Laurence Chapman is a trusted IFS consultant with a broad cross-section of experience across capital expenditures and FMCG supply chain/manufacturing management. He has a Masters in International Business and is an experienced MS Office user with an Excel focus.
As an independent IFS consultant, Laurence Chapman has travelled to Switzerland to consult for a company that created bespoke DC motors for the Mars rover. And he’s now subcontracting for a British shipbuilding company. But these are just two of the contracts he’s worked on in the UK and around the world.
We asked Laurence to reveal what it’s really like to be an IFS consultant. What are the positives and negatives? How did he get into it? And what advice does he have for anyone thinking about taking the leap into IFS ERP subcontracting for the first time?
Describe the type of IFS consulting you do?
It’s a mix of manufacturing, supply chain and engineering. There’s a bit of projects, technical and general, and a lot of business analysis because people must be stepped through the A-Z.
How did you get into it?
I was working at Ultra Electronics and was chosen to be part of their IFS implementation team. I was dealing with the inventory side and started getting more interested in what other people were doing. I was interacting a lot with the consultants from IFS, and I got the bug for it.
Once you go deeper into learning about IFS, you can become a consultant. But you need to have other skills. It’s not just about having knowledge of the ERP system.
How long have you been subcontracting and why did you start?
I’ve been doing it since January 2019. I was lured out of my full-time job into subcontracting. It was a baptism of fire because when you start working for yourself, you have to learn new skills.
I wanted to be my own boss and move away from the internal politics of permanent employment.
You have a fascinating background – including financial trading in Dubai. Tell us about your career journey.
I started doing financial trading in 2001 after I left a permanent production controller job in Dubai. I got quite good at trading and had some big wins, but you must be prepared to lose as well. Then the 2007-2008 financial crisis came, so I moved back to the UK and became a postman for a year, which was almost like a career break.
What are the benefits of subcontracting… and the drawbacks?
One of the advantages is you’re your own person. I don’t think I’d like to work permanent again, although never say never. As a consultant, you have more scope to say, ‘This is the right way to do it and if you don’t believe me, you’re going to find out’. Also, there are financial benefits when you’re a subcontractor.
The drawbacks? You’re working in different environments, in different companies, with different people, and different ways of working. You have to bend yourself around all those people and situations to guide them down a path that is beneficial to them and to you, so you can get the system put in.
You need to be resilient and have a lot of soft skills that will help you when talking to people. You need to know the right things to say.
What sort of contracts has Gtech Consultancy placed you in?
My first one with Gtech was as an IFS Supply Chain Lead Consultant at a leading perimeter security company. I started working out of Leeds, and then the contract moved to the suburbs of Milan, so I was flying to and from Italy every week.
That project was delayed because of Covid-19, so I started working for a different company and a different agency. But I came back to Gtech.
I’m now on my second contract with Gtech. This one is at a British shipbuilding company based in Northern Ireland, where I’m providing IFS functional consulting. It’s an Apps 10 support project involving analysis and improvement of supply chain, engineering and inventory modules.
What’s Gtech like to subcontract for?
Very good, because if you get nice people in a company, they tend to attract more nice people, right? Natalie (Gtech’s IFS Consulting Manager) is great at finding the right person for the right job. She makes sure everyone’s needs are met.
Personally, I don’t need much support. I’m trusted to go into a business and get the job done. If you’re leaning too much on other people, perhaps subcontracting isn’t for you? That said, if I had any issues, I’m sure Gtech would handle them sensitively.
Plus, they make sure all my payments are sorted out, so I get paid on time, which in my case is weekly. And that’s important. You have your own expenses, so you don’t want to be chasing money.
But you must meet the client’s needs, otherwise it could turn into a big issue. You don’t have the same rights as an employee. You have to do the job well and get your timesheet approved. I’ve known contractors who have been in the middle of a job and have lost their contract because they annoyed the project manager. But with Gtech, they make sure the consultant and client are well suited to each other at the start.
Do you work on-site or remotely, or a mixture of both?
I live in Farnborough, Hampshire, and I like to work remotely as much as possible because I have a teenage son at home.
But I go on-site when required. My current contract has taken me to Belfast and Devon, and I’ve been to Italy, Belgium and Switzerland with other contracts.
Since Covid-19, hybrid and remote working are pretty much the norm, particularly with manufacturing and supply chain consulting. But it’s probably different for project managers, who are likely to be needed on-site more often.
What’s the most interesting contract you’ve worked on?
Probably my IFS Manufacturing/Supply Chain contract for maxon motor (now maxon group) in Switzerland. It’s a fascinating company because their bespoke DC motors were chosen for the Mars rover.
I worked on an Apps 7.5 to Apps 10 re-implementation project. The lake and mountain scenery near their factory in Sachseln was incredible.
Do you worry about securing each new contract?
No, because I’ve been building up my reputation and connections on LinkedIn. You want to be seen as someone who knows what they’re talking about; a thought leader. I get quite a few people approaching me about possible contracts, and I also recommend other subcontractors.
I’ve worked for about four or five agencies, and it’s about getting involved with the right ones. The length of each contract varies. It could be as short as just a few days or it could run for about two years.
Plus, a lot of the IFS permanent staff know me, and I’ve had good references from IFS a couple of times. As an independent consultant, you’re outside the IFS partnership network. But people talk and they can give you a reference. And I was given a copy of IFS CEO Darren Roos’s book, Moment of Service, signed by Darren himself, which was a nice gesture.
Although you’re technically outside of IFS, you’re still promoting and helping people to use the systems. So, it’s in IFS’s interest to cooperate with independent consultants, especially the ones they trust and respect.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I do a lot of reading, including books in German. I’m part-German and you can never stop learning the language. It’s like IFS; you can never stop learning IFS.
For exercise, I’ve been doing CrossFit for more than two years. The first two months were torture, and I was surprised I kept it up, but I’m glad I did. I’m also interested in ice hockey, which my son plays.
Finally, what tips do you have for anyone considering becoming an IFS consultant?
Think about it carefully, to make sure you’ve got the necessary resilience. Even if you’ve been an IFS superuser for a couple of years, it’s not just about the knowledge. You need the maturity, the perseverance and the ability to manage the pressure. It’s about having a mixture of skills, including knowing how to deal with different people and situations.
And you’ve got to be extremely organised in terms of dealing with lots of new information every time you start a new contract. Each business has its own internal procedures you need to learn, and then when you move to your next contract, it’s almost like you have to start from scratch. Then there’s the information from IFS, and the fact different industries use IFS in different ways.
I recommend talking to Natalie and Oscar (Gtech’s Business Development Manager), who can help you decide if consulting is right for you.