Professional services firms: Unify information silos to optimize your operational workflow

Looking to optimize your professional services workflow? Register for our Aug. 24th webinar with TSIA for 5 critical workflow takeaways.

Over the last ten years, SPI’s Professional Services Maturity Benchmark has noted a distinct decrease in the bid-to-win ratio since 2007 for professional services firms. Though a lone metric, this ratio — which shows the number of winning proposals for every ten proposals submitted — is a good indicator of both the market saturation and competition levels in the professional services space at any given time. Thus, this fairly consistent decrease over the past decade reflects the notable increase in competition, high-quality services organizations, and client demands that current professional services firms are up against. This coupled with the substantial amount of disruption (tech-related and otherwise) hitting the professional services industry means that now more than ever services firms need to shape up or ship out.

Part of arming your firm against increased customer expectations, growing revenue leakage, and decreased profit margins means harnessing both a holistic, high-level view of your company as well as granular insight into your workflow. In other words — you need to access the granularity required to know exactly how things are going in real-time without losing sight of its collective impact on your balance sheet — and this isn’t always easy.

The reality of disparate systems

Any modern professional services firm likely uses some combination of ERP, CRM, HRIS, PSA, PPM, and so on — a cocktail of different systems that serve different purposes, host different and overlapping data inputs, and often don’t talk to each other enough. And this latter sentiment — this lack of communication between disparate systems and the divisions of people using them — is a problem.

Without a unified approach to your end-to-end customer journey you expose yourself to a variety of roadblocks and delays that can ultimately increase your client churn and damage your brand’s credibility.

When different business units within your company operate in silos, you risk many of the following scenarios:

  • Your sales team is early in the process of closing a deal and need to give fixed pricing to a client. They don’t have access to project delivery information and lack the strategic inputs to ensure that their fixed price isn’t severely over- or underestimated.
  • The project handoff between sales and project teams isn’t smooth, and your project team is playing catch-up from the beginning without easy access to initial sales info
  • Your finance team can’t see real-time project info to compare budget vs. actuals
  • Your finance team has to actively solicit inputs from other teams to try to plan their invoice cash flow

These are only a few scenarios, but they illustrate a larger point: if your different business units aren’t on the same page, not only do you risk frustrating or alienating clients, it’s also difficult to gauge the health and profitability of your company as a whole.

Tactical vs. strategic decisions

As a professional services firm, your main concerns boil down to:

  • Tactical decisions made by project managers based off strategic input from executives
  • Strategic decisions made by executives based off tactical input from project managers

Essentially, you have two methods for understanding your work: in the context of individual projects, or in the context of the business as whole. And yet, it’s impossible for most organizations to simultaneously understand both.

This story goes one of two ways: you focus on the project but don’t understand its impact on the business as a whole (which can then undermine your planning for hiring, financial forecasting, providing sales resources, etc.), or you focus on big ticket items like your balance sheet, revenue leakage, and profitability but lose sight of all the granular factors that determine these. Typically, the systems we use perpetuate this divide — in that they oftentimes collate granular data or offer a top-level financial view, but rarely do both.

Translation is work

Project managers and executives inherently rely on different metrics, and when they need data inputs from each other to inform their decisions, translation becomes a source of friction.

In short, the project manager uses certain metrics and terminology that requires time and effort to translate into something that’s relevant to the CFO, and vice versa. If your CFO has to constantly reach out to project managers to solicit tactical information, and your project managers have to constantly do the same to solicit strategic information from your CFO, then your company is wasting valuable time and energy trying to work around a broken flow of information.

Align your information, align your people

To be able to streamline communication between all of your business units, and function efficiently and agilely as a company, you need to be capturing information in a way that all parties can read, understand, and use to make both strategic and tactical decisions.

Professional services firms are at a point where they use so many business-critical systems that evolved as a way to help separate business units do their job better, and people are working in information silos because of it. Cognizant of this fact, they then put in place systems and software — PSA applications, generally — to help alleviate this problem, but because these systems are designed with an inherent linear workflow, firms still end up with siloed information and thinking. The systems capture data separately, and then relay information linearly from one to the next without considering the interdependencies and interconnectedness of this data at all times. So instead of taking this strictly linear approach, get ahead of the game by thinking about your aggregate data as the core concept continuously driving and being driven by operational and financial decisions and direction.

Want to learn more on new and different approaches to your workflow? Join TSIA VP John Ragsdale and Replicon VP of Product Marketing Vinita Venkatesh at our Aug. 24th webinar as they walk you through the top 5 critical factors of optimizing your professional services workflow.

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Regina Mullen
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Regina Mullen
Regina is the Workforce Management Expert & Content Marketing Associate for Replicon. Replicon provides award-winning products that make it easy to manage your workforce. With complete solution sets for client billing, project costing, and time and attendance management, Replicon enables the capture, administration, and optimization of your most underutilized and important asset: time.
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