The UK word from IFS Connect? Less cloud “fiefdoms”, more young professionals

IFS Connect with CEO Darren Roos

IFS Connect rolled into Birmingham for its UK&I iteration, as held last week in the modern and agile venue of Millennium Point. Arguably those same descriptors could be used to describe IFS – indeed, in his fireside chat, CEO Darren Roos argued that the word businesses should keep in mind this year is agility.

The chief exec underlined his recommendation by passionately arguing against enterprises aspiring only to efficiency. In a press briefing afterwards, Roos explained that planning for efficiency results in a “blind spot for opportunities”. 

“Agility effectively means we need to make savings,” the CEO continued, “but we still have to be open to the idea there will still be opportunities – and those opportunities won’t necessarily have been there prior to the downturn.”

Efficiency meant deals had been “slipping” for IFS last year, only for traction to pick up and help with a robust Q1 for the company. In Roos’ view, companies in the UK, Ireland and around the globe have told themselves it’s time “to get on with our lives”.

IFS Connect saw honesty on the state of the UK market; Brexit was mentioned by both Roos and managing director for UK and Ireland Alan Laing on stage, perhaps suggesting it’s not much of a dirty word anymore in British business.

Outside of geopolitics, the CEO is more worried about “fiefdoms” and where “fear versus reality” whenever CIOs push back against companies like IFS to “protect the cloud teams running their data centers”. This comes with an anecdote from a former role at a previous company wherein Roos met with an unnamed UK customer who said their company could “never” put an application with their employee and customer data in the cloud. 

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I know for a fact these guys run on SuccessFactors!” he laughs.

As Roos reminded me, though, 30 percent of IFS customers deploy on premise to this day, but the landscape continues to change post COVID. 

“People were running their own data center and their own engineers, and all of a sudden they couldn’t go into the office. You saw the growth of the hyperscalers over the last five years – a lot of stuff has moved into the cloud.”

Speaking on the hyperscalers and other competition, Roos remarks how IBM, Oracle and SAP are “certainly not focused” on enterprise asset management (EAM), and how IFS is the only enterprise that both offers cloud capabilities alongside on premise to asset-heavy customers.

“Today we’re the largest EAM vendor, and we’re the fastest growing,” said Roos, who a few days later proudly posted results from a Gartner report ranking IFS as first in 2022 global EAM market share (20.2%) by revenue for the second consecutive year.

“IFS has been persistent in this space, and that work has paid off,” Gartner vice president analyst Chris Pang tells ERP Today. “They are offering that additional choice (to public cloud) which is more tailored for their end customers who tend to be in locations where connectivity is not great.”

Can IFS connect with the next wave?

Speaking with UK&I MD Laing later in the day at IFS Connect, I learned how IFS’ prospect is pulling in UK customers mainly in construction, manufacturing and renewables.

“We’re getting a lot of good, net new customers in renewables,” he elaborates. “Also oil and gas, but that’s kind of adjunctive to renewables. We’ve always had the EAM capabilities, so the majority of businesses are all about assets.”

While hailing from Scotland, Laing – whose keynote speech saw him dressed in a kilt and trainers – resides in Dublin, and, by extension, the European Union. As such, in our chat I narrow in on the macroeconomics of Brexit and am given an interesting thought to chew on the difficult race for talent in business today. The UK chief believes that IFS, like many other tech companies today, needs to focus on hiring graduates and apprentices to offset the aging population. In other words, IFS needs more young enterprise professionals, the sort ERP Today champions with its own network and awards ceremony.

“We need to enable and train the next wave of ‘IFSers’. That’s the race for talent. It’s challenging across the board, but in the UK it’s made worse. I don’t want to get political, but Brexit and getting people to come in and get them Visas and stuff is… challenging.”

The pause Laing leaves before the last word in his answer is telling. When asked though if circumstances are therefore less challenging in Dublin, the MD again gives an interesting balance against the hype.

“It certainly feels like there is more positivity there. People are a bit more confident, with the benefit of still being part of the EU, the benefit of being close to North America,” he began.

The problem now in Laing’s view is that Dublin accommodation has become too expensive for young talent – and the tax treatment is not as attractive as it used to be.

“The younger influx has slowed down, and that’s because a lot of these companies are re-evaluating their Irish position as…some of the benefits they had in agreements with the EU in terms of withholding tax, they’re going away. 

“You know, at the time I was part of Oracle when we built the Oracle center there, which was ahead of the rest of them,” Laing continues. “It put a lot of people in Ireland from all the European countries and made it a center – it was much more than a call center; it was a way of developing talent at a time when Oracle had to compete for the talent.

“The biggest challenge is finding a way of maintaining the youth they brought in early on with the LinkedIns, the Facebooks, Google.”

Ireland therefore may not be the European paradise it once seemed in contrast to the ‘fiefdom’ of the United Kingdom. Time will tell whether agility returns in the economic landscape by the time IFS Connect 2024 rolls around, but Gartner’s Pang believes IFS doesn’t have to be too concerned at the moment when it comes to the talent race.

“It’s not too much of a worry as IFS is spread out across mainland Europe, with a big development center in Sri Lanka and a base in the US as well. Whilst I think having local talent and bringing people into the UK is more challenging, IFS can still offset that somewhat.”