One of the main reasons a Professional Services Automation (PSA) initiative can fail in an organization can usually be attributed to the discrepancy in the level of maturity of the processes in place and the automation deployed. Whether it be a dedicated professional services organization or an embedded services group within a larger company, the processes and people that make up service delivery will determine what level of automation makes the most sense. As a result, a PSA initiative is only as good as the people who are willing and able to accept the delivered functionality.
Many low maturity organizations have the dream of complete automation without taking the necessary steps to nail down their processes and prepare themselves for change. Typically, the beginning stages of a low maturity services organization can be aptly compared to the early days of flight where the reliability and consistency of the technology were spotty at best. Moreover, the risk factor was extremely high, where at any point, crashing and burning were imminent. We must not ignore the fact that before the concept of “auto-pilot” became mainstream, “getting flight right” was an iterative process that took years to perfect. The truth is, technology always sees the most success when its users area ready for it and this is especially true for services firms that have their fate intricately linked to their people who drive their successes and failures.
In light of this reality, when deciding on a PSA strategy, services organizations need to take stock of their situation and seek automation based on their current ability to accept the new changes with an eye on what is possible down the road. The right level of automation needs to correspond to an organization’s pressing needs that are impeding the business’ growth, consistency to deliver and/or profitability. So, how does a services organization know where it stands and what automation will deliver the most value? Although the answer is not cut and dry, professional services firms tend to fall into the following categories within the PSA maturity continuum:
- Tactical – The focus is on the day to day delivery and execution of customer projects with minimal/poor planning and processes in place. One wrench in the wheel can easily capsize the services team, revealing the fragility of the team’s effectiveness. At this stage, execution-based PSA functionality, such as automated timesheets, expense reporting and billing/invoicing need to be addressed prior to solving the more advanced planning and forecasting processes. Organizations’ at the tactical stage need to refine their end-to-end PSA processes and plan for future growth. The biggest challenge will be to move from a culture of “fire fighting” to a culture of “playing chess.”
- Proactive – The organization has streamlined resource planning and forecasting facilitating service delivery, optimization of resource utilization and maximizing profitability. At this stage, organizations’ have a solid playbook in place and are seeking financial forecasting and resource management capabilities for better planning and project performance. Proactive organizations should be shoring up stakeholder buy-in so that their recipe for success can be realized. It is essential that the drivers of the services organization move beyond process refinement and focus on having the right people in place to execute on the PSA processes in place.
- Integrated – An end-to-end PSA solution is in place seamlessly managing the bid-to-bill project lifecycle by linking Front Office (CRM), Middle Office (PSA) and Back Office (Accounting/Financials) systems. At this stage, all processes are fully integrated across relevant business system providing a singles source of truth of pipeline demand, inflight projects and the associated progress and financial metrics. Integrated PSA organizations handle many moving parts and need to consistently adapt to all processes and systems that will impact the services organization. Integrated organizations need to ensure that they do not fall into the trappings of running on “auto-pilot” and always be prepared for changing business conditions.
- Strategic – The priority is on the refinement of the automated businesses processes in place by adding a strategic layer of analytics and knowledge capture focused on best practices, trend analysis and improved visibility. At this stage, powerful reporting and knowledge management capabilities are integrated into the PSA solution to facilitate continuous improvement and strategic decision making. Strategic organizations understand that their success is intricately linked to the effectiveness in which they can identify trends and bottlenecks in the business data and knowledge they capture and act accordingly. That being said, access to this mission-critical information can lead organizations down the path of “analysis paralysis” hindering their ability to make the best decisions possible. Hence, clearly building a strategic plan on how to capture and track strategic knowledge is as important as acting on the information at hand.
When done right implementing a PSA solution into your organization will payoff, as it did for Rostamani, Shift Technologies. So, whether you are in the early days of flight or you’re ready for “auto-pilot” technology, a PSA solution needs to be adaptable and incorporate an iterative approach to allow your business to grow at its own pace without crashing and burning on take-off!
About the Author: Neil Stolovitsky has over 17 years of IT experience with end-user, consulting, and vendor organizations, along with extensive expertise in business development, software selection, and channel strategies. He has published numerous white papers and articles covering Professional Services Automation, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for service industries, Project Portfolio Management, IT Governance, and New Product Development to a global audience. Neil currently holds the position of Senior Solution Consultant with Upland Software.