How IFS walked the talk on cloud ERP projects and why it matters

Sal Laher, Chief Digital & Information Officer and EVP Global Procurement & Facilities, IFS

Johannesburg, 05 Jun 2020
Read time 5min 50sec

IFS relies hugely on technology to help operate and grow its own business. In this, we are just like our customers. Also just like our customers, our needs change and develop over time, and we look to our tech solutions to help us respond in an effective and sensible way.

Last year, we formally acknowledged the opportunity to improve the way we work, to use our own technology to break down regional barriers, and to enhance our ability to operate as one global team.

All great leadership teams must have access to data and insights into how their business is performing. When data and related analytics are consistently captured across an organisation, they add transparency and inform better decisions. So, this programme 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.

That was the genesis of what would become the most comprehensive programme in the company’s history – aimed at getting all 4 000+ IFS employees, across more than 45 entities, across 27 countries, working with one global set of processes in one central version of the solution, providing one version of the truth.

So, we decided to put ourselves through the experience many of our customers have, and to use the exercise as a learning tool to help us better serve our clients. We made a major move to our new platform, IFS Applications 10, consolidated and rationalised many business processes, and brought ourselves right up to the cutting edge of ERP and cloud.

We’re through the implementation process now, and we’ll never go through it again, because from here on, like our customers, we will experience evergreening – regular but smaller updates rather than wholesale re-implementation. This was a major transformation that included many other cloud solutions and fundamentally proved a major ease of integration – see diagram below.

Making the move

Our move from seven disparate instances of IFS Applications and a range of legacy and manual processes onto a single instance of IFS Applications 10 in the cloud was a major undertaking, and we did it at the same time as moving to, or updating our use of, a range of third-party solutions for activities such as payroll, marketing and invoicing – just as a client might do.

Nothing beats walking a mile in the shoes of your customer – unless it’s walking two miles. So, we decided to stress test ourselves and perform this exercise faster than it would normally be done for any individual customer to date. Legacy vendors openly publish average time-to-value time periods of three to five years for ERP implementations. We did it in six months. That’s business transformation 4.0. Pushing ourselves harder gave us a real edge, and a deeper empathy for our customers than we’d ever had before.

The stresses of ‘double hatting’ – where people do their day job alongside managing some aspects of change – are much more real when you see them first-hand, and we had literally hundreds of people in that situation. One of the things I’m most proud of is that we ran this programme 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.

Everything we experienced was invaluable. It has given us a fresh understanding of what our customers go through, so that we are now more able to empathise with them and have a real ‘on the ground’ understanding of their pain points and how we can get them through these.

Warts and all

We learned a lot about the crucial people-management element of business transformation through this process. Notably the importance of creating the vision. In other words, helping them to understand the benefits to be realised from their hard work that would override any nagging fear of change. We always knew this, but there’s nothing like implementing change management ‘at home’ across nearly 4 000 globally dispersed staff to really understand it.

Right from the start, we ran roadshows. Super-users emerged who helped spread positive information to their peers.

We also saw for ourselves how vital it is to have senior stakeholder support. Our CEO, Darren Roos, did a superb job of setting the tone by emphasising the importance of the programme and ensuring the whole organisation was behind it. The senior management team supported Roos fully, and, with cascading support right from the top, the whole organisation was able to buy in.

There is also a great deal to be said for ensuring focused governance of the whole process. We had a team of business process owners and process specialists working hard throughout the whole move, and this really paid off. In many ways, it is these key hands-on people who keep the whole thing moving forwards, and they need a high level of support, the ability – and freedom – to troubleshoot, and the authority to make key decisions – or know precisely where to go to get decision-making expedited.

Leading by example

It’s a truism that moving from old, out-of-date technology to newer, more integrated, fit for purpose systems helps an organisation function more efficiently. But here are some facts: in August last year, we closed the monthly books on the new system in record time, left manual reconciliation of monthly invoices to the past, and have full transparency with online payroll, budgeting, forecasting and group consolidation, all within our single ERP platform on IFS Applications 10.

Getting to this point was not easy, to be fully candid. We undertook a lot of change, very quickly. Change that touched every corner of our organisation. But it was not impossible, far from it. In fact, a number of our customers have already followed suit with very short implementation cycles.

We have learned a huge amount about implementing a major new software update, and all of this learning now informs interaction we have with our customers. Very importantly, we are also in a position to establish a far greater level of trust with our customers. They know we have been where they are going, and that therefore we are in a strong position to empathise with their situation and provide relevant advice and support. There is nothing more compelling than a live production demo of our processes and software to our customers! 

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