IFS technical consultant shares his insight on ERP contracting

Roger Morton

Roger Morton is an experienced and trusted IFS technical consultant who has worked with different versions of the software for more than two decades.

From supercars to drinking water dispensers, Roger Morton has worked with a diverse range of businesses since going freelance 15 years ago. We talked to the independent IFS consultant about his career journey, from his early experiences of IT in the 1980s – to getting to grips with IFS Cloud.

What drew you to a career in IT?

It was a bit of a roundabout journey. I went to university to study electronic engineering, and went on to work at a finance company, where I moved into their legal department. I started off as a filing clerk and ended up being a litigation assistant.

It was the 1980s, so everything was paper based. But when the company started to computerise everything, I began helping with that.

I then worked in telecommunications for about eight years, and later as a business systems manager at the automotive manufacturer UYT.

What was IT like in the 80s and 90s?

Back in the 80s, if I wanted something photocopied, I had to take the document to a different department and get them to do it – but I sometimes had to wait a week for it to come back!

And when we started transferring everything off paper into the computer system, it was a very longwinded process.

When was your first experience of IFS software?

I got more into IT – and IFS – when I was at UYT. They were using a green-screen system called AS/400 for their IT system, and they migrated over to IFS in the end.

Then, when I started independent contracting in 2008, I worked for Lotus Cars, who were upgrading from IFS Applications 99 to IFS v7.

What were your first impressions of IFS?

I could tell the software was good. It was intuitive.

At the time we were all used to using green-screen types of systems. But IFS was more ‘windows-orientated’. You could easily switch between windows to see different aspects of a business and transactions.

Why did you decide to become an independent IFS consultant?

At UYT, the company was making ‘body-in-white’ panels for Honda at Swindon, so it was a 24-hour operation. I was working nine-to-five and covering out-of-hours problems, which meant I was doing a lot of hours. Some people I knew were already contracting and they suggested I should work for myself.

I’d gained a lot of IFS knowledge, so I thought I’d make the jump and see how it went. I went freelance 15 years ago and it’s gone well so far.

Where are you based?

I live in a little village called Giverny in Normandy, France. It’s about an hour from the Channel coast. The impressionist painter, Claude Monet, lived in the village, and hundreds of tourists come to see his garden.

We’re not permanent residents in France. We still have a house in Malvern, Worcestershire, which we live in when we’re in the UK.

What brought you to France?

I started contracting for a French engineering and technology company, TechnipFMC, in 2010. At the time I was living in Malvern, and I was travelling every weekend on the ferry between Portsmouth and Le Havre for the first few years of the contract.

But it became too much to travel with such frequency. So, my wife Dorinda and our daughter Phoebe moved to France as well in around 2013. Phoebe was about seven at the time, so she went to school in France. She’s now fluent in French – unlike my wife and me.

What’s it like living in France?

It’s very nice. It’s a lot more relaxed in France. You’re not expected to have your lunch at your desk. Everybody makes sure they go to lunch at 12 o’clock for at least an hour.

Do you work remotely or travel?

I work from home all the time, which is what I’m doing now for my Gtech contract with a drinking water dispensers company. But I’m happy to go on-site if needed, as long as it’s not too often.

Describe the type of IFS consultancy you do?

I’m an IFS technical consultant. I do more of the behind-the-scenes work, like developing end user reports, creating events and procedures, and setting up users and security permissions.

How long do your contracts last?

I work for one client at a time and the length of each contract varies from six months upwards. The initial starting point for most contracts is six months.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of ERP contracting?

A big benefit is the flexibility, and it’s not like a permanent job where you have a line manager and annual appraisals. And financially, it’s more rewarding to be independent.

The negative side is you don’t have things like holiday pay and sick pay. You can opt into various schemes, but they can be quite expensive. However, I can take holiday when I want, and I don’t have to stick to 25 days a year, for example.

Also, you need to factor in pension contributions from your own company account. Plus, there’s taxes like VAT, corporation tax, personal tax. But I have an accountant to sort all that out.

What are the practical things to consider when going freelance?

You should get an accountant unless you’re financially motivated. And you should get a private pension.

