Dan Bunder’s journey from ripening bananas to ERP consulting

Dan Bunder

Dan Bunder is a former in-house IFS consultant with a background in the food and beverage supply chain. Now independent, Dan specialises in ERP business consulting from an operational perspective.

Dan Bunder took the scenic route to independent ERP consulting, going from economics to ripening bananas, before discovering IFS software and a new career.

During an eight-year stint in-house at IFS he spoke at world conferences and mentored recruits on the company’s graduate programme.

The Lincolnshire-based consultant reveals what he’s learned from his career – and why he once had a KITT car from Knight Rider in his garage…

Had you always planned to work in the IT industry?

At school I always found maths easy. Everyone told me I would be an accountant and I went on to study economics at university.

But my actual introduction to the world of work was ripening bananas! It was the early 1990s and I worked in quality control for fruit and veg. The job took me around Europe – to Italy, France, Spain. For a young lad, it was pretty great. All expenses paid, traipsing around farmhouses and being in the sun. It was hard work but fun.

I left to progress to stock control, operations management and warehouse management.

When was your first experience of IFS software?

It was 2004. The company I was working for said they were bringing in IFS, so I represented the warehouse operations on the project. I wasn’t particularly technically minded at the time but I was given pretty much free rein to modify what we needed.

Tell us about your time at IFS

I started at IFS in 2008 and stayed for eight years. I did supply chain consulting (mainly with food and beverage customers) and worked with R&D to develop the warehousing elements of supply chain.

I also really enjoyed being involved with the company’s graduate programme.

Another highlight was the drunken nights, the camaraderie, the friendships. The socialising was important because it could be a lonely job at times.

You’ve spoken at conferences and user groups?

Yes. That was when I was at IFS.

The first time I spoke was in 2012 at the IFS World Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. I was introducing all the new warehousing functions. I spoke again the following year in Barcelona, and then in Boston in 2014.

In 2015 I was named ‘Consultant of the Year for Europe West’. My prize was to go to the world conference in Boston in the States, where I could take the event in from a non-working perspective.

The world conferences were the biggest thing for IFS. It’s what they do now with the Unleashed events.

Did speaking in public ever faze you?

The first time absolutely terrified me! I started with a squeaky voice but once I got into the flow it was all right. It’s just about the starting; that fear of the unknown, when you’re fighting yourself more than the situation. And I had this little microphone, so I felt like Britney Spears going out on stage.

What inspired you to go independent?

It came through a standard employment review while I was at IFS.

I had an amazing manager but the company was looking to change my role. My manager said he thought I’d been ready to go for ages. I hadn’t really considered working for myself before, but I thought that if my manager had faith I could do it, then, “Hell, I’ll give it a go”.

I got in touch with some consultants and they helped by telling me what I needed to think about, like insurance, accounts, company set-up, etc.

I left IFS in 2016 and hit the ground running as an independent ERP consultant.

What type of consulting do you do?

When I started, I would have said supply chain. But I’ve transitioned over time into the solution architecture side, so I’d now say business consulting from an operational standpoint. I focus on what a business needs.

What type of projects have you worked on since going freelance?

I started with an automotive project. Other projects have included configurable items for a lighting company and a project for a kitchen company.

But my bread and butter is food and beverage, which is almost as close as you can get to using the full suite of IFS.

What’s the highlight of your career so far?

It’s more about what I and the client and their people get from the project. It’s not just about going in and putting a system in. What I like most is seeing how people grow.

Why is mentoring important?

Since leaving IFS I’ve been contacted by a lot of ex-customers or people I’ve worked with. They ask for help, support, or just check in for a chat, and I like doing that.

There’s a guy, Barrie Fairhurst, who’s an independent IFS finance consultant, and he says it’s about giving time to give something back. What can you do to help the people coming up?

And you can quote me on this because it comes from my heart: there are IFS graduates now who will know more about IFS than I ever will because they have that sponge ability. They’re going to go on and do amazing things.

Mentoring is about passing on that knowledge and helping. As a consultant, that’s all you’re really doing: helping.

What have been your biggest challenges since going freelance?

The most difficult thing is saying no to work when you’re independent, because when you work for yourself, you never know when the work is going to stop.

