This mantra is frequently repeated across all industries. For instance, in the consumer electronics industry, where once highly-priced items such as televisions, personal computers, phones and cameras have become commodities, ongoing improvements to create a better, faster and cheaper product are necessary just to stay profitable and competitive in the industry.
While professional services outcomes have some tangible milestones such as a completed audit, the implementation of software, or a desired legal outcome, there is no physical deliverable to measure in these three areas. With the lack of a physical deliverable in these three areas, it is more difficult to improve on over time.
Focusing on the Customer
Many services organizations struggle to raise the quality of their services and efficiency of the delivery. They are challenged to provide lower prices to the customer base over time. While the scope of work for professional services organizations varies widely—from the implementation of a software project for a software company, to the completion of an audit for an accounting firm, or a desired legal outcome for a law firm—they all share one thing in common: the customer.
Each customer has a specific goal in mind that is related to the completion of a series of tasks that are structured to produce the desired outcome. Another commonality these customers have is that they don’t much care what happens behind the counter; they just want the result that they’ve been promised at the end of their engagement.
Each customer has a specific goal in mind that is related to the completion of a series of tasks that are structured to produce the desired outcome
As the complexities of achieving the customer’s desired outcomes are incredibly difficult in their own right, the last thing a software consultant, an accountant or lawyer should be doing is spending time on the mechanics of time sheets, tasks, invoicing or revenue forecasting. Time spent in these areas results in less focus on the actual discipline for which they are hired to do.
Managing a Services Organization
Make no mistake; managing a services organization is extremely complex. To do this role effectively, resources must be allocated at the appropriate time across numerous projects; time must be tracked against different tasks across the entire portfolio of accounts; progress toward completion of milestones must be well understood and communicated to the customer; and most importantly, revenue must be forecasted with reasonable accuracy at the portfolio level to manage the finances for the overall business.
This work represents the glue of the professional services organization. In its best form, it is invisible to the client: invoices go out at the appropriate time and for the appropriate work, milestones are tracked, dates are published and revenue is recognized.
In its worst form, it leads to ad-hoc resource assignments or fire fighting, inefficient use of the workforce, incorrect or untimely invoices, inaccurate forecasts and a general sense of disorganization from the client perspective.
Defining a Professional Services Automation Process
Therein lays the business case for having a well-defined professional services automation process that ties all these tasks together. This plan ensures that the line staff has a clear understanding of their work, the milestones for which they are responsible and the process frees the staff to focus on leveraging their domain expertise to achieve the end goal of their services (i.e. the delivered project, the completed audit, or the legal outcome).
Meanwhile, the management staff can focus on higher-level tasks such as resource allocations, workflow bottlenecks or other patterns in the data that will help them manage and optimize the workforce and the portfolio.
Most importantly, professional services automation helps the executive management team perform those functions that executives should be focused on: identifying, mitigating and resolving financial risks for the business.
In its simplest form, professional services automation reduces the substantial block of time used for serving the administrative beast—or in other words—the wasted time used to double enter time on tasks in duplicate systems, numerous spreadsheets used to triple check invoices due to an errant invoice to important customer in the distant past, etc.
At its best, professional services automation can provide a true strategic advantage by avoiding risks associated with resource over allocation or bottlenecks, providing accurate revenue forecasts and business intelligence on how to improve the overall efficiency of delivering the services, and even provide predictive information on how upcoming sales will affect the workforce, the revenue and whether the current staff is sufficient.
Getting to Better, Faster, Cheaper
In the end, the value proposition addresses each of the “better, faster, cheaper” areas with the following:
1. With less administrative work, service providers can improve quality by simply focusing more on their subject matter discipline and less on filling out time sheets or struggling with revenue forecasts.
2. By eliminating this overhead and allowing the team to focus on their core competencies, the schedule for the delivered services can be accelerated and the project shortened.
3. The reduced overhead will lower the cost of delivered services, allowing the executive team to compete more aggressively on price, or simply increase the margin and add to the bottom line.
However, the biggest advantage of professional services automation may be with the intangible benefits it provides. The focus on metrics leads to an enhanced delivery reputation, increased customer satisfaction and better references. It also provides a feedback loop foundation that can be leveraged to continually improve on the delivery capabilities to not only remain competitive, but move to best in class.