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Certinia spring release emphasizes the role of AI in optimizing services operations

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 18, 2024
Summary:
Deploying AI in ways that help professional services organizations optimize their operations and profitability is the big theme of Certinia's latest update to its services business platform.

Adam Hay of Jellyfish speaks on a Zoom call from a meeting room in the Shard, London
Adam Hay, Jellyfish (Zoom screengrab)

Certinia brought out its spring release yesterday, offering enhancements to help services businesses optimize processes such as estimation, resource utilization, project finance management, finance operations and demand planning. AI is playing a growing role in many of these functions, but with an emphasis on business value, as DJ Paoni, Certinia's CEO, explains:

We're focused on AI, not as a hype term that you see all over, but really as a way of delivering tangible customer value in areas like enhanced resource allocation, improving services, margins and efficiency and certainly cash flow forecasting.

Certinia sees AI as just another tool contributing to more effective automation and decision-making, running on its platform's connected digital backbone. The end goal is better business results, as Paoni explains:

You have to be able to convert services potential into profit. Automating repeatable processes and improving business visibility helps focus time and talent toward value creation, which as we all know, ultimately leads to meaningful margin contribution.

The AI features include assistance when scoping a project for estimation, and predictive analytics to help evaluate the likelihood that an estimate will succeed, with the ability to fine-tune elements to improve the chance of success. An intelligent staffing algorithm helps maximize utilization when assigning resources to projects, and visualization of scheduled hours for suggested resources helps resource managers improve demand planning. Generative AI is deployed to help users draft project summaries.

Certinia enlisted longstanding customer Jellyfish, a UK-based, global digital marketing and creative services agency, which last year became part of the larger Brandtech Group, to talk about the impact of AI on its own operations, spread across 22 countries. It has been a user of Certinia's professional services automation platform, PS Cloud, for four years, and recently started on implementing the vendor's services estimation tool, Services CPQ. The agency has also been participating in the early adopter program for Certinia's AI capabilities, using analytics to more accurately predict demand and profitability. The goal, says Adam Hay, Senior Director of Operations, is to:

Make sure that we can try and limit the effort in the front and back office, so that we can make better informed, agile decisions about how we increase our team sizes or protect or grow our margins and things like that.

Jellyfish is now close to putting this into production for a couple of use cases. He goes on:

It's been a learning curve, because it relies on a lot of the data being clean and accurate... We're specifically at the moment looking at margins and predicting margin. We're also looking at project scheduling risks as well — how can we get ahead of the curve or understand the impact our resources are having on our projects. I like to call it looking around corners and seeing what's ahead before it happens.

Managing change when rolling out AI

One of the lessons learned from the exercise is that there's an important change management aspect to moving ahead with AI. He explains:

This is the emotional side of the introduction of AI, and also the educational side. Not everyone in the business knows how it works. So there is certainly a journey to be taken with those who are going to be users, but also leaders in the business. It's quite easy to fall into the trap of just, 'Oh that's what we'll do then, we'll follow the trend, we'll follow what everybody else seems to be doing...' The approach we're taking, I call it investing in progress — to make sure that we learn and educate, and we apply that learning and education into practical terms...

But I guess it can be a scary place for employees thinking, 'Well, is AI going to replace my role?' That simply isn't the case. We actually see it the other way. We want to realize the potential of our staff, and those that are responsible for delivering BI, so that they can focus on the outcomes that that insight provides. We're spending a lot of time in there at the moment. It's not such a hurdle, but that's where we are in the journey right now, that we're trying to overcome, and grow the confidence in it.

The payback will come once these hurdles have been overcome and people have found their feet. He goes on:

I'm really looking forward to people feeling that they've acquired the skills in order to realize their potential, and then being the ones that are coming to us to say, 'What if we did this?' Or, 'What if we did that? Maybe this is something that we haven't focused on before, but we can really leverage.'

For Jellyfish as a business, it's all about preserving a competitive edge:

Long term, for me, it's about making use of pragmatic AI, or any other form of AI, to help us make speedy decisions. We're in a very fast-paced industry. If we're not scoping our work effectively and efficiently, and we're not learning from our scoping, for instance, then we lose business. It's about getting there first, and getting there first in the right way. That's really what I'm looking forward to, so that we can turn around things quickly and improve the revenues in our organization.

Other new capabilities in the release include new reporting features for project financials including a project billings dashboard, new automations for finance processes, and reporting features that allow more collaboration and engagement between finance and operations teams. Certinia has also added more features to its forthcoming customer success platform, CS Cloud. Hay says that Jellyfish will be exploring the use of this product to help manage its own CS processes:

We still struggle with many of the playbooks and different spreadsheets, presentations. Nothing's really connected. Nobody knows where it's stored. Nobody really knows what best practice is from next steps in any situation.

We're on a journey with Services CPQ right now — but certainly the roadmap for Jellyfish is to engage with the CS Cloud.

My take

According to initial figures from market research recently carried out for Certinia, most businesses with professional services organizations are currently growing those teams, while looking for ways to improve their efficiency and margin contribution. That's good news for Certinia as it continues to hone its ability to optimize services business processes and profitability. With a strong focus on resource planning, process automation and project finance management, this release demonstrates the vendor's understanding of what makes a services business tick, and how to keep projects running on time and to budget. AI is destined to play a growing role here in helping businesses achieve these goals and stay competitive.

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