IFS Touch Apps: at the Intersection of Two Driving Forces

I spoke with the folks at IFS today about their new IFS Touch Apps, which were announced at their customer summit last month. The first two applications in the series will go into early adopter stage after the summer holidays. Being headquartered in Sweden, those holidays are a bit longer and more pronounced than for those of us here in North America.  These two (Trip Tracker for travel expense reporting and Notify Me for approvals of purchases, time, invoices and expenses) are envisioned to be the first of what IFS hopes to be a steady stream of such applications anticipated for 2012. Designed for the Android and iPhone devices and delivered via the IFS Cloud, they will run within Microsoft’s Windows Azure public cloud.

During our conversation, IFS CTO Dan Matthews mentioned these new applications will connect back to not only the current 8.0 release of IFS applications, but also prior releases back to 7.5. While its customers are anxious to take advantage of new technology, and indeed recognize the power of new mobile gadgets, they, like any ERP users, tend to be reluctant to go through the time, cost and effort required of an ERP upgrade. Right now IFS has no plans to go any further back, but demand from its customers (if it arises) could affect that decision in the future.

So that got me to thinking about the real impetus for going mobile today and I realized two different drivers were converging.

You hear the phrase “the consumerization of IT” a lot these days. It is really about the impact consumer technology is having on the work force and the enterprise. Indeed much of this is driven by youth that grew up surrounded by visual and audio stimuli that couldn’t even be imagined in my “youthful” days. So I use the term “youth” rather loosely, just like I use the word “kid” loosely. Most everyone under the age of 40 is pretty much a kid to me. No offense intended. The technology kids carry around today in their pockets is more powerful than the first computer I ever programmed and its footprint was at least 50 square feet in a specially air-conditioned room. And that didn’t include the key punch machines.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a Luddite when it comes to technology clipped onto my waist, partly because these devices have become just so pervasive. My personal mobile device is a Blackberry. I haven’t started carrying an iPad or a Playbook or other tablet simply because they don’t do everything I need to do. If I can’t leave my laptop at home, I’m not about to carry yet another device. These things are supposed to lighten my load, not increase it. As a result of just my laptop and Blackberry though, I, like other business people, am virtually constantly connected except when I am asleep, am staying at our lake house in Maine or when I fly. I for one am just as glad that the airplanes I typically fly don’t have wifi and we just haven’t bothered to connect our house in Maine (no phone or TV either). And unlike some others I know, I actually know how to turn these devices off.

But as a prior corporate executive and now as a business owner, the line between my business and personal life has continued to blur and sometimes blend. While the connection through the mobile device can intrude on my personal life, it also helps limit the disruption by making the connection that much easier and more efficient. It is actually the productivity gains that draw me to mobile devices.

But the mobile device alone doesn’t do it for me, because texting and calling my BFF’s aren’t why I carry them. I carry them to get work done in a quick and efficient matter. This is exactly what IFS had in mind when they designed Trip Tracker and Notify Me. If indeed I had Trip Tracker I wouldn’t have spent more than an hour and a half this morning gathering, searching for, organizing and recording all my travel expenses accumulated during the recent “conference season.” Instead, they would have been all collected, digitized and organized for me even before I arrived back home from each trip.

In my current situation, Notify Me wouldn’t be of that much use to me. But it sure would have been useful in my last job in terms of approving expense reports, paid time off and invoices to be paid. Where those activities involved enterprise applications, I would have had to fire up my laptop, get a wireless connection, VPN in and only then would I have been able to approve items. And indeed sometimes getting through hotel firewalls, dealing with low bandwidth and then getting through our parent company’s firewall was more effort than I wanted to expend if I was going to be back in the office within a day or two. Just a few clicks on my mobile device would have been infinitely easier. Of course, I would have to convince IFS to provide the same support for my Blackberry as they do for Android and iPhone, but perhaps some of their customers will take up that cause.

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