World turmoil and new industrial revolution fuels blue collar ERP market, says IFS

The role of manufacturing, supply chain and military ERP business software is ensured as a result of socio-political turmoil and a new industrial revolution, according to one CEO in that market space.

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The role of manufacturing, supply chain and military ERP business software is ensured as a result of socio-political turmoil and a new industrial revolution, according to one CEO in that market space.

The ongoing civil war in Syria, attacks on North African and Middle Eastern oil installations, the Boston Marathon bombing and the attack on the Nairobi shopping centre, means that ERP vendor IFS says it will be spending more on developing its software for the defence and homeland security sectors.

At the IFS World Conference for around 900 customers and partners in Barcelona this week, IFS CEO Alastair Sorbie said these tragic events weren't the only spur to ensure an expanding market for ERP in the blue collar and defence industries.

Sorbie said: "There is a perfect storm brewing for our market, you can add the socio-political aspects to a new industrial revolution driven by the internet of things, machine to machine computing and 3D printing - last week Manchester police discovered that gun parts had been produced using 3D printing."

He added: "In our industries, so far only basic parts have been widely produced for products using 3D printing but that is about to rapidly change."

Sorbie said that when you throw in the internet of things and the machine to machine connectivity that will bring, there will be even more demand for business systems to manage the processes and the large amounts of data produced.

IFS competes against the likes of much bigger players like SAP, Microsoft and Oracle in the ERP space but it has found some real niche segments for its products in the military and aerospace, oil production, energy generation and manufacturing sectors.

IFS concentrates in the ERP areas of service asset management, manufacturing, supply chain and project planning, and says it is still capitalising on the launch of its updated product suite last year - IFS 7.5 to IFS 8.

It showed off a number of customers who had or who were in the process of upgrading to IFS 8 at the Barcelona conference, and announced that the applications were now available to use in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

Unlike the likes of SAP though, IFS can't comprehensively address all the key industry technology trends on its own, and is looking for industry partners to serve its customers in areas like mobile, social media and big data/analytics.

IFS went to Microsoft to provide cloud capacity for its applications, but they are not certified to run in the Amazon cloud for instance.

Asked whether IFS was at a disadvantage against the likes of SAP, when it perhaps had a queue of customers wanting to tackle the cloud, social, mobile and big data through integrating once with a one-stop ERP solution that could do more, Sorbie said the nature of most of IFS' customers meant having more native IFS modules wasn't necessary.

He said: "In the recent past we've acquired smaller companies to address specific functions, but we don't want to get in the Oracle territory of buying large operations and then not quickly integrating them [like when Oracle acquired Peoplesoft and JD Edwards for instance] into our product suite."

IFS CTO Dan Matthews added: "We're not looking to develop the best social media engine or the leading in-memory data analytics system, but we can offer smaller systems with what we've got and what we're developing."

On the mobile front IFS announced it was one of the first ERP providers to offer its applications on the Samsung Knox secure smartphone system. The Knox mobile device management system (MDM) allows companies to prevent business data leaking from the devices carried by staff under bring your own device (BYOD) policies.

The Android-based Knox competes against the likes of BlackBerry's new MDM which does the same thing.

On the big data front, Matthews said: "Systems have been available for years to control and secure the massive amounts of data generated by fighter aircraft, for instance, but now the challenge is to scale things down to a forklift truck at the right price, this is the challenge for our industry now."

Social media for many of IFS' clients is a thorny issue. Military customers and oil companies don't want their staff posting about problems on Twitter and Facebook, but they are considering internal social communications platforms.

Corporate social media company Yammer, which is owned by Microsoft, spoke at the conference, but IFS is now trying to promote its own scaled down social platform in the form of IFS Talk. This is an internal messaging system that allows companies to save and manage posts and link them to future problem solving in the production and supply chain processes.

So while IFS isn't a giant in the ERP space, it is doing its level best to protect its niche position.

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