One such exemplary resource is Epicor's recent guide, "Managing Today's Professional Services Organization: How to Improve Efficiency and Increase Profits" (2011). Although the guide contains some self-serving information concerning Epicor's own IT product line, the bulk of the guide is devoted to timely and informative insights concerning how IT can facilitate project delivery in professional services organizations. For instance, according to Epicor's guide:
Ultimately, a successful operational model demands higher-order tools such as resource, opportunity and knowledge management to achieve operational best practices. The reality facing most organizations, from small, specialized firms to the largest, most sophisticated multinational consulting agencies, is the same -- each faces significant challenges related to accurately and efficiently capturing time and expense, managing work-in-progress, generating and approving invoices, and reporting on project and client status. (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011, p. 1)
Given the wide array of enterprises that now fall under the umbrella term, "professional services organizations," the foregoing observation highlights the need for a broad-based IT solution that can be used by these enterprises to streamline their project delivery and provide them with a competitive advantage and professional services automation applications provide this capability (Kaganer, Pawlowski & Wiley-Patton, 2010). Innovative toolsets have been developed in recent years, though, that can facilitate this process and help professional services organization achieve the nimbleness they need to forge long-term relationships that are characterized by trust. For instance, Epicor's guide reports that professional services automation (PSA) applications provide a wide array of valuable tools for professional services organizations, including opportunity management, engagement structuring, and resource and knowledge management. Augmenting professional services automation is a valuable end-to-end IT solution for professional services organizations known as enterprise service automation. In this regard, Epicor reports that:
Today's service-centric organizations are looking for a more mission-critical, end-to-end solution for their needs; a solution that can handle the fundamentals right through project accounting and finance as well as the new market mandates in support of greater business transparency. Enter enterprise service automation, which represents a new class of solution -- what every services organization needs to achieve true competitive differentiation. (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011, p. 5)
Enterprise services automation applications are becoming increasingly popular among professional service organizations, including banks and mortgage companies, and have been shown to provide significant returns on investment (Bielski, 2002). One of the major vendors of enterprise services automation applications is PeopleSoft, which also offers customer relationship management, supply chain management, human resources management, financial management, and enterprise performance management applications for professional services organizations (Ashby & Miles, 2002).
Notwithstanding the diverse nature of the types of enterprise that currently fall under the classification of professional services organizations, there are some key performance indicators involved that can help determine what type of IT solution is best suited for their needs. In this regard, Epicor reports that some of the key performance indicators for professional services organizations include: (a) employee utilization, (b) net realized rates, (c) revenue growth and (d) practice profitability. To achieve the agility needed to gain a competitive advantage, then, professional services organizations must be able to manage their internal and external customers in efficient ways (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011). An important point highlighted by the analysis of IT solutions presented by Epicor was the fact that enterprise performance management applications can help professional services organizations generate more revenues by automating many of the administrative processes that are required for service delivery (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011).
Beyond additional revenues, gaining agility in the project delivery function is also facilitated with the use of enterprise performance management applications by reducing project delivery times, thereby improving client satisfaction and contributing to the long-term relationships that are essential to success (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011). By developing more streamlined administrative practices, professional services organizations can achieve a competitive advantage in a number of ways, including improved resource allocation, project budgeting, sales tracking, capacity planning and consolidated portfolio and performance reporting (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011). The introduction of enterprise performance management applications has been largely in response to increasing competition in a globalized marketplace, making the need for specialized IT applications for professional services organizations an essential ingredient for success. These applications provide a number of valuable service-related tasks including the applications set forth in Table 1 below:
Applications of enterprise service automation in professional services organizations
1. Contact, Lead and Opportunity Development
2. Engagement and Bid Structuring
3. Resource Management
4. Strategic Workforce Planning and Sourcing
5. Human Resources
1. Billing and Cash Flow
2. Cost and Revenue Recognition
1. Delivery Management
2. Time and Expense, Materials, Approvals
3. Project Management
4. Project Planning and Budgeting
5. Practice and Scope Management
1. Efficiency and Profitability Analysis
2. Project Portfolio Management
Source: Managing today's professional services organization, 2011, p. 5
As an extension of enterprise resource planning solutions, implementing and administering enterprise performance management applications is not a one-shot affair, but rather requires ongoing fine-tuning to ensure they remain effective and provide the desired outcomes. In this regard, Epicor concludes that, "Professional services organizations following industry best practices have come to rely on enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions coupled with continuous improvement initiatives like Lean and Six Sigma" (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011, p. 5). This trend has been supported by the introduction of industry-specific software applications that can streamline the delivery of professional consultation services from start to finish (Managing today's professional services organization, 2011). Although ESA and ERP applications can provide professional services organizations with the end-to-end solutions they need to facilitate project delivery, any such IT application demands accurate and timely information in order to be effective (The need for good information, 2009).
Other useful resources that were found to be of high quality include a recent analysis by Copeland (2010). This authority reports that in order to help improve the quality of the information they need to make their enterprise performance management tools efficient, many professional services organizations have turned to customer relationship management (CRM) applications to collect and process the timely information they need to remain agile in an increasingly dynamic and competitive marketplace (Copeland, 2010). In this regard, Copeland advises that, "Customer relationship management is the process of managing and leveraging customer relationships. To maximize the effectiveness of CRM as a marketing tool, companies must methodically and tenaciously commit to organizing and optimizing their data" (2010, p. 58).
Indeed, an enormous variety of CRM applications have been designed for companies of all types and sizes in recent years, including professional services organizations, that can help reduce project delivery timeframes and improve the quality of the support services that are involved. Vendors such as Microsoft CRM, Salesforce.com, SalesLogix, Act, and CtoldMine have all developed databases that can be used to aggregate customer data for organization-wide sharing purposes (Copeland, 2010). According to Copeland, adoption rates of CRM applications have varied among professional services organizations, with certified public accountants (CPAs) being somewhat reluctant to integrate these systems into their overall IT solutions with just 15% of so of such firms adopting this IT solution compared to 65% of broader financial services providers. This reluctance is attributable in part to the fact that the integration of CRM applications may take CPAs out of their comfort zone by requiring significant new learning as well as questions concerning return on investments in these IT solutions (Copeland, 2010). Despite this varied adoption rate, professional services organizations of all types can benefit from customer relationship management applications. For instance, Copeland emphasizes that, "CRM provides one location for all a firm's customer information, with more full-featured systems tracking customer details and demographics, identifying areas of future service potential and providing billing information, invoicing tools, and a history of services performed to date" (2010, p. 59).
Generally speaking, CRM applications are organization-wide development tools that can provide professional services organizations with a number of values features depending on their specialized requirements, but some of the more common applications include tracking follow-up and action item lists, generating direct mailing lists, as well as providing various marketing campaign tools that can be used to target the needs of a company's current clientele as well as prospective clients (Copeland, 2010). According to Copeland (2010), CPAs should take note that the return on investment for CRM applications in general is impressive, providing up to a 1,000% return on investment in terms of increased productivity and overall business process improvements.
Other IT solutions being used by professional services organizations are even more cost-effective and are easily integrated into legacy systems. For instance, Copeland cites the example of social networking as being a potentially valuable resource for professional services organizations. In this regard, Copeland reports that, "Joining a Linkedln accounting and financial professionals group, for example, instantaneously provides a professional online peer group of over 20,000 individuals" (2010, p. 60). Copeland is quick to caution, though, that social networking venues must be used judiciously…