Graeme Hanna and Mark Johnston are in the communications business but in this fast -growing sector theirs is not a company one would ordinarily associate with the world of telecoms and the internet. Because Hanna and Johnston run a transport company which is quickly becoming one of the most sophisticated global logistics businesses. And by logistics they don’t mean simply moving goods from a-b quickly and efficiently- they also mean building a team of expertise, which supplies e-commerce solutions to logistical problems. This is what they have done with their own business; designed and constructed Internet software which acts as virtual warehousing for some of the world’s top companies including Nortel here in Northern Ireland.
IFS is forming virtual partnerships with companies and their double-digit growth is proof positive that they are getting it right. It is software which has revolutionised supply chain management leaving concepts such as ‘Just in Time’ in its wake and as Johnston points out, making it more like ‘Just in 15 minutes’! “What we’ve done is develop a system which holds inventory for companies near their manufacturing base but is not actually part of their balance sheet”, he said. “So when they actually need something they can log onto our web site, order and have it delivered as if it was coming out of their own stock room when in fact it didn’t. At the same time a sequence of events is triggered which tells the supplier to replenish the stock, raises an invoice and makes sure payment is made promptly for goods supplied. We move the goods down the road, so to speak, and the process is complete without the company actually having any stock near their premises but always receiving it to meet demand." This is a quantum leap in the logistics world and advances a trend towards companies outsourcing the parts of their business they don’t consider as part of their key competencies. And it is this which Hanna and Johnston, at the end of the day, are set to capitalise on- the need for businesses to do what they are good at and leave the rest to someone else.
Graeme Hanna, Group Managing Director, believes the growth of his company, and the expertise it maintains, is good for Northern Ireland. “What we’re saying to companies around the world is that we have the capability to run a state of the art logistics business which you can bench-mark against the best in the world”, he said, “and that we have the necessary infrastructure to cope with any global company who wants to set up shop in Northern Ireland. At the end of the day that is good for us and good for the country.
At IFS we are helping build a logistics infrastructure of global quality and we have recognised and are addressing the challenges posed by the web and e-commerce.” Both Graeme Hanna and Mark Johnston, and their Chairman and Founder, Walter Anderson can be justifiably proud of what has been achieved at IFS. They have taken a company which began in a caravan in 1967 and turned it into a world class operation . To give you an example; they look after all of Nortel’s logistical needs and have a fairly unique relationship with Federal Express which sees them acting as an agent for the American giant in Ireland. “Logistics is the way of the future and unless Northern Ireland wakes up, other areas of the UK and Ireland are going to take advantage of the fact that we are not able to compete on a global stage,” said Hanna. “The move towards Logistics is being driven both by global consolidation in many industrial and commercial sectors and by the desire for companies to outsource their non-core competencies. “In this respect, using the latest technology, and by investing our own time and money in developing our own software we have produced a web-based Vendor Management Inventory system and this is the future of our business.” Indeed some of our clients are not ready for the sophistication of the technology IFS have developed but they see the benefit of climbing on board. “A true Logistics provider provides all the expertise which is not part of the company’s core competencies,” said Hanna..
With over a quarter of a million square feet of warehousing , a figure which could well double by the end of the year, IFS are imposing themselves fully on the international marketplace and all without the aid of a single grant. With a group turnover of around £30 million IFS represent a considerable Northern Ireland success story. They are adapting well to the challenge of new technology and have in the process realised their own core competencies. The company represents 64 per cent of all imports through Belfast International Airport and of the top 200 exporting freight companies in the UK they were recently ranked at 32. They have partnerships with over 43 global airlines and operate bonded warehouses that radically reduce the time it takes to get goods to the marketplace as they pass through customs. It’s an amazing, almost paperless, operation and the company that employs 276 could well see that rise to 400 if their development plans kick in as scheduled towards the end of the year. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating so what about this for a fact? If you deliver a package to IFS by 2 pm and as long as it doesn’t weigh more than 70 kilos it can be delivered to a customer in the US or Canada by 10 am their time, the next working day. Now remember, if you’re a North American inward investor this fact will be very important to you. IFS are making the difference and helping to grow Northern Ireland’s infrastructure to make it a world class logistics location. Hanna and Johnston have their fingers on the world’s logistical pulse. That’s good for IFS and it’s even better for Northern Ireland.