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Collaborative Commerce: ERP, CRM, e-Proc, and SCM Unite! A Series Study: IFS - Part 1 of 2

Written By: Randy Garland
Published On: October 22 2001

Collaborative Commerce: ERP, CRM, e-Proc, and SCM Unite!

A Series Study: IFS - Part 1 of 2
R. Garland - October 22, 2001

Introduction 

In the early 90's, ERP came of age. Everyone had to have the functionality ERP packages promised. Since then, as Web and Internet technologies have matured, CRM on the front end, and e-Procurement and Supply Chain Management on the back end, these packages have come into their own.

Now in 2001, the catchphrase is "Collaborative Commerce," where we unite all of the above elements into one coherent system within and between organizations. This is the Big Kahuna, the zero latency, fully transparent, 360 degree exposure that is the stuff systems integrators dream of. Is it here? Are the technologies mature enough? Simple enough?

This, one of a series of articles on Collaborative Commerce (C-Commerce) takes a look at the effort IFS is making in the push. This is a two-part article: The first part focuses on details of IFS, the company and its product, and the second part discusses TEC's analysis of their solutions and TEC's recommendations for their use.

Overview of IFS 

Industrial & Financial Systems, IFS, was founded in 1983 in Linkoping, Sweden. In 1990, the company released the first version of its flagship product, IFS Applications, primarily a non-GUI, ERP system. Its initial geographic marketing niche was Europe.

In 1993, IFS released its first product with a graphical user interface, and in 1994, IFS began an intense development project to transfer IFS Applications to object-oriented technology. The first result of the effort was the 1997 release of IFS Applications 98. IFS underwent a major development push in 2000 to upgrade its software across the board, continuing its focus on componentized technology and increasing its web-enablement, while expanding its suite of products to cover territory much more broad than ERP. The effort culminated in the release of IFS Applications 2001, released internationally in August 2000, though not available in the U.S. until March of 2001. It next major upgrade is IFS Applications 2002, due in the coming months.

IFS was largely unknown to the U.S. until 1995, when they began marketing programs with the establishment of a subsidiary in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Today, IFS has sales in 43 countries, and subsidiaries or third-party support in 26 countries, with nine offices in the U.S. The product has been translated into 22 languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian. The company has over 3000 customers and approximately 120,000 users worldwide.

Based on conversations with John Bridges, the VP of Marketing for North America, Chris Jensen of Jensen Market Relations, and Brian Johnson, former CTO of IFS, TEC learned that IFS believes it is the fastest-growing supplier of enterprise-class business applications worldwide, bar none. In Fiscal Year 2000, the company enjoyed 74% growth in revenue licensing dollars over 1999, considerably outpacing other major ERP-based rivals such as Oracle (~50% growth), PeopleSoft (~50% growth), J.D. Edwards (~35% growth), SAP (~30% growth), and Baan (in negative territory) [Source: IFS]

IFS Technology Approach 

IFS Applications 2001 represents a very focused "componentized" approach to both its software development, and its software sales. It contains over 60 software components, each component representing a particular function across the broad spectrum of what IFS calls the extended enterprise, which is a term analogous to Collaborative Commerce. They have organized the components under eight umbrella categories, including: IFS eBusiness, IFS Financials, IFS Front Office, IFS Distribution, IFS Manufacturing, IFS Human Resources, IFS Maintenance, and IFS Engineering. Across these eight umbrella categories, they have additional functionality in Portal, Project Management, Quality Management, Document Management, and Business Intelligence.

The Logical View

Seen from a logical point of view, IFS talks about a five-layered approach to enterprise applications: the first layer is the data source, or database that stores and manages the data; the second tier consists of Business Entities that know how to store, retrieve, and modify their own data, but contain no logic for how the data is to be used; the third tier contains Business Activities that contain the actual business logic for workflow; the fourth tier is the Business Process layer, which represents the link between business practices and the corresponding system configuration, and; at the top is the fifth layer, Presentation, containing a number of similarly-designed and easy to navigate user interfaces.

The logical organization may appear to be complicated, but the company's philosophy is that, by encapsulating functionality within modules, by layers, with clearly defined interfaces that other modules (and even other applications, including those of third parties) can readily access, IFS Applications presents unprecedented flexibility for the customer. Customers can choose to implement as many or as few components as they need, or as their company can absorb, avoiding the so-called "big bang" approach to enterprise application development that is considerably out of vogue these days (in large part due to both cost and length of implementation time). The applications are driven by business processes, which, by the nature of encapsulation, can be changed quite easily, driving changes both up to the presentation layer and down toward the data layer, in short order.

IFS Foundation 1 V5 is their "lifecycle management tool," or environment for designing and building the component blocks into enterprise applications.

