IFS walks six months in its customers’ shoes

IFS has been first to use Aurena, its browser-based user interface, having spent six months streamlining and modernising its internal operations.
Read time 5min 30sec
Dan Matthews, CTO at IFS.
Dan Matthews, CTO at IFS.

Enterprise software vendor IFS has significantly boosted its investment in research and development to embed artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into its core solutions.

The company is a far smaller player than the enterprise resource planning (ERP) giants whose customers it hopes to poach, and to succeed it is making its products more user-friendly and better able to help businesses predict the future.

The company's technology team outlined the latest developments during the IFS World Conference in Boston, United States, last week, beginning with Aurena, its browser-based user interface designed to be familiar to anyone who uses the Internet.

“Four billion people use the Internet on a daily basis, and they know how to use it. This is based on the common knowledge that everybody has,” said CTO Dan Matthews. “The people-centric design is part of our leap forward.”

According to Matthews, Aurena renders to different form factors so it is mobile friendly, and 15 000 APIs have just been made available so customers and partners can tailor the solutions to meet their requirements, even though it has deep capabilities out of the box. “We want you to make this solution your own with high-impact, low-effort tailoring,” he said.

Aurena is being delivered across the entire IFS suite, but it can coexist with the current Enterprise Explorer interface so users can adapt gradually without having to do so overnight. Even people who resist technology changes find this immersive, intuitive experience simple to use, the company promises.

IFS has taken an ‘evergreen’ approach by allowing Aurena to be automatically updated to add new functionality and features as they become available, just like the apps on your phone automatically update themselves. 

But enterprise software is more complex, so the value of remaining evergreen must be balanced against the risk of making changes to something so fundamental to your business, Matthews adds. This is a challenge IFS is working to resolve so customers can benefit from the latest updates without the risk of disruption. 

“It’s critical that you can trust our software to be secure, performing, and available at all times,” said Matthews, adding that this is partly why defences against the top 10 security threats come embedded into its systems.

Aurena also features a help chatbot that users can interact with through Facebook Messenger or Skype to perform tasks or get information. The bot is powered by AI to understand natural language voice and text input and provide responses, and can proactively give users warnings and show them what they need to do.

AI for non-technical people

While IFS had used AI in its products for some time, there was a misconception that AI could solve all your problems, said Bob de Caux, VP of Artificial Intelligence at IFS. 

“It’s not something you can just overlay on your business for success if you don’t plan it properly,” said De Caux. “Machine learning finds complex patterns within large data sets, so the quality of your AI approach is going to be determined by the quality of the data that goes in. It’s this ability to handle complex data sets that lets IFS deliver AI for its customers.”

Any AI solution also has to be easy for non-technical people to use, and a huge number of projects fail because it is seen as a job for scientists, who are unable to communicate its value to their stakeholders. “It has to be truly explainable,” De Caux said.

Predicting what is going to happen, such as understanding the likelihood of a machine breaking down and incorporating that knowledge into the maintenance schedule, can help a company prepare for the future. But AI has to be combined with other technologies, including the Internet of things (IOT), automation and robotics, virtual and augmented reality, and 3D printing on demand to really benefit a business, he said. 

“If you attack any new technology in individual projects, you will fail. Eighty percent of IOT projects today fail because it just becomes this exciting exercise without thinking through what you’re trying to do with it.”

Next year, IFS will introduce an easy-to-use machine learning service designed to address specific business problems, De Caux said. 

The machine learning engine will try different combinations of proprietary and openly available algorithms to devise the best solution to a problem, giving users ‘bespoke’ algorithm combinations that adapt to their business. The technology will have an ‘explainable’ component that tells users why it has reached a particular decision. If a bank refuses a loan application, for example, the reason for the refusal can be clearly explained to the customer.

Using its own solution

IFS itself has been the first customer to use the full Aurena offerings because the company has completed a major project to move its own business on IFS software in the cloud. 

Chief Digital and Information Officer Sal Laher told the conference how IFS had spent six months streamlining and modernising its internal operations and moving onto its own solutions. 

“We walked in your shoes for six months and we found glitches in our methodology, which is great because we fixed them before you got them. We experienced what it’s like to implement and use IFS, and it was great to learn these lessons.”

The project cost $10 million and the company recouped that within the first year. Laher reckoned it would save $148 million over five years and deliver increased productivity, a paperless payroll system and the ability to serve customers better as now it had one view of them, not different views through different systems.

The company has also realised that change management preparations are vital. 

“You have the systems ready and now you need to get the business ready. We did too little too late, so you have to concentrate on that in the implementation as well,” Laher said.

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