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Why Processes Must Come Before Systems

“A fool with a tool is still a fool,” goes the saying, and that definitely holds true in the case of choosing an automated system to support your services business.

We regularly hear of organizations that chose a software product thinking it would automate and revolutionize their business…only to find that the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ maxim is also true. Don’t get us wrong: as a company that helps hundreds of professional services organizations deliver thousands of projects every year, we know the value of the right services automation software. We know the benefits of being able to automate business processes to free up your employees to do value-added work.

But you need something else, alongside services automation software to help you build a predictable and profitable company.

You need processes

Processes underpin everything your business does. You have a process for prospecting and bringing in new work. There’s a process for producing proposals, estimating and project planning. Your project teams work with processes to deliver the projects, and then to close down a client engagement successfully.

The challenge for many service-led organizations is that these processes are not reliably repeatable. Instead, they rely on individuals to remember the steps, involve the right colleagues and complete the work. That might be OK for a short while. If it’s only one person doing the process, and they complete it regularly, they probably do it reasonably well. But when you scale, and there are 10 people doing that process, all slightly differently, and so infrequently that it takes them a long time to remember the steps – that’s when you start to expend more energy than necessary.

Processes streamline stakeholder engagement

Processes are only as good as the people who use them, so let’s make it easy for people to follow the processes. In fact, let’s make it so easy that they don’t have to think about the process at all. They simply follow the steps, let the automations happen, and reap the time-saving, cost-saving and stress-saving benefits.

One of the main benefits of process automation is that workflows identify the stakeholders for you. Your team doesn’t have to worry about where a document needs to go for approval, or what to do when a key signatory is away from the office. Powerful automated workflows will route the document to the right person, or their deputy, and keep the work moving. You don’t have to worry, and you don’t have to expend any brainpower on trying to establish what to do next.

A clear process will help you identify the stakeholders involved in any task. When you need to get their input, you can be prompted to do so. Does a proposal need a legal review for some clients but not others? No problem: automate your process so that different types of proposal go through the correct steps.

Business assets speed up automation

Automation lets you build on processes, by plugging in your business assets like documentation, meeting outputs and the knowledge management repository. All the things you currently create in the business can be shared and linked to automations so that people have all the information they need at any given point. Serving up resources to help with a process can make the work go more quickly, and reduces queries to managers and colleagues. ‘Baked in’ knowledge management really makes a difference!

The other significant saving we see regularly in professional services firms is document lifecycle automation. Many people think this is only useful for automating workflow reviews and approvals, as we’ve mentioned above. Automation does help documents get into circulation more quickly, while still meeting all compliance requirements – but full document lifecycle automation is far more than that.

Beyond documentation, so many other business areas lend themselves to automation, once the underlying process is clear. For example:

  • Time and billing: Automate the process of creating, completing, submitting and approving timesheets to free up your client-facing staff to do more value-added work.
  • Resource management: Automate project resource forecasting, streamline the booking process and manage individual resource assignments more easily.
  • Project management: Automate project reporting, approvals, financial processes and more, so your project teams can get on with serving customers.

The content created by all these processes can be leveraged across multiple systems to eliminate duplication of effort and create a single system of record. Data can be extracted to support detailed analytics which will help you identify process improvement opportunities. Documents can be archived and disposed of in line with compliance and governance needs. When you start looking into what automation can do for your processes, you might be surprised at how much can be made reliably repeatable!

Automation ensures repeatability

Automation helps ensure repeatability of your processes. When a process is standardized, it can be measured. You can track trends and surface information that helps the team make better decisions about how to do things better.

The detailed analytics in solutions like Upland PSA help you make informed choices about the business. When you monitor business performance, you want to know that your data is coming from robust, measurable processes where variation has already been minimized. That baseline gives you better comparability so you can dig into where improvements can be made.

An automated system doesn’t magically get the job done with no other input. You still have to know what you are doing and what steps to follow. Solid business processes give you this. Then you can automate, iterate and improve as you go. Think of building your process-led system as an evolution. Your processes might not be perfect from the beginning – trust us, they rarely are! – but they give you a solid foundation on which to build. The more data you collect about performance, the easier it is to identify business areas that would benefit from a ‘do over’. Business management is never a ‘one and done’ solution. The evolving professional services firm will be continually making tweaks and improvements to their processes.

Professional services automation software is proven to increase bookings in the pipeline, increase billable employee hours, increase revenue per employee and increase overall profit. Do you want to see what it could do for you? Read our whitepaper on how a small investment in PSA tools can supercharge your business. Download the whitepaper now.

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