Professional services businesses are busy. Could a professional service automation platform be just the thing your business needs? Here are some insights on choosing the right tool for your company.
In 2017, roughly 1.2 million firms and 9 million employees made up a U.S. professional services industry that climbed to $1.76 trillion in annual revenues. From marketing agencies to management consultants, such firms are often small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and serve larger companies. In fact, last year, SMBs represented 99 percent of the total software and IT services market alone.
Professional service organizations (PSOs) are busy. That's good news, but it presents a challenge for these often hands-on owners and senior leaders: a lack of time for administrative tasks. Further complicating things is the fact that PSOs don't always operate from 9 to 5 and only on weekdays. Mobility and remote access are vital for both leaders and employees.
Recently, professional services automation (PSA) platforms have been offering some relief. This technology automates business processes from finance to operations to sales and project management. It can free leaders to focus on more revenue-generating, strategic activities, while helping employees to become more efficient and teams to collaborate more effectively.
There is promise in PSA platforms, but like any new development, there are some things leaders should know before deploying a solution.
What can PSA platforms do?
Let's face it, there are many forms of technology aimed at SMBs. In marketing alone – an industry loaded with smaller shops – there are nearly 7,000 solutions with tools layered on top.
That said, you want to make sure a PSA platform is right for your organization. There's no need to add further IT complexity or waste investments on shelfware. With all that in mind, what can a PSA platform do, exactly?
For starters, it gives every member of a PSO tools, insights and transparency, enabling them to make better decisions faster. Efficiency also increases with project management tools that allow collaboration, document management, budget and resource planning, and tracking of deliverables.
Some PSA platforms handle resource and contractor management too. These are big concerns for PSOs that need to control hours and use external workers. Heat maps can offer at-a-glance availability and role and skill matching, while also offering suggestions. The systems can provide updates on projects, activities and approvals as well as some permit prepopulated timesheets and time tracking. As for financing, PSA platforms can typically manage projects, accounts payable and receivable, corporate profit and loss, and automated billing.
Some PSA platforms offer real-time metrics to give a clear picture of a business's health, supporting better decision-making. The technology can analyze what's happened in the past and help plan for the future. For leaders, that can mean more accurate forecasting of what's in a pipeline and ensure the scope of work and margins are on target.
In theory, a PSA platform decreases the expanse between sales and delivery and from quote to cash. Still, not all platforms are created equal.
There are numerous things to remember when it comes to selecting the right PSA platform. Below are key areas to focus on.
Simplicity and ease: PSOs often have separate tools for tracking time, budgets, customer relationships, project management, billing and more. Some PSA platforms can actually be that one tool which controls them all, greatly simplifying your life. Also, keep in mind the platform you choose needs to integrate with other technology. To make things easier, consider a software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud-based model. They're created to make things easier, and any IT burden falls on the provider.
Proven performance: Work with established vendors. Ease of use is critical, and underdeveloped technology aggravates users. If tools aren't intuitive, no one will use them. Further, a vendor that's been around is more likely to be there in the future for upgrades and ongoing support.
Mobility and access: Ensure you can access the PSA platform wherever you are. Also make sure it can send notifications to any device. What's the point of having all kinds of powerful tools today if you can't use them immediately?
Pricing flexibility: There are various models for purchasing PSA platforms, so if pricing doesn't work with one vendor, talk to another. SaaS models offer the most flexibility, ranging from per user to per month to packages for entire firms. PSAs are structured for the public service industry – dominated by SMBs – so finding one that meets your budget shouldn't be an obstacle.
Changes come quickly in business today. Keeping up with the competition is a challenge, never mind losing hours to unnecessary administrative tasks.
As a business leader, PSA platforms have the potential to simplify operations and give you time and greater control of your core business operations. Once a PSA platform is live, you and your team will have access to accurate information to support precise and rapid decision-making.
This can move you ahead. The trick is to choose wisely. Make sure the solution is powerful and something you and your team will enjoy using. Otherwise, the investment will be wasted.