There are two central truths when it comes to enterprise resource planning (ERP)software. The first is that it is a long-term investment, and you don’t rip and replace what you have implemented unless it is absolutely necessary. The second is that no ERP will do everything, or everything well, and you need smart ways to extend your solution with point solutions like field service management (FSM) software.
Field service management, in particular, is hot right now because many product-centric companies are looking for growth, not through additional product sales, but by selling aftermarket services in support of the product lifecycle. Companies that are strictly service-driven, too, need to increase the value delivered to customers without a corresponding increase in cost, just to remain competitive. According to an IDC study, only 9 percent of North American equipment manufacturers can expect increased product revenue in coming years. So industrial equipment manufacturers, commercial equipment manufacturers, construction companies—all are focusing more on aftermarket service.
IFS Field Service Management is frequently integrated with ERP software from companies like SAP and Microsoft. There are two reasons that integrating IFS Field Service Management with competing ERP products makes sense for IFS customers from a business standpoint when it comes to service functionality and agility. IFS Applicationsis a powerful and preferred solution in a number of vertical industries including aviation and defense, asset-intensive industries, engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturing as performed by industrial manufacturers and in the high-tech sector, food and beverage, automotive, process manufacturing, construction and engineering, energy and utilitiesand others.
But there are a lot of other companies where IFS Applications is not the ideal fit, and those companies still need field service management software capable of handling the entire asset lifecycle. So, we have invested heavily over the years in our ability to deliver performant and reliable integrations with a variety of ERP systems through our IFS Integration Framework, which transforms and maps data between systems. IFS Integration Framework also monitors transactions for logging error correction and resubmittal.
It is also just not reasonable to think that companies will divest of a functional ERP system simply because their business and revenue models require them to profitably manage field service. If anything, we have seen situations where companies try to replace one ERP system with another that does a better job with back-end functions like warranty management, contract management and repair bench functionality. This does not typically end well. It makes more sense to find a powerful field service software product that meets immediate needs while providing for growth in the size and complexity of the service organization and then integrating that with appropriate data objects in the ERP system of record.
That is why we have developed two new white papers specifically on how to extend widely-used ERP software products with IFS Field Service Management.
FIELD SERVICE FOR MICROSOFT DYNAMICS
According to Mike Neuser, CMO at IFS partner OmniByte Technology, a quality bi-directional integration can extend an instance of Microsoft Dynamics ERP to avoid duplicate entry and data integrity issues. Mike knows a little bit about this because he and others at OmniByte have worked for decades with independent software vendors (ISVs) that extend Dynamics with field service capabilities.
“One upside to Microsoft Dynamics is that each of these software products have more structure and standard functionality than, say SAP,” Neuser writes. “But the differences between products mean there is no standard Dynamics integration, and an audit of how your specific instance is configured will be required as you plan to extend it with field service management software.
“While these products are each different in terms of how they facilitate business transactions, all have been architected to enable simple integrations. This is in large part because Microsoft has a big tent strategy that involves multiple independent software vendor solutions to complete each customer instance of the software. So, the core functionality may be from Microsoft, but various ISV products may deliver functionality for specific verticals or business functions like inventory/warehouse management, document management, manufacturing project management, etc.”
FIELD SERVICE FOR SAP
IFS Product Evangelist for Field Service Management Tom DeVroy, in a similar white paper on integrating field service software with ERP products from SAP, says that SAP can be configured in enough different ways that a significant part of integration will be defining the SAP solution that in fact has been implemented. So, there is the ‘what’ will be integrated and then the ‘how’ it will be done.
“The more substantive questions to be addressed during your project to integrate SAP and IFS Field Service Management will involve the nature of the data to transfer between systems, the numbers of records involved, the timing and the connection infrastructure,” DeVroy wrote.
Methods commonly used in integrations with SAP include:
- Intermediate documents (IDocs)-files based on the EDIFACT standard that are transferred between systems using electronic data interchange (EDI)
- IDocs can be triggered by SAP, or by the EDI platform upon receiving a request from another solution, including IFS Field Service Management
- APIs including web services like IData, REST and SOAP
- SAP APIs like BAPIs-interface that can expose web services
- CDS views which can be exposed as web services
“We do have customers using file-based or database transfers where a separate database is updated or a file is placed in a directory, and this data is later retrieved by the integrated system, in this case through SOAP web services in SAP. These integrations are best suited for large mass data loads,” DeVroy said. “That is not something we hold up as a best practice, however. These integrations do not function in real time, so there is a delay in receiving data. Our preferred approach is to rely on SAP Process Orchestration (SAP PO), or XML over WEB Services for asynchronous integrations-like master data or inventory-with IFS FSM Connect. As a transaction is completed the parent system will create, update or delete the corresponding record in the receiving system.”