Posted by Scott Grillo, PSA Account Executive, NetSuite
Lots of companies call themselves "people" businesses, when in actuality people are often simply a necessary tool for selling and delivering a product. But at professional services firms, the product literally is the people.
Yet, today, many professional services firms fail to manage their people as if they were their most important assets. Instead, they rely on spreadsheets to determine who's available for project work, an approach that may be efficient at first but is quickly rendered ineffective.
Oh, the spreadsheet may work fine while a firm is a 10-person boutique, but things quickly become unwieldy once a company doubles or triples in size. Eventually, the organization is forced to change its approach, or risk missing out on revenue opportunities, due to having insufficient insight into that critical asset: People.
Spreadsheets Create Challenges
Use of spreadsheets by small, growing companies is a common approach to replicating enterprise-grade functionality without making enterprise-priced technology purchases. But whatever they're used for, spreadsheets inevitably bump against numerous functional limitations, at which point they start to bog a company down. And nothing will bog down a professional services firm faster than poor management of people.
This is why every professional services firms should consider deploying a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution that can bring accurate, up-to-date resource utilization and skills data into project planning, resulting in sound resource management practices.
Think about how spreadsheets can run off the rails for simple things such as running a football pool or keeping track of who's bringing what to a company Christmas party. As you add more people and more data fields, things get complicated and unmanageable. Change the football picks and food assignments to things like availability, career goals and travel, and it's easy to see how using a spreadsheet to manage staff resources can become a serious quagmire.
PSA systems like NetSuite OpenAir transform the quagmire into simple decisions. Need three Java developers who speak Spanish for a project in Minneapolis? No problem. Just enter those parameters and the system returns a list, even ranking them based on suitability for the project, availability, location, and any other factor the organization wants to track.
Why is this so important? Start by considering that professional services firms must meet the needs of three groups of stakeholders:
- Clients want their projects staffed by people who understand their business and industry, and have experience working on similar efforts.
- Project managers are similarly motivated, wanting to ensure the client's satisfaction, a much easier goal with the right people on the job.
- Finally, there are the staff resources themselves, who are often overlooked, but who might prefer to do work for certain clients or vertical industries, and may or may not be interested in travel.
Trying to keep up with all those needs in a spreadsheet simply isn't possible. Employees are constantly added (or subtracted), skills evolve, people move and start families, and priorities change. Adding to the complexity is the fact that as changes are made, multiple versions of the spreadsheet get saved, making it impossible to know who has the most current data.
Conversely, a PSA solution like OpenAir automates these processes on cloud-based platform that ensures everyone is on the same page and working from the most current information. A firm can track exactly what it needs to make good staffing decisions, eliminating a lot of the extra, non-essential data that works its way into spreadsheets, and store key contractor skills data for quick access to additional resources.
Better yet, the improved decision-making a PSA system yields will fuel employee satisfaction and retention, as well as customer satisfaction.
And let's not forget the resources it takes to manage the resources. Rather than having people living in a spreadsheet, constantly updating and cleaning data, a couple of people devoting 10-15 hours a week can easily manage the schedules of 500 people, thanks in part to OpenAir's user-friendly design.
OpenAir gives professional services firms the flexibility and toolsets they need to support whatever process methodologies they may use. The system has been designed to flex to the needs of multiple industries, enabling companies to cater it to their own specific business models.
More than anything, professional services firms should consider PSA systems to be an investment in their most important asset: people. When people get overworked, they stop being excited about projects and cease doing their best work. They start thinking about going elsewhere. Conversely, if they're underworked, they get bored, which also eventually will lead them to look elsewhere.
With a PSA solution in place, a professional services firm can hit that resource sweet spot and greatly reduce the odds of keeping its staff together, happy, and motivated. Its customers will thank it.
Download the full whitepaper: Eliminate spreadsheets: Optimizing the resource management process.