulations to find optimum workforce division could be done in minutes as opposed to weeks or even months that such a task using manual tools.
However, whilst the developments of both EOI and MWM and their integration to the wider suite of IFS Applications were not only impressive but also have easily identifiable use-cases within field service operations, it was the glimpse into the not too distant future from IFS Labs that was the show stopper from a field service perspective.
At IFS Labs, we look beyond the current needs of businesses to anticipate what solutions will be required in the future... - Bas de Vos, Director, IFS Labs
The drone proof-of-concept featured live integration between a drone and IFS Applications for automatic generation of work orders whilst inspecting assets on a scaled model demonstration.
Using computer image analysis, a drone flown by a member of the IFS labs team was able to recognise a break in a power line within the model and automatically generated an observation that is registered in IFS Applications via the IFS IoT Business Connector.
The end user can analyse and process the drone observations via the IFS Lobby interface, in which additional information such as geolocation and customer feedback is cross-referenced to help the user action appropriate maintenance and repair.
Although still not available, the proof-of-concept demonstration certainly opened up a number of eyes as to the power of technology to help in the delivery of field service within the not too distant future.
“At IFS Labs, we look beyond the current needs of businesses to anticipate what solutions will be required in the future,” IFS Labs director Bas de Vos said.
And perhaps this is the key takeaway from the three day conference, for those asking how the EQT acquisition will affect the IFS, the message was it’s business as usual - and on the evidence on show in Gothenberg this year, the usual is innovation.