Figure 1.

The Physical View

The physical view of the IFS technical environment is essentially three-tiered: it relies primarily on an Oracle database at the first tier (although IBM has announced coming DB2 support, and Microsoft's SQLServer can be used in certain areas for additional functionality, as described below). At the middle tier, the application server level, the company relies on primarily on Apache's Tomcat freeware, although it also supports Bea's Weblogic. At the presentation layer, many, though not all of the components, are web-enabled. Essentially, the company splits its web-enablement between those components which are customer- or supplier-facing (web-enabled), and those that are used strictly internally (client-server, or "thick client").

The user interface is primarily written in Java; the business-logic supports CORBA for database and application independence.

IFS Breadth of Functionality 

Let's take a look at just how complete a picture the IFS Applications 2001 suite draws for a customer looking for a Collaborative Commerce solution. We'll study some of its offerings by its "umbrella" categories (for full descriptions, please contact the company or visit their web site at: http://www.ifsworld.com)

IFS eBusiness
IFS collects most of their web-enabled components under the eBusiness umbrella. These components include:

Enterprise Storefront and Web Store - Web Store is IFS' mid-market solution, OEM'd from Intershop; Enterprise Storefront is home-grown, based on CORBA technology, and includes on-the-fly product and pricing configuration; quotes; order processing, and; automated email updates of order status. Given IFS' international bearing, they naturally support multiple currencies and recognize regional tax laws. Enterprise Storefront supports Java Beans for additional functionality. Note: In IFS Applications 2002, only the OEM version from Intershop will be available.

Contact Center - Standard customer support application, although lacking such advanced web-based features as Live Chat, Collaborative Web Browsing, Call Me Now, Message Boards, or Chat Rooms. The company claims some of this type of support is coming in IFS Applications 2002.

Wireless Service - All IFS applications are WAP and WML-enabled, enabling mobile users to access their IFS components from wireless laptops, PDA's, or cell phones, in real time.

eProcurement - Essentially a webified version of Procurement features, with hooks to their Marketplace solutions.

Collaboration Portals - Provide customer, employee, and supplier with personalized, role-based interfaces to IFS applications. Includes "portlet" technology, whereby other information sources from within and without a company can be "windowed" and presented on the same screen to the user. There are over 250 pre-built portlets, and the portals support auto-refresh.

IFS Front Office

Field Service and Operations - Offers service organizations with the ability to execute and invoice field service tasks, as well as manage business relations between companies by facilitating contract agreements and pricing. Web-enabled.

Sales and Marketing components include Proposal Generation, Sales Configurator, Sales & Marketing, and Marketing Encyclopedia. IFS purchased a company called Exactium, an Israeli company, in 1999, for its rules-based engine for sales configuration (it has since sold Exactium to Pivotal, retaining rights to use the technology), and EMS Inc., an American ERP and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) systems supplier, for rules-based product configuration. They've combined those forces under the Sales Configurator component.

IFS Financials

Includes modules that cover AP/AR, General Ledger, and Fixed Assets.

IFS Distribution

Includes modules for maintaining Inventory, doing Purchasing and Invoicing, and handling Customer Orders

IFS Manufacturing

A key area of focus for IFS. Contains modules that enable Demand Planning; Constraint-based Scheduling; Costing; Shop Floor Reporting; CRP/MRP; Shop Orders; MTO (Make To Order), CTO (Configure To Order), and Repetitive production methods; and Master Scheduling

IFS Human Resources

Covers such areas as Payroll processing, Expense Reporting, Time and Attendance Tracking, Project Tracking, Recruitment, and Employee Development programs.

IFS Maintenance

Modules for the monitoring and maintenance of equipment, and scheduling of repairs

IFS Engineering

Modules for the design of Process, Instrumentation, Electricals, Plant Layout and Piping, as well as modules for Project Management and PDM Configuration.

Other Pieces

Components that fall under all these product umbrellas include Document Management, and what IFS calls Business Performance, which is more commonly called Business Intelligence or reporting. Document Management is essentially a flat-file library with a layer of templates, version control and release management, as well as OCR support. It makes documents available via the browser. The Business Performance module consists of a homegrown Datawarehouse, and bundles Crystal Reports from Crystal Decisions. It includes over 300 pre-built reports. It includes Dashboard (semi-realtime) reporting by OEM'ing ProClarity's solution (ProClarity was formerly known as Knosys). You can have OLAP capability only if you run the Datawarehouse on SQLServer 2000 and employ that database's built-in OLAP and reporting capabilities.

This is the end of Part 1. Part 2 will discuss TEC's analysis of IFS' solutions, and TEC's recommendations for their use.

 
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