Ashley Miller looks at how the right technology can make all the difference in supporting the many and varied job roles within a professional services business.
There is no such thing as typical when it comes to professional services organisations. The sheer variety of roles involved, as well as the various revenue streams and multiple reporting structures, make for complex organisations where it’s increasingly difficult to get a full grasp of exactly what’s going on and when. With such a fine line between making a profit and suffering a loss, with the potential for projects to easily spiral out of control without the right checks and balances in place, many professional services businesses have invested in technology with a view to remedying the situation.
However, all too often, businesses have invested in solutions for specific business functions, such as finance or HR, which, although very good at increasing efficiencies within those particular departments, automating processes and improving reporting, do not provide the comprehensive, integrated view of the business that’s required. What’s needed is full visibility not just of individual departments but of the business as a whole, providing insight into how the different business functions all work together to achieve the overarching aims of the organisation.
While one-size very much does not fit all, there is a new generation of software solutions available that can be all things to all business areas, with various levels of functionality and capability available dependent on the specific needs of the particular department or user. What this means, is one solution for the entire business which has the ability to amalgamate all business data providing that all-important end-to-end visibility across the organisation, ensuring that all business roles have access to the right data, at the right time, in the right context.
So what are the different requirements of the many and varied roles with a professional services business, and how can the right solution help?
With the need for complete company-wide visibility, the CEO must have the tools at their disposal to quickly gauge the health of the business, making effective decisions regarding which strategic direction the business should and could take. With the right system in place, CEOs can have real-time information from anywhere in the business at their fingertips, giving them the necessary levels of insight into operations to not only monitor performance to enable them to make timely, robust decisions based on accurate, transparent data, closing the gap between strategy and execution, and steering the business in a profitable direction.
With the ultimate responsibility to ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget, project managers face an uphill struggle to keep their finger on the pulse of which phase each project is in, never mind where or not it’s within budget. The right solution takes care of this, offering the ability for users to easily input data which maintains critical information across multiple projects. This up-to-date project information underpins accurate project billing as well as precise project management and reporting, and provides a clear view of resource allocation and utilisation. In short, the right technology can guarantee the end-to-end delivery of projects on schedule and on budget.
To maintain client focus, it’s vital for consultants working within professional services business to be able to submit time and expense data quickly and easily, and on the go. The mobile capabilities of the new generation of ERP systems allow for the remote submission of vital data, preventing any time lag in information being recorded and the inevitable inaccuracies that this causes. With efficient, business-wide solutions in place, such ease of information capture leads to increased transparency, improved forecasting and much more accurate project billing, management and reporting.
For resource managers struggling to find the right balance between competing client demands and allocating internal resources, again, the right technology can make all the difference. Providing a clear, accurate view of resource availability, the best of the new generation solutions give resource managers the tools needed to effectively allocate the right people, to the right jobs, at the right time, all while ensuring maximum levels of profitability.
With the rapid estimates and accurate project costings necessary to guarantee optimum levels of efficiency, business development managers are often thwarted by time-consuming and unwieldy paper-based project costing processes. The functionality of the right software solution eliminates the high costs that come from project cost discrepancies, using a central information repository to access historic estimates, templates, and opportunities, as well as client history, providing default service costs and sales margin values, which speeds up the quotation-to-sale process and any lengthy approvals.
Where disparate, department-specific solutions can slow down financial reporting and prevent full financial visibility across the organisation, the right system provides a 360 view of not only financials but project management as well. This enables the finance director to continuously and effortlessly monitor the financial performance of individual projects and the business as a whole, facilitating cash flow management and optimising profitability with one centralised solution that provides in-depth insights into every aspect of the business.
Modern software developers have recognised that different people within organisations have different data needs, requiring solutions to have different capabilities dependent on the roles they carry out. The best solutions on the market reflect this diverse set of requirements, albeit within one all-encompassing solution. For professional services in particular, the new generation of ERP solutions are perfectly designed to handle the operational nuances of the organisations in question, benefiting the overall aims of the company and delivering optimum efficiency and a major uplift in profitability.
What to look for in an ERP solution for your professional services organisation:
- It must be easy to use, especially if you want to guarantee maximum user uptake.
- Experience should not be undervalued. Work with a skilled partner who has experience of working with other professional services businesses as well as software experience.
- One size does not fit all – what works for your competitors may not be the right fit for you.
- Mobile access is vital, don’t compromise on this.
- The right solution will be cover all areas of your business, or at least be able to be customised to do so.