Marco Verdonschot – Managing Director, IFS Benelux
The managing director of IFS Benelux highlights how the company is providing agile solutions to the oil and gas community with a multiplicity of advantages – being user friendly, built upon a strong foundation of industry knowledge, and integration a strong global approach. He details how IFS Applications promotes innovation and enables businesses to work more competitively and efficiently.
IFS was started in Sweden in 1984, in three decades the company has evolved from a local Scandinavian company into a leading global enterprise. The Benelux office was opened in 1998. In those two decades, how has the company’s focus evolved over time and what have been the main achievements?
Initially when we were first starting out, IFS lacked strategic focus and essentially targeted any client that needed an ERP system. As we started to establish ourselves in the market more, we recognized first hand the importance of differentiating IFS from its competitors such as SAP and Baan. In that regard, given our backgrounds, we began specializing in manufacturing, project, and supply-chain management software solutions and developing core competences in project delivery and implementation. Over time, our team of expert consultants has gained a reputation in understanding the full scope our clients’ industries and business models, and subsequently creating comprehensive and cost-efficient solutions that cater specifically to their needs.
Currently, we’re in the process of achieving one of our greatest milestones through a project with Royal IHC, one of the leading Dutch providers of design and construction activities in the specialist maritime sector. In line with the “One IHC” vision, IFS is helping to increase business agility, transparency, and uniformity by consolidating 17 different ERP platforms into one—IFS Applications. The initiative focuses on rolling out one single, global ERP backbone on IFS Applications across 37 operating units worldwide in just two and a half years. By consolidating their IT environment, we’re aiming to streamline Royal IHC’s processes across its national and international value chain. These business-critical solutions will ultimately provide the company with unique strategic advantage among its peers, and we look forward the completion of the project in 2017.
IFS has developed into a true global player with a turnover in 2014 of approximately USD 365 million (quarter 1 2015, 94 million). Can you give us an overview of the company’s operations in the Netherlands and the strategic importance of the region?
The Netherlands serves great importance for IFS. Especially across the maritime and oil and gas industries, which represent 70 percent of our portfolio, many companies, and their respective subsidiaries, are currently headquartered here in the Netherlands. With an increasingly globalized economy, whether it’s a local or multi-national Dutch-based company, competitors across the country are constantly looking for ways to optimize their systems and processes to more effectively compete abroad—consequently illustrating Benelux as a key growth driver for the company’s global operations. We may not have contracts with the Shells or the BPs, but we’ve managed to secure business with some other very prominent players in the Dutch maritime and oil and gas sectors. For example, we’re currently performing a release upgrade from IFS Applications 7 to IFS Applications 9 for Heerema Fabrication Group, one of the worldwide leading Dutch marine contractors in the offshore oil and gas industry. By doing this, we’re able to offer more core functionalities for their business, change the layered application architecture, and collectively improved cost efficiencies. So as you can see, providing innovative and consolidated IT solutions is the forefront of our operations.
IFS is a leader in providing business software to companies that strive to be a more competitive. How does IFS assess companies and create a plan of action that makes companies more competitive?
A traditionally conservative market, the oil and gas industry has evolved in recent years to adapt to the slump in oil prices. Such conditions have eventually forced companies to implement efficiency measures and cost control initiatives. In realizing these challenges, companies have not only begun streamlining processes from an operational standpoint, but also from an IT point of view. That’s where IFS has experienced the most market opportunities. We’ve been able to provide our expertise in areas of enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM), and Enterprise Service management (ESS)—ultimately creating custom-tailored solutions that help clients operate more competitively from an efficiency perspective.
How do you go about promoting your technology in a conservative industry such as oil and gas? Furthermore, how do you convince your customers to invest in software solutions in light of challenging market conditions?
When marketing to such a long-standing industry that has been traditionally inert to change, we have found that the concerns regarding the large upfront investments of overhauling an existing IT system are usually warrantless when our clients come to realize the flexibility, practicality, and cost benefits of an effectively integrated IT infrastructure. The fact that we’ve been conducting business in the Netherlands for almost two decades now with some of the biggest names in the industry including Royal IHC, Hertel, Heerema, and Damen has also bolstered our credibility. Additionally, we’ve recently launched an educational campaign entitled “No Surprises,” which focuses on the importance of selecting and implementing enterprise software that can evolve with changing business and market needs.
With the Netherlands transforming into more of a service hub than a gas producing nation, what types of services and products is IFS offering to its Benelux client base to ensure future sustainability?
Our portfolio of products includes an expansive range of targeted areas including, but not limited to CSR, quality management, eco footprint management, and export control. To effectively keep up with changes in industry standards and trends, IFS has a Center of Excellence Oil & Gas that is responsible for researching and developing increasingly innovative tools that accommodate the demands of the market. Whether it’s a foreign offshore client looking to comply with international regulations or a mid-size downstream company seeking a software solution to assess CO2 emissions, IFS’s products and services can help facilitate the coordination and standardization of data for effective collaboration across the entire supply chain.
You have been working in the company for close to two decades since right after the establishment of the Benelux office in 1999. What would you like to achieve in the next three years?
First off, in the coming years, I look forward to expanding the company’s presence in the oil and gas industry by not only our own means, but also in conjunction with our recently signed partner, Deloitte—a professional services provider that also exhibits extensive capabilities in this market segment. By leveraging both companies’ industry knowledge and global capacity, we’ve created a unique competitive advantage and look forward to bringing unparalleled value to our clients. Lastly, I would like to remind current and prospective clients that the core of IFS is not centered on providing off-the-shelf software, but delivering quality solutions that effectively support businesses.