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Meet Darren Roos, the South African who is CEO of global software firm IFS

JOHANNESBURG — Wherever you go in the world, you’re bound to bump into a South African. One of those South Africans is Darren Roos, who now lives in the UK. In April this year, Roos – who is a long-time veteran in the enterprise software space – became CEO of a major global enterprise software firm called IFS, which has its headquarters in Sweden. IFS has received high praise from the likes of research houses Gartner and Forrester. And as Roos tells me in this interview, he’s now essentially reconfiguring IFS’s presence in South Africa as well as hosting an interesting event in the country dubbed ‘Connect to what’s Next’ at Sandton’s Maslow Hotel on 2 August 2018Register to attend the event. – Gareth van Zyl

My name is Darren Roos, and I’m the CEO of IFS. IFS is an enterprise software company that specialises in predominantly ERP (enterprise resource planning), enterprise asset management and field service management in product and asset intensive industries.

Darren thanks for chatting to me today. IFS is hosting an event called “Connect to What’s Next” on 2 August 2018. Can you tell us more about the event and why you’re hosting it?

Having joined IFS in April and being new to IFS I looked at what we were doing in South Africa. And being South African and knowing the South African market, I recognised that there’s a significant opportunity for us to drive significant value for customers in the South African market who are looking for what I would term a kind of sensible solution to their ERP problems. There are many options out there in the market, but different vendors really have different peculiarities. Some are pushing customers with little option to the cloud, so they’re cloud only.

Darren Roos.
Darren Roos, CEO of IFS.

There are others that are very elaborate, very complex solutions that take a long time to deploy and the power of IFS is that we’re much easier to deploy, it’s a much simpler architecture and we give customers a 100% choice on whether they want to deploy on premises or in the cloud. Therefore, on the back of that opportunity that I see, I made the decision as chief exec to essentially relaunch the business in South Africa and that August 2nd event is an opportunity for us to get some people who may never have heard about IFS before in the room, and share with them the incredible things that we’re doing.

So, this event will be a first of its kind from IFS’ side?

We’ve done the event elsewhere, but it’s the first time we’re doing Connect to What’s Next in South Africa and we’re combining what has been a roadshow event for us with this relaunch in South Africa.

What’s interesting with this event is that you also have a well-known South African entrepreneur, Vusi Thembekwayo as its MC. Have you known him for a long time?

Yes, I’ve known Vusi for quite a long time, but I think that the reason that Vusi’s speaking is that he is incredibly entertaining and he has a fantastic insight into the challenges that face the South African population in general. Anyone who’s heard him speak in the past will know that he has a fantastic grasp of that challenge, but he also is a very successful businessman. He’s a great entertainer as well and has great insight into the South African market. His business sense is a great match for us.

In terms of IFS’ business in South Africa, you’ve also recently appointed Mohamed Cassoojee to lead the business here. Can you tell us more about his background and why you chose him to take on the South African business?

IFS is a turnkey solution provider, so most of our competitors tend to sell software. But we are very focused on our customers’ realisation of the benefits that they’re trying to achieve and we’re very involved in their end-to-end journey from the envisaging process all the way through to the benefits realisation. In looking for somebody to lead the business who would be able to own that from an IFS perspective, I wanted somebody who was very entrepreneurial, somebody that had great general management experience, who understood the ERP space and who understood the SA market and I think that description of Mohamed.

He started his own business in the US many years ago, built that business up around professional services, focused on delivering value for customers. He then came back to South Africa, did a stint with SAP, with Oracle and EOH, so he has great local knowledge. And then I had the privilege of working with him when he ran the business for me at Software AG. He was responsible for fantastic growth in that business, so you know he’s a known quantity for me, but he’s a great fit for the business. I’m really confident that he’ll add a tremendous amount of value to our customers.

You’ve also identified several opportunities and challenges in South Africa. What are those opportunities and challenges?

I think the South African market is like many emerging markets where the playing field has been greatly levelled by digitisation. It wasn’t that long ago that if you were in an emerging market that the opportunities that you had were very industrial or resource-related and your ability to compete globally was based on being able to produce something or pull something out of the ground that you would then try and sell at a competitive price on a global market. That’s simply not the case anymore.

