IoT and Digital Transformation at IFS World Conference, Atlanta 2018

by Alan Griffiths

This year IFS World was in warm, sunny Atlanta – a welcome change from April’s cold, rainy England. This was the first world conference for new CEO, Darren Roos, taking over from Alastair Sorbie who had steered the helm for many successful years.  There was a nice handover (involving a set of golf clubs) at their gala event in the Atlanta Tabernacle where the legendary Belinda Carlisle and Rick Astley performed.

Rick Astley on stage at the Tabernacle during IFS World Conference 2018
Fig 1 Rick Astley on stage at the Tabernacle

IFS Keynotes

Darren introduced the conference saying that IFS is now the market leading service provider in aerospace and defence – partly due to its acquisition of Mxi Technologies Ltd  in 2016 with its Maintenix product. (IFS also acquired WorkWave in 2017, mplsystems Limited and Field Service Management Limited in Aug 2017, which heavily strengthened its service management capability).

Darren stressed the importance of AI, deep learning and connected devices – all part of any Digital Transformation initiative – and ended by saying that every business will need to ‘disrupt or be disrupted’, giving the example of recalcitrant black cab drivers in London who are now challenged by the convenience of Uber.

Darren Roos, CEO of IFS and Amy McWhirter, Moderator at IFS World 2018
Fig 2 Darren Roos, CEO of IFS and Amy McWhirter, Moderator

Mark Brewer, Global Industry Director ESM, positioned IFS as the world leader in Service Management.  This is in-line with the direction stated by EQT, the principle investors.

Mark Brewer positions IFS in Service Management
Fig 3 Mark Brewer, Global Industry Director ESM, positions IFS in Service Management

Mark went on to explain that they are focussing on service businesses because they represent 70% of the world’s economy, service drives profitability and is ‘underinvested’ – only 15% of investment goes into service compared with 85% into product.

IFS is also targeting the nascent market that will be created through IoT – the 20 billion connected devices predicted by 2020 will need to be serviced somehow…

Mark Brewer of IFS explains the IoT Smart Product service challenge
Fig 4 Mark Brewer explains the IoT Smart Product service challenge

Guest Keynote Speakers

Accenture VP Eric Schaeffer – introducing his book ‘Industry X.0’ – explained that while organisations are now demanding outcome-based solutions, before long they will be looking for autonomous systems; another indication of the need to be prepared for Digital Transformation.

Eric Schaeffer’s book on ‘Industry X.0’
Fig 5 Eric Schaeffer’s book on ‘Industry X.0’

The disruptive theme was expounded by Daryl Plummer of Gartner saying ‘disruption is at hand’.  In a stimulating talk, Daryl presented Garter’s top 10 strategic predictions for 2018 and beyond.

Gartner’s top 10 ‘Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond’
Fig 6 Gartner’s top 10 ‘Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond’

Demonstrating the close relationship with Microsoft, Paul Maher, GM Industry Experiences, described the close partnership with IFS, which uses Azure as the backbone for IoT, and the extent of the Azure cloud infrastructure – now in 50 regions worldwide.

Paul Maher of Microsoft on the IFS relationship
Fig 7 Paul Maher of Microsoft on the IFS relationship
Paul Maher of Microsoft on Azure
Fig 8 Paul Maher of Microsoft on Azure

Product Announcements

Thomas Sald, Senior VP R&D and Dan Matthews, CTO introduced IFS’ new interface to IFS Applications 10.0Aurena’. As well as responding to graphical input, Aurena is designed to respond to voice and provide chatbot capability; this type of user interface is now demanded in mobile/consumer products and this announcement shows how IFS is keeping up.

Dan Matthews, CTO, introducing ‘Aurena’ in IFS Applications 10
Fig 9 Dan Matthews, CTO, introducing ‘Aurena’ in IFS Applications 10

IFS’ main product announcements were IFS Applications 10 (a significant upgrade to its comprehensive ERP system), a new version of IFS FSM (Field Service Management) and the first of a series of SaaS-based IFS Maintenix solutions.

My overall impression was that the core system is very modern-looking, flexible and ‘holistic’ – i.e. all applications working from the same database, and that a lot of work has gone into the front end – using Aurena to make it intuitive for the customer to use.

IFS has also made a very shrewd decision to provide ‘cloud’ – and also IoT/analytics – capability by partnering with Microsoft and using Azure/Azure IoT via its ‘Connectors’.

To emphasise the readiness of Applications 10, IFS’ Amy Eager, Technical Solution Architect, interviewed some early adopters on stage and they spoke about their experiences.  Mark Large of Volac told how they are putting all projects in IFS as it is now fully-integrated and there is a high degree of trust.  Simon Vaughan of Portsmouth Aviation explained that they now have ‘a single version of the truth’ which helps avoid errors and misunderstandings.

