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What is the best software for managing professional services firms?

We’d like to encourage you to submit articles for our nuggets section. This one is from Pete Smith and describes the problems he perceives in selecting the right software for Professional Services and his experiences of using Kimble.

Square Peg Round Hole by Pete Smith, Founder, Cloudpartners US

Have you ever tried to tighten a screw with a pen knife? Ever tried to open a can of beans with scissors? Sure it can be done but it’s a frustrating activity, and can be dangerous!

The same scenario applies to business applications for those of us engaged in delivering people based businesses, Engineers, IT consultants, Doctors, Attorneys, in fact any business where we have scarce human resources, unpredictable demand and a variable cost that rarely declines with greater supply.

Let’s look at a bit of history. 30 years ago the printing industry went through an abrupt transition from hot metal typesetting to electronic typesetting and effectively killed the trade of typesetter. The vendors of these electronic solutions however quickly found that you couldn’t sell a newspaper typesetting solution to a commercial or government printer. Their needs were different. Skip forward 10 years, to the first manufacturing systems which were almost exclusively designed for discrete manufacturing. Again, the vendors found that what they wanted to sell wasn’t what the client wanted. Making paint or soft drinks is not the same as making widgets!

How does this relate to the professional services sector? How do you manage your client relationships, Salesforce? Oracle? Microsoft? Inevitably we’ve seen the big vendors clean up here as they supplied a desperate need for us to communicate with our prospective clients and those inside our firms. It’s also meant that we’ve all had to integrate the manufacturing equivalent of a “discrete” solution to our “process business”.

The biggest implication of this has been that the back office systems of our professional services firms don’t talk the same language as our front office, and crucially the largest areas of cost saving are being missed as they fall through the cracks.

The answer then is a front and back office solution that is integrated. The most common search term for this is PSA or Professional Services Automation.

Before we investigate some definitions let’s add a new one, Holistic Enterprise Management. We define this as being able to see the whole business, at any time, from any view. The traditional view of “front office and back office” will disappear as we start to see the benefits that widget sellers have had for years.

So what advantages do we get with a Holistic Solution such as Kimble?

Let’s start by a quick reminder of what front and back office systems offer and then lets define what we need to be able to do with our business, the doing is what defines Kimble.

Front office includes project office admin, project admin, time and expense reporting whereas back office includes project accounting, billing and collections. Both may share a CRM system or contact database. In other words the builders of these systems took existing back office solutions and bolted on CRM and project management or vice versa. That’s fine if that’s how our businesses operate but it’s not how they should operate!

Our aim is to maximize profit on all existing and new business, to be able to view forecast business against current commitments, know the potential impact on our business of winning a particular project. Be able to move our people resources to the right projects at the right time to achieve maximum profit and the highest customer satisfaction.

We need to be able to see all resources over all projects and look at the relative and absolute profit of existing projects and clients. We want the lowest ratio of billable/non billable personnel and we want all our people to be able to communicate using the latest mobile and secure social media available.

From an organizational point of view we want to be able to move away from front office and back office to a flexible organization focused on client satisfaction, so we win more business, collect quicker, and win repeat business at higher margins. Our goal is to ensure we adapt to our clients, not expect them to adapt to us!

Finally we want to be able to grow our business without huge investments in implementing and managing our infrastructure. We need a 21st Century solution to a 21st Century need.

Many firms already have a solution, what do they do? Do you walk away from the mighty systems you have built and the processes that have taken you years to build? The answer to that has to be taken at the top and really starts with what very shareholder asks, “how are you going to give me the best return for my investment”? You can certainly implement Kimble in stages, and you’ll get many benefits as you reach for the goal of Holistic Enterprise Management with a complete solution.