Monday, March 29, 2004

Latest from the IFS World conference

I'm in Orlando this week, attending the IFS World conference, giving a presentation on FDA regulations for electronic records and signatures and also sitting on a panel discussion regarding the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, and other regulations on business.

The conference has also given me a chance to catch up on the latest developments with IFS, an global enterprise applications vendor focused mainly on certain verticals, such as aerospace and MRO, heavy industrial, transportation, high tech, and asset-intensive industries such as utilities. Some key points I've picked up so far from the conference:

IFS continues to emphasize its global operations. Although IFS has been making good progress in the U.S., it is not anywhere near as well known as players such as Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft, which it often competes with in its key vertical industries. But in terms of its global reach, the company is a strong presence internationally. The company is headquartered in Sweden, with 79 offices in 49 countries. In addition to its natural strength in Europe, it has also made good progress in Asia. IFS already has a global development center in Sri Lanka. It also has been working with NEC in Japan for over seven years to establish itself in Japan and to pursue the China market, where many Japanese-owned companies have been setting up offshore operations. During the conference, IFS announced that NEC has taken an equity position in IFS and now owns 10% of its shares. This will allow NEC to more directly invest in IFS functionality for the Asia market and expand IFS's implementation capabilities.

IFS illustrates the extent to which enterprise applications software has become a global market: here is a Swedish vendor, with a development center in Sri Lanka, holding its international conference in the United States, making an announcement about its partnership with NEC in Japan to take advantage of market opportunities in China.

IFS extends its component architecture. Since the late 1990s, IFS has been developing its systems on a component model, allowing individual modules (actually, objects or components) to be implemented and upgraded separately from one another. The architecture, known as Foundation One, allows new technologies to be swapped in and out of the technology stack without causing major disruption of the client base. It also allows an easier path for interfacing or integrating with other system.

In the conference, IFS described its extension to this architecture, which it now designates as a service oriented component architecture (SOCA). The extensions add a layer of messaging via XML and web services to allow other applications to integrate easily with IFS, allowing "composite applications" to be deployed from multiple vendors. IFS contrasted its approach to that of other vendors that try to lock in companies to a single technology, such as Oracle and Microsoft, which basically own the entire technology stack from database, through tools, to applications. In this regard, IFS's approach is similar to SAP's, with its Netweaver technology, although IFS points out that certain elements of SAP's technology stack, such as its application server and ABAP language, are proprietary to SAP. In contrast, IFS uses 100% publicly available tools and technologies, as illustrated by its offering a choice of IBM Websphere, Oracle Application Server, and even JBOSS, an open source application server.

IFS recognizes that its approach makes it easy for clients to implement other systems besides IFS. But as IFS president Michael Hallen said in his keynote address, "If we make it easy for you to replace us, you will be more likely to keep us." I think this is an enlightened view.

My only complaint regarding IFS is its low profile, perhaps keeping with its Scandinavian roots. There are only about 30 members of the press and analyst community here, counting me. The company has some good stories to tell, such as its joint venture with Lockheed Martin. It needs to get the word out.

Related posts:
IFS wants a piece of the JDE installed base

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