Cooper Software has a successful long-standing track record of providing consultancy level 24/7 Managed Support for IFS customers. As part of this support, we have recently helped several customers running IFS Applications 9 and 10 with their quarterly IFS update releases.
For IFS Applications 9 and 10 users, updates to the core IFS solution are no longer provided via bug fixes or security patches. Instead, they are released every quarter and contain a set of fixes and improvements. For many users, although clearly useful, updates are often put on the back burner. Firstly, it can be hard to ascertain what, if anything, within a new update is relevant to your individual environment and processes. What’s more, setting aside the time required to install and then carry out the necessary process testing and also having the required in-house experience to achieve this can be a challenge.
However, the danger is, that if an update is ‘skipped’ it only becomes more difficult to get back on track. Things might continue to run smoothly until one day, you encounter an issue. Raising a support ticket with IFS might reveal that the issue is a bug that can be solved by installing an update. Let’s say you are on update 2 and this particular fix is contained in update 7. It’s not possible to simply install update 7 as was the case pre-IFS Applications 9. Now, every update in between must also be installed to offer the solution to your process issue.
We have seen first-hand how our customers have been affected by failing to properly manage their update schedule. To tackle this, we have worked with several customers to proactively identify the update releases required and have then gone on to manage the install and testing of these along the path to production’. We quickly realised the value that this support service can bring to IFS customers.
Through our new IFS UPD Support offering, which runs alongside our existing comprehensive IFS managed support package, we can make the adoption of IFS updates as smooth as possible for your business and users.
What is an update?
An update is essentially a cumulative set of fixes and improvements for the core version of IFS software and is delivered by IFS Product Development. Each one contains patches, legal requirements, new capabilities and security vulnerability and bug fixes. In addition, they provide user documentation and translations. Updates are a key to IFS supporting their customers and ensuring that they can continuously deliver a quality experience to their users.
As already mentioned, updates are the main delivery model in support of IFS Applications 9 and 10, and also IFS Field Service Management (FSM) 5.7 and 6.0, IFS Planning and Scheduling Optimisation (PSO) 5.9 and 6.0 versions onwards.
In future versions of core IFS software, updates will become the only method of delivery of fixes and improvements. It is also important to note that the upcoming IFS Cloud will only have valid support if the latest update is installed within 23 months of its release date.
Before each update is released by IFS Product Development, it goes through a quality assurance process to validate its content for error-free deployment and use. A summary of the content of the update in the form of update release notes is also provided. The content of release notes may differ depending on the product, yet they generally provide information on:
- Known restrictions
- High impact fixes
- Framework related information
- Security updates
- Legal requirements
- New capabilities
Updates are different from bug fixes or patches as they contain application wide changes and are not customer specific. Each follows the following principles:
- Easy to install – updates follow a standard streamlined installation process. They are not treated as an “upgrade” and are applied as a normal delivery. They do however require prior preparation of the delivery by either the Update Team from Global Support Delivery or the consulting organisation. This process consists of several steps and takes several days to complete.
- Minimised impact – For a customer to continue using existing business processes and functionality with minimum testing effort or re-training needed, product development will be very restrictive when it comes to changing existing functionality. However, there may be exceptions to this rule if there are strong business requirements, for instance, to meet legal requirements or to address security vulnerabilities. Changes to existing functionality will be listed in the update documentation.
- Predefined schedule – Currently supported versions follow the quarterly Update release schedule that is published in advance. This allows for the planning of testing and deployment to satisfy the needs of the business.
- Core processes verified – To secure good and consistent product quality, Product Development will test and verify the most important core processes before every Update release. Product Development also tests each fix as a part of the standard verification process.
- Limited new functionality – Part of providing a quality experience to organisations is also gaining access to new and improved capabilities. To accommodate this, Updates may contain significant new capabilities if they are optional in nature (i.e. customers can choose to ignore them and continue as before) and have minimal impact on existing customer installations and processes.
Examples could be entirely new modules, new capabilities outside the core IFS product experience (for example new Office add-ins), or new optional user experience for existing business processes. Any new capabilities will be listed in the update documentation. Each update includes clear and consistent documentation with:
- Update release notes summary
- Any new capability added
- Any exceptions to the product development commitment
How can Cooper Software help?
