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End-to-end data and automation unlock the future of professional services

Patrice Cappello Profile picture for user Patrice Cappello April 29, 2024
Summary:
Professional services businesses can overcome resource challenges with intelligent data and automation, writes Workday’s Patrice Capello.

Business process abstract diagram with gears and icons. Workflow and automation technology concept © Funtap - Canva.com
( © Funtap - Canva.com)

Service based organizations are juggling many new challenges precipitated by evolving business models and competitive pressures. What professional services (PS) organizations need to overcome these challenges is better data insights and improved automation. However, many PS companies struggle with their performance, often held back by outdated technology and time-consuming manual processes. 

According to a recent IDC InfoBrief sponsored by Workday (Create Competitive Advantage for Professional Services by Leveraging Technology and Workflow Automation, IDC #US51013523, August 2023), PS leaders prioritize accuracy in quoting and delivery; project efficiency and profitability; and resource and skills planning. However, they lack the integrated, data-driven business systems required to deliver projects that make these goals a reality.

Dealing with inaccurate data

When PS leaders were asked about their biggest challenge in managing systems, processes and functions, the most oft-cited was customer experience being less than satisfactory due to inaccurate data, projects and talent.

The 400-plus PS leaders questioned were also challenged by manual finance processes like billing and consolidation, which were time-consuming, costly and inefficient, as well as cumbersome project tracking and resource management processes.

More than a third expressed a lack of confidence in data to drive impactful decisions.

Against this backdrop of fragmented data and manual processes, a shift in how we work offers opportunities for PS businesses to evolve and thrive — but only if their core enterprise systems can support this.

The rise of remote working over on-site means resources can be allocated more flexibly, with people working on projects in parallel rather than one at a time. Maximizing the time staff are doing billable work has a big impact on profitability – but this rests on PS businesses having the ability to track skills and availability, and plan work programs efficiently.

More rapid product development makes it important to stay on top of skills development and workforce planning as well.

Systems that let PS firms analyze margins down to the individual project and client level make it easier to understand which types of work or clients are the most and least profitable. In this way, they can adjust pricing, quotes, and sales and marketing strategies accordingly, but only if they first have detailed cost allocations for labor and other resources. The growth of subscription pricing and packaged services also demands more sophistication in analyzing and allocating costs and margins.

Legacy systems and manual processes

Mapping quotes and estimates more effectively to available resources helps to ensure projects start quickly and are delivered on time and to budget, an ultimate aim for any service based organization. While the technology is available to make this a reality, many PS operations are run off legacy, homegrown or out of date software packages. Based on manual records and spreadsheets, these systems don’t have the integrations or agility required to enable much, if any of the above.

The continuing evolution of AI will impact all of the pressures and demands noted above, raising the competitive bar even further.

Professional services companies are keen to integrate automation into their core business systems, and are keenly aware of the advantages. The IDC InfoBrief revealed that more than half say their inability to integrate is such that key components of project accounting, like revenue, booking, and billing, are missing; while resource management of employee skills, capacity planning and forecasting is also lacking.

These companies are also missing out on AI workflows to automate processes, as their existing legacy systems are too costly to update in this way.

By using unified cloud services in their systems, more than half of firms say the main advantage is increased efficiency and agility to respond to changing market conditions, while half cite better data insights, and improved risk management via better decision-making.

As finance, workforce and project data are such critical factors in PS projects, the ability to manage and analyze all three from a single cloud-based platform offers multiple benefits, as demonstrated by firms like Acxiom, Cognizant and Bill Gosling Outsourcing.

Unification and automation

For marketing services company Acxiom, getting a single version of the truth was the target. The business was challenged by almost 80 different systems supporting its HR and finance processes, and these outdated technology platforms needed consolidation. After deploying Workday cloud-based HR and finance applications, Acxiom now has one source for data, which is always the most up-to-date and accurate information, and a simplified applications landscape. Acxiom comments:

Workday helped us reduce our many systems down to just six, helping us align our HR and financial data so we now have one place to access it all.

Experiencing a period of rapid growth, tech consulting company Cognizant needed a unified system that would allow it to scale, and decided to invest in a single platform for HR, projects and finance from Workday.

This gave Cognizant the efficiency and agility to support its growing employee base, and standardize and automate business processes globally. Workday Professional Services Automation (PSA) streamlined time tracking, invoicing and billing processes, while managers have real-time visibility into P&L spend via budget versus actual reports.

Having all its HR, projects and finance is one system has been a game changer for the firm, which says:

We’re able to take a very 360-degree view of our business both from an employee perspective as well as from an operational and project perspective. It allows us to be a lot more agile because we have real-time information that allows us to make quick decisions about employee resourcing.

Another company that has benefited from the automation capabilities in Workday is Bill Gosling Outsourcing. The company was in the market for an HR system that would also ease the burden of admin tasks faced by its finance department.

Since implementing Workday Financial Management and Workday Human Capital Management, the firm has experienced faster decision-making and increased agility. Bill Gosling Outsourcing was able to automate many routine processes, reduce turnover and improve reporting. Joe Fanutti, Chief Integration Officer of Bill Gosling Outsourcing, explains:

After we automated transactions in Workday, finance managers gained time for analyzing data and can offer guidance to the business. Workday analytics lets us look at data in a multidimensional format, not just in a linear manner as with traditional ERP systems.

Conclusion

With a single system for finance, HR, operations and planning, service based organizations can ensure projects run in the most efficient, cost-effective way, that their people are equipped with the data needed to make the best decisions, and that the business is able to rapidly respond to change.

Those businesses still running legacy systems are unable to take advantage of AI and automation. Instead, too much time is taken up running manual processes, reworking quotes and budgets based on out-of-date or missing information, and allocating staff to projects that don’t necessarily need the resources.

With accurate and timely planning, and financial, projects and employee data available in one place, project managers can quickly respond to any variables or permutations to keep projects on track and accelerate time to value.

Modern technology and data intelligence are vital for PS firms wanting to benefit from  automation, AI innovation, workflow efficiencies and enhanced customer experience – and the increased profitability this all brings.

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