IFS Applications 10 early adopters Volac, Chief Industries, Stellana, Valmont, Portsmouth Aviation
Fig 10 Early Adopters: Mark Large, Head of Business Systems & Processes – Volac; Jay Gnuse, IT Director – Chief Industries; Jim Stevens, Director of Finance and IT – Stellana/Hexpol; Doug Hansen, Director IT Applications Development – Valmont Industries, Inc.; and Simon Vaughan, IFS Manager – Portsmouth Aviation.

To summarise the product announcements:

  • IFS Applications 10 now includes a new AI chatbot that uses IFS Aurena, a browser-based, responsive UI that supports voice or textual input; Demand-Driven MRP (validated by the Demand Driven Institute); and improved APIs built according to the latest RESTful principles.
  • IFS FSM 6 includes a responsive front-end that will run on any browser or device, along with improved performance on Microsoft Azure and ‘next-generation’ configurability (i.e. reduced need for customization). FSM 6 can now be deployed as a true ‘multi-tenant’ solution on the Microsoft Azure cloud in addition to the ‘managed cloud’ service and ‘on-premise’ options.
  • IFS Maintenix now includes the first in a series of SaaS-based solutions geared specifically for the mission-critical maintenance and engineering needs of the global commercial aviation market.

Digital Transformation and IoT

My special interest is in Digital Transformation and IoT, so it was good to see Anticimex present again and also to see an impressive case study from Kyocera.  Both customers said their implementations went smoothly and delivered all the benefits they expected.

Kyocera’s Enterprise IoT Solution was presented by Vincent Martin, General Manager CSSD, who explained how they were extending their home-grown IoT solution – which already connects printers around the world using built-in sensors to signal when toner is needed etc. – by integrating it with IFS’ service management capability using the IFS IoT Business Connector.

Kyocera’s Enterprise IoT Solution at IFS World 2018
Fig 11 Kyocera’s Enterprise IoT Solution was presented by Vincent Martin, General Manager CSSD, Kyocera Document Solutions Europe B.V.

Vincent explained that because the document printing business is contracting (due to the decreasing use of paper printouts) they need to be more creative in working with – and charging – their customers; this new system will allow them to introduce new payment models such as ‘pay per use’, ‘information management’ and new payment/collection methods.

The IFS Lab demonstrated some impressive AI technology that was linked to the IFS core to act upon results.  One clear example was a robot in their ‘Granola mine’ (in the exhibition hall) which had a digital twin that used analytics to predict failure and instruct an IoT-enabled cart to fetch a spare part for the actual robot to avoid failure. In the demonstration, the allocated cart also broke down and had to be re-routed back to base while an alternative cart was allocated using the AI engine.

IFS Labs demonstrates a robot and its digital twin
Fig 12 IFS Labs demonstrates a robot and its digital twin

The essence of IFS’ digital transformation capability is summed up in the slide below:

IFS Labs explains its IoT / AI solution ‘in a nutshell’
Fig 13 IFS Labs explains its IoT / AI solution ‘in a nutshell’

Summary – My observations and thoughts

The keynote presentations were impressive and motivational regarding Digital Transformation and the need to ‘disrupt or be disrupted’, and the IFS product announcements enhanced an already-powerful, integrated enterprise system.

From a customer point of view, I thought there could have been more guidance on ‘what should be our next step’.  A ‘proof of concept’ project doesn’t always attract senior management commitment as it may not be core to the business.  But jumping in with digital transformation of the core business is high-risk and how do you accurately forecast what the outcomes or ROI will be?

IFS actually has some very good, proven IoT / Digital Transformation technology, and a well thought out, substantial project that adds on to the existing business and systems is a good way to get started, as shown by Kyocera who are neatly extending an existing IoT system to make it enterprise-wide, global and fully-connected.

Given IFS’ proven capability to deliver well-integrated solutions using IoT technology, I believe it could take a stronger leadership position with its customers – to indicate what their next step could be and group them together where there are similarities.  In the emerging world of IoT and Digital Transformation, these groupings may cross traditional industry boundaries.  For example bringing together companies from mining, agriculture and manufacturing under ‘Connected Production’ and bringing together airlines, shipping and fleet management companies under ‘Connected Transportation’.

Finally, what is it about IFS and ‘places of worship’?  The Gothenburg gala was held at the ‘Fish Church’, the Atlanta gala was in ‘The Tabernacle’; what’s next? If the next IFS World is in England, will their gala be in Westminster Abbey?

(NB just to be clear, at the time of writing, no-one knows where the next event will be yet!).

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