Despite being designed with ease of deployment in mind, the installation of a new update does require a certain level of planning from you, the customer, as well as input on the IFS side. For every update, there is a lot of information contained within the update release notes which must be reviewed and considered to work out what parts are relevant to your business. As has already been mentioned, this takes time as well as a deep understanding of your existing processes.
As part of our Update Support Service, we will proactively monitor update schedules for all of our support customers, and when an update is due for release, we will liaise with you to put an update plan in place.
We can initially help by working with you to review the content of the update you are planning to move to. This will drive the requirement for the overall level of testing required. IFS recommends performing testing of critical business flows which we can provide guidance for. We can also check if the update will solve any open support tickets you have on Life Cycle Support from IFS.
As part of this plan, we will evaluate any previously created configurations to identify possible impacts when the update is installed. Depending on how they have been set up, we can potentially import and interrogate your existing permission sets to determine exactly which processes will be impacted by the update. We would also be happy to review your existing permission sets and advise on how they could be strengthened to enhance system security. We follow a ‘3 pillars approach’ which has the ultimate aim of creating a stable platform in which to manage access to the system.
In addition to this, using our own in-house tool, we can analyse which areas will be impacted by each update and can then advise on the best, most efficient test plans for your business, including:
- Identify updated modules to inform regression testing requirements
- Call out new functionality
- Cross-check any known issues with bug fixes in the UPD
When an update is requested (from IFS by Cooper Software to IFS on behalf of the customer) it will be packaged and then uploaded to your FTP Portal. Installation instructions will be included in the root folder containing the release. We will download this and carefully review its contents with you.
The update bill of delivery is key in evaluating the specific areas of your individual IFS environment that may be impacted by what is included in the latest release. After this has been reviewed and signed off, we can deploy the update into your non-production environments.
Deployment of an update is performed in the same way as any other code delivery from IFS. However, the time it takes to deploy an update is considerably longer. It is not possible to provide an exact time scale for this as each deployment contains a different set of components. With IFS’ cumulative deliveries, some deployments take considerably longer than others. As a general rule, we usually plan for times in excess of 3-4 hours and use the deployment to the test environment as a rough guide for the production installation.
If any issues are encountered during the deployment of an update, we will report these as a new case and despatch them to IFS Support so they can assign the best suited person to resolve the issue.
Our Update Support Service in practice
To date, we have helped many of our customers by assisting with and installing update deployments. This has included directly liaising with key business contacts to provide information on how they are deployed, alongside a review of their contents to assist with business testing.
In the case of one customer, the update they required also contained fixes and additional functionality for some modules that they did not use, such as Projects and CRM. We advised on the areas they should focus their testing on, which included the Procurement and Finance modules. As part of this update, a core issue the customer was experiencing relating to purchase orders was fixed and has now been thoroughly tested and passed.
We have successfully deployed updates from development environments through to production environments where the new update functionalities are actively being used alongside the fixed core issue the customer was experiencing with purchase orders.
We have provided deployment support across multiple environments, including major fixes, patching and modification deployment. As part of this service, support was also provided to the test teams and issue management was a key part of the offering.
Working closely with IFS we provide the customer with a 12-week delivery schedule including initial deployment, testing and issue resolution to ensure production IFS instances were ready to be used immediately after deployment.
Having successfully worked alongside this same customer to help complete testing, we then planned and executed the deployment to production. During the testing phase, when we identified extra releases that were required to rectify issues encountered during testing, we deployed them in the same maintenance window to guarantee a successful installation. Any changes to configurations as well as security needs were then replicated after installation.
Key benefits of choosing our Update Support Service
Adopting a clear update strategy with Cooper Software guarantees that your IFS solution will be continuously refreshed with the latest IFS Product Development offering and kept up to date with minimal effort. What’s more, having a proper strategy in place will:
- Prevent users experiencing known errors through pro-active patching
- Ensure environments are patched to the latest software release level
- Generate high-level test plans according to your specific IFS instance
- Reduce time on investigation and recreation of issues as you are always on the latest version of the software
- Reduce time, cost and frustration caused by unplanned emergency patching
- Offer planned maintenance windows with known outcomes
- Potentially allow the import and interrogation of existing permission sets to determine which processes will be impacted by updates and if necessary, provide advice on reviewing and strengthening existing permission sets.
To find out more about our Update Support Service, please get In touch