But I’ve been really lucky since I left IFS. I’ve been pretty much fully booked all the way through. However, you’re only as good as your last project.

Being independent, you must be better, because you can’t hide behind a consulting organisation. You are literally your brand.

But you must be careful what you say yes to and how much you take on. There are times when I’ve worked through the night, just trying to get something done. And my wife will tell me I shouldn’t be doing that.

Saying no is not only difficult because of the financial reasons. It’s also hard if you’ve built a relationship with the people at these companies. You feel you have that responsibility because you’ve been in there before. But it’s a challenge when you’re fully committed elsewhere to find time to take on extra work.

Do you usually work on one project at a time?

No, I don’t ever want to be on one project.

I always try to have two or three projects on the go. There would be one that’s building up; another where you’re deep into the implementation; and the third would be at the go-live stage. I reserve specific days each week for the different projects.

Tell us about your life outside of work

I’ve been married for 20 years to a very understanding wife. For example, I was at an IFS conference on one of our anniversaries. But she’s very used to me being away.

We’ve got two kids. Our daughter is 16 and our son is 20. They were both born towards ‘year-end’, which is typically when companies like to go-live on projects, so they’re used to me missing their birthdays. They’re both brilliant, but I’ve got to say that because they’re my kids!

Looking back to when Covid-19 happened, all of sudden you couldn’t travel. People realised you could do this job via a video chat, so I didn’t have to be away from home in hotels. My wife, however, described this as a “period of adjustment”, which is very, very true.

Do you do a mix of onsite and remote working?

The beauty with the U.S. project I’ve been working on recently is that so much of it is remote. And when I go out there, we’ll be doing something specific. So, I’ll fly out for a couple of weeks, come back, and then I won’t need to go again for quite a while.

For the other projects, I mostly work remotely where I can. That said, I’ve recently been onsite for vendor selection. When you’re in the room, it’s a lot easier to read people’s reactions. You want to listen to the presentations and see how people respond.

What sort of project is the one in the U.S.?

It’s a food and beverage client, and it’s my first IFS Cloud project.

How are you finding IFS Cloud?

The way it was explained to me is that if you’re new to IFS, then Cloud is fantastic. But if you’ve used an older version of IFS, it’s a struggle initially. It would be fair to say the functionality in Apps 10 was richer towards the end for the graphical interface side than Cloud is at the moment.

But Cloud is changing all the time. The evergreen aspect is exciting and the underlying functionality is very, very impressive.

But it’s that user interface where you’re used to right-mouse buttons and how you edit screens. Things like that are different. It’s that change thing and completely new design. However, the functionality hasn’t changed too much; it’s just improved.

But I like it, and I like what’s coming. There’s a desire to do more and make it better, so all the things are being rounded off a lot more, which is good.

What are your hobbies and interests? We hear you’re into music.

My daughter is very into rock, so I go to various concerts with her that leave my ears bleeding. It’s bands like Bring Me the Horizon and Loathe. It’s screaming guitars, but I’ve gone along and thought, “I can get into that”.

And I’ve always been into dance music – anything with a really big drumbeat.

Plus, living in the Fens, I do clay pigeon shooting. And I’m into cars, too.

What sort of cars are you a fan of?

Anything very fast!

And a friend of mine likes classic cars, so we had a KITT car from Knight Rider in our garage not so long ago, when he imported one from the States. It had the full left-hand and all the cameras, the sounds and everything, so that was quite good. My friend said it was from the film set. He bought one that wasn’t in particularly good condition, so he could fix it up.

Also, it was heaven when I worked on a project for Prodrive. They had Aston Martin Racing downstairs, so I could see all the Aston Martins being done, and there were Subarus. It was cool.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about independent IFS consulting?

You need to be clear why you’re doing it.

Be aware it’s a lonely job and the freelance element makes it lonelier.

Remember that taking holidays can seem more expensive when you work for yourself. But some good advice I was given is to look at what you’ve earned so far, rather than what you’re not going to earn when you’re on holiday. You must value that downtime, so you can recharge.

And never be afraid to reach out for help in the IFS community. It’s not a bunch of idiots out there.

Also, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know”. And if you don’t know, make sure you go away, find out, and then come back and give the answer. Don’t blag it.

Being freelance, your reputation is everything, so make sure you keep that communication going.

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