At first glance, this is not a simple question to answer. The technology used by professional services organizations (PSOs) can vary enormously.
Legal teams are using applications powered by machine learning that can review legal contracts in seconds. Accounting firms leverage systems that detect anomalies in financial data. Technology consultancies can use a vast array of solutions. They will often leverage email for communication and Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to run their business at launch. As they scale up, they add task management applications such as Jira. These often create silos of information. Every growing PSO needs a solution that provides a holistic and integrated real-time view of the business.
Many organizations remain stuck with the maturity level of technology they grew with. However, the best-in-class systems are always improving, increasing the gap between actual and potential efficiency levels. What is needed is a rethink of the software architecture for the entire organization. Below there are six components of a best practice software architecture for professional services.
1. Collaboration Software
During the pandemic, organizations rapidly adopted collaboration software such as Zoom, Teams, and Slack to collaborate internally and externally. These tools can provide some of the collaboration benefits that in-person meetings provided, but not everything. They can replace internal email and assist with communication and collaboration both internally and externally.
However, if they are integrated with the rest of the technology, they can help deliver a user interface that the next generation of workers will expect. Collaboration requires more than just the implementation of software. It needs to integrate with different systems of record to provide a user interface that enables every stakeholder to see one version of the truth.
Collaboration software enables consultants to work together even when working remotely. When integrated with operational software, it enables project managers, resource managers, consultants, and clients, where appropriate, to see the same information about every task and project
2. Operational Software
Traditionally these are solutions such as Professional Services Automation (PSA). Core features include:
- Project management
- Resource management
- Project accounting
- All the above underpinned by business intelligence
At the heart of this is a resource management solution that enables the organization to deliver the best outcome possible for clients across every project delivered. These solutions keep the engine of the organization running. They track and measure project success by ensuring that the organization’s consultants are used in the most efficient way possible.
Professional services firms can find individual applications to meet these requirements, but they are rarely integrated seamlessly. It is better to find a single platform that delivers a fully interconnected operational solution. Resource management functions must collaborate with project managers, understand the skills required in projects, and be aware of the impact changes in resources have on project profitability.
In a remote working world, a cloud-based PSA solution provides the ability to immediately see information around projects, tasks, resources, and business KPIs for the whole business in real-time. It enables them to make timely, evidence-based decisions.
3. Sales Software
This can include marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Marketing software feeds into CRM solutions, but the customer journey should not end at CRM. Integrations to project management and finance solutions are important. As opportunities move to projects, the information captured should transfer automatically into the project details. This integration between these two systems of record is important. Other integrations improve data integrity and create a single view of the customer across the organization.
4. Human Resources
While operational software manages consultants’ workload, human capital management (HCM solutions in a professional services organization look after the people themselves. Systems can include recruitment, onboarding, talent management, and employee experience. Some of these benefit from direct integration with resource management.
The pandemic has seen the rise of employee experience solutions as organizations aim to keep in better touch with their employees. Another application critical to HR, which is often overseen by finance, is the payroll solution. Integration to payroll for timekeeping is often critical, especially for those consultants on an hourly rate.
5. Financial Management
At the heart of every organization is the finance team that manages cash flow and provides the critical financial management every organization requires. Whether the organization is an SME, mid-market, or enterprise solution such as QuickBooks, NetSuite, or SAP, the finance team wants to make sure it operates efficiently.
Integrations between the finance solution payroll, operational software, and other solutions are important. The more automated and integrated systems are, the less duplication of manual effort and the fewer errors created.
6. Bringing It All Together With Business Intelligence
Organizations may acquire the above solutions, but sometimes they operate in silos, which creates inefficiencies in the organization. Sometimes, organizations create connections between the solutions leveraging iPaaS solutions, such as Zapier or Boomi. However, this inhibits the insights that organizations can benefit from them. Data is the lifeblood of PSOs, and they need to leverage that precious commodity.
To generate the insights that the data stored in these disparate applications can provide, the organization requires a unified data model. A unified data model can leverage Business Intelligence tools to help drive insights from across the business’s data set.
Finance teams can then analyze the project’s true cost once they can draw data from marketing, sales, delivery, and payroll information. This delivers insights on where to improve profitability when compared across different projects and services. Understanding where different approaches deliver improved profitability can help drive strategic initiatives that help organizations to expand. Organizations must develop a platform architecture that includes all of these to drive profitability, increase efficiency, and enable growth.
PSOs need solutions that are purpose-built for the sector. A Professional Services Automation solution optimizes the use of their resources and helps them manage tasks and projects effortlessly. A cloud-based Professional Service Automation solution should sit at the heart of modern PSO technology architecture. But a PSA is only one element of a hybrid architecture underpinned by a unified data model that draws information from each system or record. Those other integrated systems include
- Collaboration: To provide a modern UI that can access and update the project information
- HR: For absence and availability information
- Sales: For information about opportunities that become projects
- Financial: To track profitability, charge rates, and costs.
Together, these systems enable the future success of your business.
To find out more about the importance of a unified data model in resource management read this white paper commissioned by Mavenlink. (registration required)
The Mavenlink Industry Cloud for Professional Services™ delivers transformative value by putting resource optimization at the core. It provides integrated project management, collaboration and accounting, enables complete visibility, and scales across hundreds of teams and thousands of projects enabling professional services organizations to operate with unlimited scale, drive predictable outcomes, and realize full margins.