Professional services (PS) firms cover a range of industries and specialties with widely-varied market and competitive demands as well as regulatory requirements. For this reason, we’re confused when we hear software and systems companies marketing to PS firms as if they’re all the same. Imagine a PS firm supporting road and utility engineering projects receiving marketing messages identical to those aimed at a contract research organisation that performs clinical trials on behalf of pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The only thing professional services firms share across industries is that they earn revenue based on their knowledge, experience, and expertise versus their products.
To demonstrate, we’ll discuss the high-level business software needs of professional services firms in five industries: engineering and construction, media and entertainment, marketing agencies, IT/consulting and clinical research.
The primary concern of engineering and construction (E&C) professional services firms is the efficient management of projects and associated resources. From the initial bidding process, these firms must manage a wealth of fast-changing data. What resources are available now versus six to twelve months from now? How will rates need to change if project timing shifts? How do we estimate costs, budgets, and cash flow?
To accurately answer such questions, E&C PS firms need to have a robust bidding and project management system that ties directly into their accounting and finance system.
Moreover, the software and system(s) they use must enable the establishment of processes that support the continuous monitoring, tracking, analysing, and reporting of the status and outcomes of all activities. This is particularly true for managing two critical aspects of E&C ─ applications for payment and variations. Firms cannot invoice a client until the latter approves an application for payment that accurately depicts the portion completed and progress of the fixed-fee project. When variations occur, such as delays and scope changes, the PS firm requires visibility into the impact on project timelines, costs, client approval dates, and more.
Finally, the system must maintain and optimise historical project-related data so PS companies can remain compliant and report to numerous regulatory bodies and government agencies. For the EPA alone, firms must comply with a staggering number of regulations governing the prevention of contamination in five categories: air, lead, water, waste, and general.
Media and entertainment (M&E) firms contend with information management challenges related to gaining a comprehensive, real-time view of their content supply chain. They need to know what content is available and then verify and document the intellectual property rights for the content they use.
To manage these critical requirements, an M&E-focused software solution or information system needs complete workflow management. Acting like a ‘CRM on steroids,’ the system must allow for an end-to-end approval process, contact management, account-specific transaction history, automated royalty calculations, and royalty management. Finally, due to the globalisation of the M&E industry, the information system must offer multilingual, multicurrency functionality.
For marketing, advertising and PR agencies, the management of resources, brands and campaigns are paramount. Campaign and resource data tie closely together. Campaign owners need to know they have the capacity and the right personnel for each campaign. For example, does ‘Campaign X’ require director-level skills in SEO strategy and tactics, while ‘Campaign Y’ calls for a multimedia expert? Do the people available have enough capacity to help with the campaign, and how can I backfill in their absence? To ensure the appropriate resources are available and scheduled, integration to MS Outlook is critical.
Aside from availability, managing resources also equates to time and expense (T&E) management. A firm needs the ability to compare forecasted T&E against actuals to understand how well they are performing tasks within budgeted timeframes. The software should surface the factors causing actuals to vary from budgets. For example, a firm could discover their fixed-fee project allocates 2 hours for upfront client meetings which actually took 4 hours to complete. Rather than losing that billable time, they can seek an invoice adjustment.
Brands become easier to manage with software that can control versions of content. Too often, campaigns performed in isolation use incorrect content and messaging, putting the PS firm’s reputation on the line. The underlying software must track the latest approved messaging, content, and outbound marketing parameters to ensure clients’ brands are managed properly.
Much like professional services firms in the accounting and legal industries, management and IT consulting firms are under pressure to deliver projects on time with optimal staffing levels. Throwing too many people at a project undermines profits, while having too few people makes customer satisfaction plummet. Therefore, information systems must incorporate robust project management functionality. For example, SAP’s project management module manages the full lifecycle of planning and executing projects. By integrating with SAP’s other modules, PS firms can align projects, billings, and CRM-based opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling clients at the optimal time in the relationship.
Whether management and IT consulting firms integrate a project management tool into their backend accounting system or use an ERP’s project management module, the goal is the same: optimise cash flow and revenue by billing at the right time. For this reason, T&E functionality is a must-have for any firm’s software backend. Beyond T&E, it’s vital to bill for everything related to a project. Many projects, especially in IT consulting, involve the use of equipment and other items that must be paid for by someone. From computers and networking infrastructure, to iPads and testing devices, PS firm profits erode when these things go non-reimbursed by clients.
Clinical research organisations (CROs) must manage highly complex projects and clinical trials that are often performed by different groups in multiple regions of the world. Moreover, the very nature of the trial products means numerous agencies from different regions regulate the processes, data, and outcomes.
To deliver projects on time, within budget, and with complete data accuracy, CROs must align their virtual teams with a unified information management system. While project management software may seem to solve their needs, one must remember how critical quality control is in clinical trials – indicating the need for ERP-level quality control that supports good manufacturing practices in many consumer products companies.
Research firms, particularly B2C research firms, must manage resources to achieve their research goals on time and within budget. This can be tricky in a B2C environment, as project types vary greatly between focus groups, email outreach, Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter campaigns, direct phone-calling, etc. Each type of B2C research requires unique skills, and thus, the software must allow for skill-based resource availability and capacity planning analogous to marketing campaign planning and management. Again, this means research firms need MS Outlook integration to quickly and easily collaborate with the right personnel as project needs arise.
Your professional services firm requires processes, software, and systems that correspond to your industry’s needs. To get what you need, you should rely on a company that has both the systems expertise and industry-specific process knowledge to get you there – a company like Sapphire. Contact us for more information.
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