If we look the largest companies in the world today are all digital enterprises. There is the opportunity for somebody anywhere in the world, South Africa, Brazil or China, anywhere to come up with a business idea, launch that on the internet, and become the largest company in the world. That ability for us to compete on a global stage as a South African company, (and I don’t mean IFS, I mean for our customers to compete on a global stage as a South African company is a great opportunity), they then have to be digitised and be able to have an awareness of what it is that they’re doing and how they’re going to do it on a global stage. That’s where digitisation comes into it.

There is an opportunity for anybody in the South African market to do something that is truly amazing at a global level and where IFS comes into it is if we’re able to provide them with simpler-to-use, easy-to-implement technology that can get them started on that journey. In the past, this type of complex technology took a very long time to implement and many of our competitors are still very complex. So, what we offer is this deep functionality at really competitive prices, but in a way that’s easy to deploy and I think that gives our potential customers in South Africa a real advantage.

It sounds to me like you’re really reconfiguring your focus on South Africa. Are you optimistic about the business prospects in South Africa going forward over the next few years?

Flag map of South Africa

Yes, I think what I just touched on now is a reality and I think that if the government pivots more towards skills development around digital in the way some of the other emerging markets have done, then I think that there is a great opportunity for South Africa to play a very dominant role. The reality is, and I speak with some experience and maybe a little subjectively, I think South Africans have a great reputation globally for being hardworking, dedicated and passionate about what they’re doing and that’s a good recipe for success when it comes to building a business.

So, I think for me, I look at our competitive landscape in South Africa as an enterprise software vendor and I think that there is a lot of opportunity because there is an opportunity for customers – who have had very limited options in the past – to opt for a sensible choice, for something that is built on a long-term Swedish heritage (we’re over 30 years old), which is a culture of just getting it done, right. No nonsense, no bells and whistles and fancy marketing blurbs – we just get it done and that’s the track record that we have.

We have over 10 000 customers globally, we have phenomenal references and I think the most telling thing about IFS is that if you go onto Gartner’s Peer Insights website, which is where customers rank their vendors, IFS is the number one ranked enterprise ERP solution on the market. So IFS is higher than any of our top peers and I think that speaks volumes to the fact that we are an incredibly well-kept secret. Really my objective is to make sure that in the South African market we become not such a well-kept secret and that organisations that are a good fit for us are aware of this sensible alternative.

In light of those recognitions that you’ve mentioned, what is the future focus for IFS?

I touched on ERP a little bit and certainly we continue to invest heavily in our ERP solution. The big opportunities in ERP, specifically, are around leveraging artificial intelligence and robotic process automation in order to radically automate the capability within the ERP solution. Therefore, automation in general is a big opportunity. The second thing is that we focus very much on the user interface and the ease of using the application, so how intuitive is it to use, how easy is it to use the application etc. And that’s a big driver of adoption and  a benefit realisation for our customers, so that’s something that we invest in heavily.

automation robot robotics artificial intelligence

Moving away from ERP, if you talk to Gartner or Forrester we have the market leading service management application. If you have field service agents that go on site and go and service, whether that’s collecting waste or whether it’s servicing a power station or going out and doing a job like a pest control callout, then the software that manages that field service callout is another large area of focus for us. As I say, we are recognised by the analysts as the market leader in that space. We also have a phenomenal customer base of aviation and defense customers where we do everything from maintenance, repair and overall to enterprise asset management.

Those are the three big focus areas for us and that’s where we’ll continue to invest. Our focus continues to be how to make it easier for customers to deploy so that they can see value faster at a lower total cost of ownership and let’s forget the stuff that customers don’t really want to use. In the market, many of our peers are focused on building capability that most of the customers never use and we’re trying to focus on doing what our customers need to do their business to be successful.

Darren Roos, thank you so much for chatting to me today and telling us more about your events and IFS.

Thank you very much; it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat. Hopefully many people will come down to our event.

I’m sure they will, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

Register to attend the event.

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