Considering the IFS options: upgrade or re-implementation?
It is fair to say that nothing stays the same for long. Companies, adapt, grow and change, but is your ERP solution, the backbone of your business, able to keep up? Eventually, every company will reach the point where their existing solution is no longer suitable. They will have to consider the cost implications and associated benefits of either making a change or remaining ‘as is’. The key question all companies faced with this dilemma should consider is - just how much change is required and how will you cope with that change?
Failure to keep pace with change
Once a company has implemented their enterprise software solution, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. A project such as this, is, after all, a huge undertaking. As a result, there can often be a tendency to want to stay on the deployed version for as long as possible to avoid another period of disruption. However, the desire to stay on the same version carries with it four significant downsides in exchange for that sense of stability.
- The company foregoes the new functionality and business process improvements available in the latest version.
- The further away the clients get from the latest version, the more complex and costly the process of getting back on the latest version becomes.
- The risk of falling foul of support agreements increases, especially on associated interconnected systems and infrastructure.
- Business changes need to be shoehorned into the existing ERP configuration.
In short, being locked into one software version will tend to intensify disruption and the cost of the upgrade over the long term. All too often, by the time a company does eventually look to upgrade or re-implement, the accumulation of customisations and the introduction of new, wider functionality adds complexity, time and cost on to the eventual project. And in the meantime, the company misses out on the new features, usability improvements and enhancements inherent in new versions.
There are two options available when it comes to updating your ERP solution: upgrade or re-implement. Knowing which of the two options is best for your business can be a tough decision. The reasons behind the need for change can be countless and will differ for every company.
Why might an upgrade or re-implementation be necessary?
- Your ERP vendor may no longer be supporting your version of the product or supporting products (e.g. an Oracle database or some other legacy software in your systems estate).
- Your company may have grown or shrunk significantly and / or the operating processes have changed so much that your system(s) no longer supports the operation effectively.
- The system may no longer be able to cope with the transaction volume it is having to handle.
- Your company may require new functionality that isn’t available within your current solution or you might wish to adopt new processes which are not supported by the existing solution.
- You are limited from taking advantage of technological advances such as IoT, mobility or SaaS which may help costs savings or reaching / supporting new markets.
- You might be looking to tidy or archive your data. Often, companies use an upgrade or re-implementation as an opportunity to address this area.
- You might be looking to consolidate your estate, i.e. reduce collective license costs, increase process automation, improve data sharing / consolidated reporting, etc.
- You might be looking for an opportunity to consider and take advantage of modern delivery topologies, the cloud vs. on-premise vs. hosted.
- You are seeking to eliminate or minimise modifications to reduce overhead costs.
The options explained
Cooper Software has a great deal of expertise in providing the advisory support and has the delivery experience to help existing IFS Applications customers understand each option and make the right decision for the needs of their business.
As the name suggests, this is where your existing database is upgraded. It is effectively turned into new software, by applying a set(s) of scripts which update the support database with all the new views, API’s and tables – this can be very complex, especially if the version you are on is very old. Essentially, this means that the database has to go through a series of upgrades – executing the sets of scripts to promote the database one version at a time until you get to the latest version. For instance, in the case of IFS, if you are on version 2004, the upgrade scripts must to go to 7.5 then to 8 then to 9.
The scripts are based on a standard set which are run and then re-run, edited along the way to match the client environment, setup and needs (i.e. rewriting any existing modifications). The end result is a master script that will be run at the point of the upgrade switch on (usually the process starts on a Friday night and is run over the weekend) when the scripts will be started and will convert, line by line, the database in to the new version. The scripts that are run usually include a level of database optimization – but much of this will sit with the client testing phase in IT2 (the third and final test of these upgrade scripts).
Benefits of this approach:
- All data is included in the system from day one, this transfers the risk of getting your data from the old system to the new, from the client to the vendor.
- If the data is in relatively good shape then this reduces the time that needs to be spent to ‘clean it up’.
- As you are exchanging ‘like for like’, this provides the following advantages:
- The process can take 7 months to complete and involves less risk (typical timescale is 12 months but as the end result will be ‘like for like’ with your current system, continuous improvement iterations need to be considered).
- More prescriptive and net change training is relatively short.
On the whole:
- Less internal and external disruption.
- Less employee re-training.
- Less change management.
- Drawbacks of this approach:
- Often doesn’t represent an adequate long-term solution and it doesn’t provide transformational benefits, although minor rapid tactical improvements can be achieved.
- Where the data to be transferred is large, then the physical act of copying the data can be complex and time-consuming - which will increase the costs charged by the vendor.
- Where the current solution has lots of modifications, this increases the complexity, time and cost and is less likely to deliver a completely modification free outcome.
- An upgrade can only be delivered with a big bang approach rather than incrementally; which will be a disadvantage if you are trying to bring on new companies or sites, especially if these entities are in a different country.
- A degree of system downtime is required, depending on the database size and number of version jumps, this can be considerable.
This is where you take the latest build of software, a clean instance, turn it on and then migrate data in from the old system into the new. Here the business is starting with a blank environment. This provides an opportunity to remove obsolete processes and practices, cleanse historical data to migrate over, utilising all areas of the system from go live. The benefit of this approach would be a shortened implementation time and the ability to provide a ‘green field’ implementation, free from any legacy process issues. By adopting this approach, new business practices would need to be created and documented across the company. A re-implementation affects the whole business and represents a complete change in how the company works.
Benefits of this approach:
- Reconfiguration of existing processes provides an opportunity to correct mistakes and optimise processes.
- Opportunity to clean up existing database and archive legacy data.
- Phased approach as opposed to ‘all or nothing’.
- It can be achieved with no system downtime.
- There is no lead time to getting the software, currently with an upgrade there is 3 months and you are locked into the phasing that can be delivered by the vendor rather than your own timetable.
- Client has much more control of both the timescales and costs.
Drawbacks of this approach:
- Implementation in terms of both cost and time is generally higher.
- Setup time is high.
- Data conversion and migration is required, which can introduce more risk into the project.
- A larger, specialist team is required and typically a partner will be required – it will however reduce the need to work with the vendor team.
- Can be difficult to achieve buy-in from both top executives and wider company largely due to the wide reaching nature of the change that is being sought.Retraining of users can be more significant.
But which option is right for my business?
Any upgrade or re-implementation project has a degree of cost attached and this should be considered. In terms of selecting the best option, in some instances, the choice is a simple one. If a company is only two versions behind, an upgrade might be the obvious solution, for example, IFS Apps 7.5 to IFS Apps 9. For companies running on older versions, which may no longer be supported, a re-implementation can often make more sense.
The following ‘decision tree’ gives guidance as to the key questions a company should ask themselves when they are planning to update their existing IFS solution. The answer to these questions will often determine the best option for the company and from this, an appropriate action plan can be created, alongside a partner who has extensive knowledge of the upgrade and re-implementation process.
How Cooper Software can help
As an IFS partner, Cooper Software is experienced in all versions of IFS Applications and can advise on the best solution for your individual business, providing support for your IFS upgrade or re-implementation at any stage. Our consultants can support you during any initial discussions and planning, to help create a robust business case and then a detailed project plan. We can define the scope of the project and the work involved, taking responsibility for a number of aspects, giving you peace of mind that you have expert resource to support the change. We can continue to support you post upgrade or re-implementation via our 24/7 service desk, staffed by specialist consultants.
If you are currently considering updating your existing IFS solution and would like further detail on the options available, we would be happy to help. Contact us on +44 (0)1383 840700 or fill in the online form.