IFS - building an enterprise application platform that meets customers where they are (2/2)

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright December 10, 2021 Audio mode
An interview with Christian Pedersen, Chief Product Office of IFS, about building an enterprise application platform from parts that are 'individually deployable yet inherently integrated.'

Miniature service engineers inspecting CPU © kirill_makarov - Fotolia.com
(© kirill_makarov - Fotolia.com)

Businesses today are bumping up against the limitations of traditional packaged software applications. They want to operate with joined-up data and processes that deliver rapid outcomes and stay responsive to customer needs, cutting across the old application silos. In response, software vendors have to rearchitect their products to integrate across those old boundaries and offer a more modular and adaptable choice of functionality. One vendor that's on such a path is IFS, whose CEO explained why customers are rejecting the old acronyms in an interview we published yesterday. Today I'm drilling into the practicalities of how this is actually achieved with Christian Pedersen, Chief Product Officer at IFS.

The IFS customer base cuts across several different industries — aerospace and defense, energy and telecoms utilities, civil engineering, manufacturing, and asset servicing — but what they all have in common is that they deal with physical things that are built, serviced and maintained. They also share with other industries a focus on customer outcomes, which IFS defines as the 'moment of service.' Pedersen explains:

What we mean by moment of service is when everything comes together in that moment where you serve your customers. It's not only about field service management or service management or customer support. It is also service when you provide products for the right time at the right quality at the right price. It is that you are delivering consistently on your promises. It is even as simple as you're delivering an invoice that customers can actually ... understand.

For the industries IFS serves, delivering the moment of service depends on co-ordinating people and assets around that goal — which is where the support of enterprise applications and the underlying IT architecture becomes crucial. But since most companies in these industries are established businesses with existing IT infrastructure, there are many obstacles on the path to modernization. IFS may be offering an up-to-date, componentized architecture on a containerized cloud platform built for scale and elasticity, but businesses can't just rip out what they're already doing and swap in an all-new alternative. Prior experience has also made IT buyers wary both of integrated suites that can't be adapted to their needs, and of adopting a bunch of discrete SaaS applications, each with its own independent update cycle. An offering that simultaneously satisfies all of these concerns has to pull off quite a balancing act.

Start with what you need

IFS is acutely aware of these issues. It aims to provide deep functionality around customers, people and assets as a single suite that supports delivery of that 'moment of service', tailored to the unique needs of each of the industries it serves. At the same time, the product is made up of building blocks that are "individually deployable yet inherently integrated," says Pedersen, so that customers can choose to implement the components that make most sense for them at any given time. He adds:

I don't encourage customers to do a big bang and do everything. Start with what you need. Get some first results and then expand.

To ease connections to existing IT assets, pre-packaged integration is included in the form of integration-friendly RESTful APIs as well as an OEM agreement with iPaaS vendor Boomi. The recently launched sustainability hub, which was developed using Microsoft's Power App low-code developer tools and uses Microsoft Teams as its user interface, provides a proof point for the extensibility model and low-code development on the platform, says Pedersen.

IFS is also expanding its functional reach beyond the traditional boundaries of enterprise applications. Along with the sustainability hub, its latest release, which shipped in October, adds new APIs that connect to factory machinery, while machine learning has been added to improve predictive maintenance of installed assets. Pedersen says:

It is not just integration of software packages. It is now real that everything has an IP address. That makes a phenomenal difference in the value that can be created, and it fits right in our area of working with physical things, assets and items.

These new capabilities are the result of harnessing the technology stack to serve customer needs, rather than being bound by historic application categories. Pedersen explains:

We opened up for all our developers and product managers to say, don't be restricted to what you think about the software, be focusing on what we need to deliver for the customer ... It's been a big liberation for the product teams.

Living up to expectations

Another case of meeting the customer where they are is that IFS doesn't require them to go cloud if they prefer to implement the software on-premise. Even though the architecture is cloud-native, it can also be deployed to a customer's data center as "the exact same set of containers with the exact same set of services around," says Pedersen, and managed remotely by IFS. Many customers operate in regulated industries and are required to run certain processes in place, he explains. According to CEO Darren Roos, this option has helped IFS win several big-name accounts recently. He says:

We're knocking over one after the next — big global blue-chip names that you would recognize — because they don't want to put it in the cloud. And they have lots of applications in the cloud. So this is not about them being immature, it's not about them being naive. They are huge businesses with lots of cloud infrastructure. But there are very good reasons for this specific application to sit on-prem.

All of this is tied together with a focus on delivering IFS's own 'moment of service' — a customer experience that lives up to expectations from the first sales engagement through deployment, and beyond into everyday use, future upgrades and extensions. As an example, Pedersen says he's delighted to see one of the first customers who signed up for a fairly extensive implementation of IFS Cloud go live recently in less than six months. But perhaps the most telling manifestation is the investment IFS has made in its business value engineering process, which used to be an entirely manual process that lived in spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks. Enhanced with benchmark data, and incorporating pre-packaged industry-specific process definitions, it's now fully digitized, and will be delivered as a dashboard built into the finished product. Pedersen comments:

It's very important, and we're actually building that into the product. So now, we're going through a business value engineering exercise with the customer on all the things they want to measure on, and where they can get all the benefits. We can actually set that up in the product and get that measured. So there's going to be proof to the pudding there.

My take

It shows just how far we've come when an enterprise application vendor is willing not only to sit down with the customer to map out the business goals they want the software to help them achieve, but also to build a dashboard into the product to measure how well it succeeds. Back in the bad old days when software shipped on disks, the only commitment vendors were willing to give their customers was that disk wouldn't be corrupt — they didn't even guarantee that it would work once installed. This new-found focus on customer outcomes is something we call the XaaS Effect and it's long overdue.

The bigger picture is the use of modern digital technology to connect up data and processes across the enterprise in ways that render those old packaged software categories obsolete. We call this Frictionless Enterprise and it too is long overdue, but making it happen is a tougher challenge. As Pedersen says, once you start thinking outside those old categories, you start connecting up functions and resources that were never joined together in the past. IFS is one of a number of forward-thinking vendors who are putting the right technology infrastructure in place to make this possible, but its focus on using it to support improved customer outcomes is inspired. Now it's up to customers to harness that technology to reshape their operations and show what can be achieved.

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