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Four Challenges Services Businesses Face When Operating Globally - and how Kimble PSA Can Help

By Chris Mitchell, VP Global Accounts

Services businesses which operate internationally face complex challenges. They have to deal with different laws and regulations, local working practices and languages, economic conditions and so on. They also have to create a global solution in order to maintain visibility of performance in each area while allowing for a degree of autonomy and decentralized decision-making. And increasingly, they need to operate in a truly global way, managing talent and teams across national boundaries.

At Kimble, we have a great deal of experience helping customers to meet these challenges. Services businesses of all kinds which operate people and projects across national borders utilize Kimble Professional Services Automation (PSA) to facilitate global working.  

Below are four of the major challenges of operating globally and how Kimble PSA can help.  

1. Dealing with local working practices

Kimble has customers all over the world and many of them operate on a global basis. Dealing with different countries’ regulations manually can be time-consuming and prone to error. Kimble’s configurable software can automate some of this effort.  For example –

  • Calendars. Kimble PSA supports multiple calendars so that users in a specific country can be assigned a calendar that reflects their business days and non-business days. This automatically recognizes appropriate public holidays, and workdays – some countries, eg in the Middle East, have standard business days other than Monday to Friday.
  • Currencies. Kimble PSA can also deal swiftly with transactions in multiple currencies. Where service professionals travel internationally, expenses will often be in a different currency from the one the individual gets paid in. The invoice to the customer may be in a third currency.  
  • Working hours. France and Scandinavian countries are strict about the number of hours in a working day with time off in lieu awarded for extra hours. In a large international project utilizing resources from many different countries with different working hours, flexibility is required as to which days/hours are worked – a project standard or the resource’s own standard.
  • Expenses. Germany is one of many countries that do not allow expenses to be claimed at cost and instead rigorously apply per diem allowances for business trips.  
  • Standards etc. Complying with constantly changing accounting standards, tax regulations and privacy laws which affect particular countries and regions, such as GDPR,  is equally complex. Using PSA helps to ensure that this is done with the minimum amount of cost or delay.
2. Creating a global solution with a unified view

Historically, international companies have tended to operate largely on an individual country basis, each with their own systems and processes. It could be difficult to draw out the data to compare like with like and to measure the performance of one area against another.

But now the technology exists in the form of PSA to link different aspects of the business and different locations together through a shared and scalable system, while still supporting compliance with the local conditions. This common system provides a single source of the truth. That allows for timely and consistent management of information.

One of the key challenges to establishing a global solution with a unified view is a diverse investment in existing systems.  Often, the functions which a specialized PSA like Kimble is designed to do, are being carried out in a mixture of global and local IT systems complemented by many spreadsheets. Moving data from one to another of these systems generally require a great deal of effort. The unified view that results may be hazy and out of date.

To meet the challenge of building a global solution from disparate systems, a large amount of effort has been put into creating an integration layer in Kimble with multiple interface definitions to most of the common enterprise finance, CRM, HR and time & expense systems. This layer has been leveraged in a number of different strategies that enable Kimble to fit into these diverse IT landscapes:

  • Mirror: All data in Kimble is mirrored in existing systems. This approach allows all the interfaces and dependencies on the existing system(s) to remain working while Kimble provides timelier, more consistent, complete and accurate management information via a more intuitive ‘front end’ than the existing system.
  • Complementary: Parts of Kimble PSA are selectively deployed to fill gaps in existing systems. For instance, Kimble has been deployed as an intelligent resourcing and proposal modeling solution, as described in the section above, integrated tightly into both front-end CRM and back-end project accounting solutions. Typically, this functionality is undertaken in spreadsheets or standalone systems rather than being integrated with CRM and project accounting solutions. Therefore, the injection of Kimble PSA greatly improves efficiency, transparency, and collaboration across the enterprise.
  • Evolutionary: Kimble has worked with global customers who lacked global systems but aspired to get to such a position over time. Typically, Kimble is implemented as a single, global hub system interfaced to multiple local CRM and finance systems. Over time the CRM/finance systems are replaced with a new global standard with minimum disruption.
3. Balancing central control with autonomy  

Creating a unified view with this global solution does not mean increased centralization. In fact, using a PSA can support autonomous working, self-management and decentralized decision-making. Access to timely and accurate information can support a more forward-looking culture, and enable better decisions to be made more quickly which improves business performance, In contrast, drawing power to the center creates a risk of decision-making bottlenecks.

