Professional service firms—such as business consultancies, architect and engineering firms, and accounting and legal practices— are being challenged today as never before. Like their customers, Professional Services companies are facing escalating competition and cost pressures. This is forcing them to redesign and refocus their organizations. Responding to new market conditions while managing a wide range of clients and projects is a significant challenge for many of these firms. Equally challenging is the task of determining whether their technology investments are being used to their greatest potential as requirements change.
Most firms already have plenty of applications that automate their business processes. For example, they use personal productivity technology such as telephones, email and networked desktop computers with access to the Internet. Many project-based companies have implemented an industry-standard solution for accounting, timekeeping and project management.
The result, however, is an accumulation of data captured in different systems, at different times, in different formats. As a business grows and the use of hosted applications increases, it is important to integrate the various data streams of the business so key decision-makers can get as a complete and holistic view as possible of the entire business and not just pieces of it.
Also, in some firms a large amount of work might be done outside the home office. Yet if the firm’s system is available only in a single location, for a single or limited group of users, the result is duplicate, inconsistent or inaccurate data. This fosters inefficiency and drives up costs while reducing effectiveness. It places the burden of integrating information from various sources onto the professional.
It is a fact that Professional Services firms get a large amount of work on a recurring basis from existing customers. So, it is important to note that most integrated business process software available today is based on a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system. Virtually everyone in a firm has at least some indirect access to customers, or customer information. The goal of CRM is to collect that information in a central repository, and make it available to all departments. That pool of knowledge can then be used to prospect new business, validate leads, and analyze processes. Without CRM, the firm misses out on potential business opportunities, learning opportunities, and the opportunity to effectively reuse ideas and information.
When used properly, integrated business process software unifies all of the data about a project or client into a single point of reference. This includes every person involved with the matter, appointments, tasks, deadlines, phone calls, e-mails, correspondence, and integrated time and billing information. With a few clicks of the mouse, any authorized user can find out about the status of a given issue.
Professional Services firms should consider the following features when looking into business process automation:
- Fully CRM Integrated
- Integrated Project Administration
- Dashboard (Overview of project status at-a-glance)
- Integrated Time Sheets
- Integrated Expense Accounts
- Integrated Invoicing
- Scalable and Customizable
Professional services firms are not like other businesses. Their profitability depends on providing a constant stream of work for their staff, sometimes a difficult task because many projects or assignments last only a few weeks or months. The problem is most acute for smaller firms and is a major incentive for firms to grow. Profitability also requires that projects are estimated correctly and completed on time, while meeting or exceeding customer requirements. To succeed, Professional Service firms must adopt strategic and comprehensive financial, project, and resource management practices. This can be accomplished with an information technology infrastructure that allows staff to share data, work together, and make effective decisions.
While some project-based businesses have already embraced integrated business process software and are experiencing a return on their investment, there are still many firms that have yet to fully automate their key business processes or to successfully integrate their knowledge base. If your firm is one of them, now is the time to implement technologies that will give you the flexibility to build the relationships, transparency, networks, business models, and strategies to create extraordinary business success.
If you’re interested in learning more about