PSA in action


Professional services automation is still a nascent area, and many suppliers complain that potential customers still fail to appreciate the business benefits the software offers. Instead, many organisations struggle to manage projects and resources using a haphazard combination of disparate spreadsheets, and in some cases, Microsoft Project.

As a result, PSA's earliest successes have typically been notched up in organisations with an in-depth understanding of technology and a wide portfolio of in-house skills – in particular, providers of IT products and services, and the internal IT departments of very large organisations.

Nevertheless, IT market analysts and suppliers insist that the business benefits to be derived from implementing PSA software are not exclusive to such organisations. In fact, they argue, any services-oriented business can benefit from tools that enable it to shorten the contract-to-cash cycle and better manage skills and resources. In the UK alone, the combined professional services industry amounts to some $30 billion in annual sales, according to the UK Office of National Statistics.

"PSA can enable professional services firms to add 10% to their bottom line," claims David Hofferberth of analyst company Aberdeen Group. The main sources of business benefit are: improved executive understanding of the business; reduced time and expense processing; reduced unaccounted-for time; improved sales forecasting and budgeting; and increased resource utilisation.



In action: Datapoint

When Steve Soanes was appointed as CIO at customer contact centre consultancy Datapoint in early 2001, he was immediately set an exacting task by the company's management team: to find both professional services automation (PSA) and customer relationship management (CRM) software that would enable Datapoint to become a more efficient and streamlined business in the run-up to a proposed initial public offering in September of that year.

As economic conditions deteriorated over 2001, it became clear that a flotation was no longer the best strategic direction for the company. But like all professional services providers, the downturn also meant that Datapoint's need to better leverage its human assets was more pressing than ever.

The company knew that if it was to weather the downturn it needed to capture simple information for sales management purposes, have a flexible measurement, resource management, resource scheduling and searchable skills database to meet client needs, and to gain better visibility of both its sales pipeline and its resource utilisation. In short, says Soanes, "We needed to know what we were doing, how we were doing it, where and why."

The process of selecting vendors was "an eye-opener" according to Soanes: He sent out requests for information (RFIs) to some 15 PSA and CRM vendors, and received responses from just four. One of these was PSA supplier Changepoint. "Their submission was by far the most professional and complete, so they were immediately ahead of the game in my eyes," he says.

Another key advantage to Changepoint's offering quickly emerged: not only could the company's software fulfil Datapoint's PSA needs, but it also fulfilled much of its CRM needs as well. "CRM to us is principally about pipeline management, because our business is based on relatively low volume of high value deals. Our CRM needs were not complex, and Changepoint could handle them effectively."

The negotiations with Changepoint were concluded in August 2001, and the system went live in the UK in October 2001. The system was then rolled out progressively to Datapoint's other country sites in Europe, a process that was completed in March 2002.

Changepoint, according to Soanes, has become the point of aggregation for people, projects and opportunities for the entire Datapoint professional services staff. "It forced a degree of conformance to processes where none had existed before," he says. He claims that the company is now making informed decisions about projects at every stage of their life, rather than the "educated guesswork" that used to drive business decisions. "Opportunities that might otherwise have slipped are now caught, giving us a better chance at closing opportunities. Weekly reviews for monitoring and forecasting purposes are critical to our operations and these are now well within our capabilities," he says. What is more, he adds, the software enables Datapoint to effectively monitor staff utilisation and review productivity performance.

Change management has been a challenge for Datapoint, he admits, although the company is in the process of tackling this with trips by the company's PSA project team to European outposts. "I would strongly urge companies to invest heavily in change management where they are asking employees to alter working patterns," he says.

Work on the Changepoint implementation continues. For example, the company is working on building custom OLAP (online analytic processing) cubes and associated reports in order to improve its strategic analysis capabilities. Although Changepoint does provide pre-packaged OLAP and reporting tools, they were not a close enough fit for Datapoint's specific requirements, says Soanes. "Building these capabilities will give us even more insight into what costs our account management practices generate," he says.

In action: Amey Technical Services

Before business support services company Amey implemented PSA software from enterprise applications company Lawson Software, consultants in its 800-strong technical services division spent far too long on bidding for contracts and planning those bids – hours that customers could not be billed for. "These are creative people, and they come up with great ideas, but those great ideas weren't actually leading to us winning more work," recalls Mike Tresise, finance director of the division.

Amey is one of the UK's leading business support services providers. Its Technical Services division, which has an annual turnover of £62 million, provides clients with a range of systems consultancy, integration, support and training services. It also provides contract IT staff to companies such as Compaq, DHL and Marks & Spencer.

The division, explains Tresise, was put together by acquiring a number of smaller companies, "all with different business processes, different cultures and different ways of doing things". The main challenge, he says, was to standardise service provision across the business and to consolidate data on the amount of time that was charged to clients in order to get an accurate picture of utilisation rates across these disparate teams.

Tresise and his team decided to implement PSA software from Account4 (acquired by Lawson in July 2001) – an obvious choice since, at the same time, Amey Technical Services signed a partnership to become an Account4 reseller. The software was rolled out incrementally, says Tresise, and priority was given to "the most distressed units in terms of efficiency".

The goals of the Account4 implementation were two-fold: to streamline the timesheet-to-billing process; and to achieve higher rates of utilisation.

"By implementing timesheet-to-billing software, we are now able to account for every moment of our consultants' billable and unbillable time," says Tresise. As a result, utilisation rates have risen from around 64% to 71%. "What we have now is complete visibility into how we operate. Before, we might have known that we needed a C++ programmer in Winchester next week, but we might not have known that there was one sitting in Preston, twiddling his thumbs," he says.

And as for the problem of consultants spending too much time on bidding and planning bids? That time has been halved from around 20% to 10%, resulting in savings of some £30,000 per month.

Consultants at Amey Technical Services now hope to achieve similar results for their clients. "Our (Amey) Lawson PSA practice has completed three implementation projects, including two systems within Amey Group companies and one for the IT department of an investment bank in the City of London. We currently have two further projects underway with a professional services organisation and a central government department," says Tresise.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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