Cloud computing isn’t new, but it's mature enough now that it looms large over every aspect of manufacturing. Darren Roos has felt how big a role the cloud can play to plant operations as president of SAP's cloud ERP business, which he helped construct and launch in 2016. Now the native South African has taken the reigns of Sweden-based IFS, a company of 3,500 that creates and manages component-based software for ERP, enterprise asset management and field service management. It's a smaller company, and retiring CEO Alastair Sorbie had been in place for 12 years before Roos took over April 1. We asked Roos what made him decide to lead IFS, how the cloud and IoT are impacting business, and what's it like to be the new guy at work.
IFS' New CEO, Darren Roos
IW: What made you want to move to IFS?
It’s one thing to be leading a large and critical business, but being a CEO is different. The opportunity to come into a company where I could drive the organizational strategy for the whole group, rather than five businesses, obviously has a big appeal. IFS seemed like a great opportunity for me to leverage the experience I had at Software AG and SAP while staying in enterprise software, ERP and in Europe [he lives in London]. These were all good opportunities.
IW: And what specifically about IFS made you choose them?
IFS has phenomenal customer satisfaction scores. The level of customer feedback, the number of customers who are referenceable and the customer satisfaction scores they’ve posted are a real testament to the quality of technology and the level of accountability and ownership that IFS has taken in ensuring that customers see success from projects. The scores are significantly higher than most of its peers. If your customers love you and want to talk to you, it creates a dialog you don’t get from conventional supplier relationships.
The technology is also an intriguing space. IFS has a presence in ERP, aviation and defense, and is a market leader in field service management. I think the combination of a large loyal customer base in ERP is a spring board to grow the cloud area of field service management, which is quite a unique opportunity.
IW: That seems to be the trend, all the segments of advanced tech finally coming together.
You've got the convergence of three trends playing a big role here. One is the cloud which gives us the ability to constantly innovate. In the past, customers deployed applications on premise, upgrading only every few years. This restricted the ability to bring new functionality to bear in the customer environment. Now the cloud allows you to innovate consistently. The second, IoT, is the concept of hyper connected devices. It provides awareness across all customer assets whether on a manufacturing site, an oil rig or airplane. And third is the big move to automation. The effect AI is having on the supply chain is profound.
They’re all inexplicably linked. Without the interconnected devices, you wouldn’t have the insights required for predictive maintenance. Without the cloud you wouldn’t be able to bring in new automation capabilities and refresh as you need to. They are all playing a really profound role in how customers are using our technology.
IW: And there are so many new ways to get data in this environment. What do you think of how wearables and other new tech fits in?
Think of smartglasses, drones, or RFID tags. The fact that these can be integrated into your ERP system and the data generated can be turned into insights and then into action, is resulting in a demand for more data. The data has always been there, but wasn't used. And because of this there was no drive to do anything more creative with it. Now it becomes significantly more relevant.
IW: Data is often talked about as if it's some untapped natural resource. That puts a lot of pressure on companies to do something now, which can be overwhelming. What's your advice for the C-suite on how to handle navigating the Industrial Internet of Things?
Just stay grounded and be practical. Rather than focus on IoT or AI, focus on the problem you're trying to solve. What’s the business case you're trying to build? What's the specific problem? It may sound obvious, but all the time I hear senior executives asking, "How am I going to use IoT, or how am I going to leverage AI?"
You’ve got to have a specific use case and be open minded to the way these technologies can support a solution that is potentially more innovative or creative than has been possible before.
The second thing is to surround yourself with people who are from a technology background who have the perspective needed. I don’t come from a technology background, I am not a technological genius. I like to believe the reason I have been able to achieve success in my career is that I've hired some great people. That greatness or skill is in recruiting people who are able to take the very complex problems and make them super simple. Don't look for the cleverest people, (unfortunately there's quite a lot of that around). If you're struggling to understand what is possible, you need somebody brighter to comb out the unnecessary complexities. You don’t need to be brighter to understand it.
IW: How do you find these people?
Diversity is very important. Old, young, men, women, people of color. I place a lot of value in having a diverse team and I think it gives me an advantage in giving me diversity of thought.
I want people who have the right track records, typically the right balance of having a few different jobs, but also having the right tenure in all of the roles they’ve been in.
In the tech industry, people move a lot. But in my experience, good people don’t. The organizations they work for seem to work very hard to keep them. When I see a resume where a person has had 10 jobs in 20 years, I'm not interested in interviewing that person.
IW: Your predecessor had been with the company for 20 years and 12 as CEO. How do you enter that situation and make it your own?
The generic advice is that it is a lonely place, especially when you come in alone to a company with thousands of people who have been there for a very long time. You are going to have questions and a need to sanity check stuff. Have a coach or buddy or peer who has faced this in the past and use them as a sounding board throughout the process.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned with what people thought about me. On Glassdoor, Alastair had a phenomenal referral rating: 93%. That said, we are very different. I can't do it the way Alistair does it. I'm a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy. I want to be successful. I want to help everyone at IFS to have somewhere they are proud of to work and feel like they can be challenged and make a meaningful contribution.
The most common question I got was because IFS is a competitor of SAP, would I arrive and bring a lot of SAP people? I wanted to address it head on. When I joined we recorded a very frank Q&A video. We thought long and hard about what would be on people's minds. It was not meant to make me comfortable. It went out to all staff the day I started, and I've received very positive feedback on it since I've joined.