When enterprise software vendor IFS approached manufacturer CDF Corp. to become an early adopter of its TouchApps mobile enterprise applications, CDF saw an opportunity to be more agile than ever before. The Plymouth, Mass.-based company makes pails, drums, intermediate bulk containers and other packaging under the name Cheer Pack North America. With a recent expansion to a West Bridgewater, Mass., location, CDF's need for mobility -- and willingness to test new waters -- has become even greater.
According to IT manager Alex Ivkovic, the company already had an IFS Applications ERP system in place when it agreed to help the vendor beta test several of its new mobile apps. TouchApps are designed for use only with IFS ERP, so a long-time customer like CDF was well positioned to try them out. One of the applications was Notify Me, an enterprise application that CDF used to approve purchase orders.
"We helped to test that, but for us, there wasn't a whole lot of use because we don't use purchase orders like that," Ivkovic explained. "We did, however, heavily test the ERP app -- in fact, I think we were the only people in the U.S. doing that -- and we have adopted and are using it widely since."
CDF's adoption of the IFS mobile enterprise applications began in January 2012 with general testing of its cloud services, according to Ivkovic. Around March, the company began testing IFS's mobile sales and marketing offering, Sales Companion, and has continued since with further testing of TouchApps' ERP capabilities.
Cloud server aids mobile applications integration
Ivkovic noted that, in general, the implementation of the IFS mobile apps went smoothly. "The actual integration is pretty slick; [IFS] does most of it on their end," he said. "We had to install a server here, but it was extremely lightweight -- basically, just an operating system with a little program that runs on top of it. Its purpose was just to communicate between our local systems and their cloud-based systems," known as the IFS Cloud Uplink Services Manager. With the TouchApps systems in the cloud, CDF doesn't need to worry about upkeep or licensing. The installation of the IFS Cloud Uplink server was easy, according to Ivkovic, and it has already weathered several successful upgrades.
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"[IFS] really handles putting everything into the app store and downloads and upgrades, and we really have nothing to do," he said. "The TouchApps are actually running on their servers, so the Cloud Uplink is just a little piece that connects back to our servers to get our data to use."
As far as mobile devices go, CDF is using a mixture of smartphones -- iPhones, namely -- and tablets to run these applications. CDF employees across the company are using TouchApps in a variety of ways, with the salespeople focusing on the ERP app, while Notify Me is used more for general management.
"TouchApps is designed to be very specific and targeted," Ivkovic explained. "So say if I approve purchase orders, I would get the application that shows purchase orders, nothing else. I don't have to do a lot of touchscreen playing around to get where I need to be. I can easily see my purchase orders and either approve them or not."
Pay-as-you-go pricing adds flexibility to enterprise mobility
One of the features of TouchApps that works especially well for CDF is its pricing plan, according to Ivkovic. Users pay a base fee to have their systems connected to any of the applications. The pricing after that is per use, meaning CDF is being charged per user, per day, for each app that is running. "For example, for every day a sales person logs their users in, that's one charge," he said. "For purchase orders, it's a charge per purchase order that's approved."
In general, CDF is happy with the way IFS TouchApps has worked out, although Ivkovic wouldn't mind seeing even more apps released in the near future. "Obviously, we want to see everything new sooner rather than later," he said. He's particularly excited about the just-released IFS Quick Reports. The app -- which CDF is currently using at a beta level -- allows the company to view any reports on mobile devices.
"You have to step back and understand how powerful that is," Ivkovic said. "If managers wants to view any piece of information from within the system, whether it's production numbers, sales numbers, what have you, we can produce a report in-house that shows these numbers the way we want to see them, and managers can pull these right up on their screens. We now have the flexibility to develop any report we want and send them straight to our mobile devices."
One problem that CDF is facing with Quick Reports is the fact that the app is only available for Android devices. "That's really slowing me down," Ivkovic said. Still, the ability to make custom reports, rather than relying on preset metrics in the application, is very valuable, he noted. "Rather than having an application that they designed, it lets us do the designing, but using the methods and tools that we're used to." Such instant access to reports, without being bogged down with multiple log-in screens, streamlines the entire process. "It's all about speed and ease of access," he said.
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