A global PSA creates increased transparency which can help to keep everyone informed. For instance, managers in different locations can see how their area is performing against the average. They can see their average or billable utilization and whatever KPIs and trends the PSA is discovering for each area of the business.  

The metrics for each country don’t have to be set centrally or all be the same. Different areas may have a different strategy, offering some different services perhaps, and setting different targets, but all contributing to the overall company vision.

Managers for each area can be part of setting their own targets and metrics and take responsibility for budgets, margins, and customer satisfaction rates. The visibility created by the PSA means that they can be held accountable for how they perform against these.

Project managers who are aware of the margin the project was sold at and how they are performing against that are in a better position to take decisions which will preserve the profitability of the project.

Kimble PSA includes intelligent insights which coach people in various roles, reminding them of the next step or alerting them to issues. It also includes a variety of analytics. The powerful software can highlight trends, so that business leaders’ attention can be drawn to the most critical areas of the business. A global PSA also provides reassurance that unexpected actions will be automatically flagged up.

4. Global Resourcing

Technology is increasingly ‘flattening’ the world. Teams are more often assembled today not by geography but by skill. This is particularly the case in the services divisions of product companies where implementation and adoption experts often travel widely.  

Effectively managing resources in a global way can be highly complex. Demand and supply are not always in the same place. Commercially, it may be better for a global company to utilize appropriately skilled employees from multiple countries as opposed to resolving demand locally using a mixture of employees and freelancers. This avoids uncovered cost of employees sitting on the bench when there is a role they could do – albeit not locally.

Many global companies have pools of lower cost near-shore or offshore resources available to flex supply to demand and to enable competitive daily rates.

To be successful, such strategies require full visibility of supply and demand on a global basis, the ability to model the cost/margin impact of using different resources, and a marketplace in which business units can trade resources. Typically, the business unit selling the global project will agree that the revenue generated by resources belonging to other business units will be transferred back to those units or, at the very least that there will be cost relief plus a small margin.

Global services operations which can put such processes in place effectively will enjoy significant competitive advantages over those that persist with a siloed resourcing model in which demand and supply are local to each business unit. A multi-currency PSA application which has been proven to scale to the large number of users involved while also having been proven to support local variations is essential; Kimble is such a PSA.

An intelligent resourcing management system within the PSA allows bid/project managers to search a global resource pool for the best possible match for an upcoming engagement – based on skills, location, cost, and availability.

The PSA can accurately record agreements to share revenue/cost so that this can be baked into the project plan and all revenue/margin forecasts of all participating business units are accurate. 

Lastly, the sales process and the resourcing process can be tightly integrated so that proposals are based on the reality of the available resources – and their costs. This necessarily means that the PSA solution should be tightly integrated with the CRM solution of the global enterprise.

Using a PSA such as Kimble is the most effective way to operate globally  

In conclusion, I would argue that managing a services business in a truly global way will in most cases require the use of a PSA such as Kimble. It would be extremely difficult to do this effectively using homegrown systems or spreadsheets, which would require constant costly maintenance and updating.

Kimble has customers in 42 countries and many of them also operate internationally. Kimble’s customer success team is available across the world and around the clock. The software is updated twice a year by a dedicated team of developers, who take account of customers’ enhancement requests and the changing legal and regulatory environments in which they work. As a global leader in PSA, Kimble is focused on supporting customers across national boundaries.