An up-and-coming law firm. A team of creative architects. A busy web development company.
On the surface, these organizations don’t appear to have much in common, but at their core, they’re each selling the same thing: time and expertise, or – more precisely – the services of their hard-working staff.
Professional Service Organizations like these ones are a far different beast than those hawking physical products like sweaters and software. They have different needs, and – as the initiated would attest – face far different challenges.
For one, the relationship between employee time and profit is much more pronounced. Projects and/or client relationships are long-term endeavors, and proper management and budget monitoring can make or break them. Financial management is often more complicated too, as organizations need to determine whether to offer fixed bids or charge for time and materials, and whether to bill according to calendar dates or project milestones.
The list goes on.
Professional Services Automation systems – or PSAs – are business management solutions designed with these specific challenges in mind. They help PS Organizations to organize, track, and manage every aspect of their business – from opportunities, to work, to resources, to revenue – and get on a path to improved productivity and efficiency.
Most importantly, they allow companies to look at how all these elements work together, and easily answer the question that will ultimately determine their success: what are our gross margins, and how can we be more competitive?
Interested? Here are my top five Golden Rules for harnessing the power of the PSA:
Time tracking is paramount
In a service organization, the “raw material” is time – there is arguably no other place where the age old adage “time is money” rings more true. Without disciplined and structured time tracking, PS Organziations have no way to track performance, estimate their gross margins, and judge whether or not their pricing is on point. Take full advantage of your PSA’s robust time management components – and ensure that every employee is doing so in the same way – and you’ll see a dramatic effect on the bottom line.
Implement consistent catalogs
It’s essential that everyone involved in a project – from customers to consultants to finance – understands what’s being charged and why. By laying down a defined product/service catalog with a pricing matrix, and assigning rates by seniority level (junior vs senior employees), you’ll ensure that everyone is speaking the same language, and avoid costly miscommunications. Make sure the catalog aligns with how the work is both dispatched and delivered so that everyone in your organization is on the same page.
Take advantage of KPIs and Dashboards
Once you have time tracking and consistent pricing down, you can move on to KPIs and dashboards. The output of these powerful PSA system tools should soon drive your sales/delivery meetings. With the info they provide on hand, your meetings will be less about pulling information out of your employees and more about assessing, reacting, and – most importantly – coming up with solutions.
In an ideal situation, organizations should use their PSA tool (like FinancialForce) to produce their invoices. This way, they’ll avoid any mismatch of information between what’s been done (services rendered, materials used, etc.) and what ends up getting billed. This is the best way to get an accurate idea of the gross margins on your services and make any necessary adjustments as a result.
Don’t forget external expenses
PSA systems are all about bringing every aspect of your business under one organized, integrated, technological “roof”. Don’t forget to include the ones that don’t reside under your physical roof, too! The management of your external contractors and project expenses should also be done via the PSA system, for simple and easy profitability monitoring, budget tracking, job dispatching and even communication.