As a contractor, you’ll need to be good at meeting deadlines and keeping on top of the changes with IFS and how it’s developing. For example, I started off working primarily with IFS 7.5 but now there’s IFS versions 8, 9 and 10, and IFS Cloud.

It’s down to you to get the knowledge you need to do your job. In a permanent job your employer might pay for you to go on a training course. But as a freelancer, any of your training costs come out of your own business account.

How do you keep up with the changes with IFS?

I’m very much self-taught and I’m good at finding solutions to problems. It’s also very useful to talk to other people in the industry and get some knowledge transfer from them. Remember, you may be an individual consultant, but when you’re working on a project, you’ll be working as part of a team most of the time, so you can find solutions together.

The contracting community is friendly and pulls together. There’s no “I’m not telling you how to do that”.

Do you find you’re competing for the same roles?

No, not really. Plus, every consultant has a different skillset.

I’ve been fortunate as there’s only been about two or three occasions when I’ve had one or two months in between contracts without work.

One of your contracts was at Lotus Cars. What was that like?

I worked with Lotus Cars in 2008 and 2009 on their upgrade from IFS Apps 99 to Apps 7. It was my first independent contract and it was a good one. It was a very friendly working environment.

The company is based in Norwich, in the middle of the countryside, and I had a little log cabin for my accommodation. And while I didn’t get to drive any of the cars, I did see them being driven around the test track.

What’s IFS Cloud like to use?

It’s totally different to other IFS versions, so it’s been a big learning curve.

With IFS – before it launched its cloud platform – you could, for example, click on your right mouse and pull up extra menus to do certain things like print a report, go to a different screen, or run a different procedure. But in the cloud, you don’t have that option. Instead, you have ‘radio buttons’ that you click on to do the same thing.

What do you think of IFS Cloud?

It’s the way to go. It’s more web-based, so it’s more accessible when you’re working remotely. Of course, there needs to be extra security on top of that.

There are certain things you can’t do with IFS Cloud, which you used to be able to do in earlier IFS versions. I tend to use SQL queries, and the way the actual queries are constructed now within Cloud is different to how it used to be.

What’s exciting you right now about IFS?

The user customisation, because you can now build your own custom screens or views to display data in a format that will make your job easier.

Also, IFS Lobby, which has improved as the versions have been developed.

A lot of IFS is moving towards mobile applications. For example, one client I’ve worked with uses work orders, which means their engineers can use their tablet or phone to see a list of jobs they need to do on a particular day.

What have you learned about IFS delivery since going freelance?

I’ve worked with companies that have never used IFS before. I’ve also worked with businesses that are doing an upgrade or re-implementation, so they’re already familiar with it.

With the companies that are using IFS for the first time, there tends to be a data cleansing exercise at the same time. They get rid of unwanted data (subject, of course, to any requirements for retaining data). But some companies continue to have their legacy system operational in the background to retain some of the legacy data, while the new data is entered onto the new system.

On the whole, the companies I’ve worked with have tended to get the right team in, at the right time. Sometimes they’ve had to get extra personnel in if they haven’t got the expertise or because deadlines are looming, but you can never get everything 100% correct.

A company I worked with decided to go live, even though they knew they were going to have problems. They decided they’d sort them out afterwards, and that caused one or two issues.

When do you get involved in a project?

I have expertise in data migration, so it’s best for me to get involved from the beginning, but I can join at any point.

What are your plans for the future?

Well, I’m 64 now, so I’d like to retire when I’m 66.

My daughter has two years left at the lycée here – which is the equivalent of college or sixth form – and she’ll be doing her baccalaureate.

We’d like to continue splitting our time between the UK and France after I retire.

Has Brexit affected you?

No, not really. The only thing is we now have to get our passports stamped.

And finally, what do you do in your spare time?

My main hobby is DIY. Our house in Giverny was built in around 1954, so it’s needed a lot of work – and not just painting and decorating. There’s been knocking down walls, plastering, rewiring, plumbing and a bit of garden landscaping.

I tend to do a lot of the DIY myself, much to my wife’s annoyance because it takes too long.

I also enjoy cycling with my daughter and watersports, especially windsurfing.

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