Scott Brown is President and CEO of FinancialForce.
One of the biggest reasons today’s service businesses struggle is a lack of connected software to provide a single source of truth in their business data. Many of today’s service management-focused software applications are function-specific and siloed and generally bereft of out-of-the-box integration. These siloed solutions can’t cover the full spectrum of service management activities. This results in the absence of systemic integration, which inhibits the ability to create a reliable 360-degree view of business processes.
Most businesses know the pain associated with having data pulled from multiple different sources—a sales application here, a project management application there, a resource management application somewhere else. They know suboptimal business software integration tends to negatively impact three key areas: people, projects and profits.
People: Time Unreported Is Time Lost
One consequence of having isolated business software is employees are unable to adequately track their time. As a result, management doesn’t know which resources are being assigned to which projects. Resources are priced incorrectly, either by having the wrong number of hours or the wrong billing rate. When project teams are insufficiently enabled to track their time, that time can be undercounted, and revenue can be leaked.
Additionally, when a company isn’t 100% certain of its resources, planning is jeopardized. Every company has busy and slow times, and it’s imperative to gain visibility into each for resource planning purposes. When that fails, a business can be caught flat-footed during spikes and overstaffed during slowdowns. Both situations make it difficult to build a sustainable, sensible business at scale.
Projects: Inadequate Planning And Reporting
The lack of a single source of truth can significantly hinder project management because it prevents accurate coordination and alignment of resources with projects. The two are inextricably linked; understanding the who, how and where of people management is central to successful project management.
The lack of a holistic view of projects can make timely planning nearly impossible. In my experience, today’s typical services business is saddled with multiple disparate applications to tackle planning, forecasting and sales quoting—leading to delays and errors while also negatively impacting customer satisfaction.
Profits: Poor Decisions, Depressed Margins
The final, and most damaging, area that suffers in a disconnected software environment is profitability. When an organization can’t paint an accurate, up-to-date picture of its financial position due to a flawed overview of the operation, the consequence is poor, ill-informed operational decisions.
One example: A company may see favorable revenue and profit numbers and decide to make a substantial investment in expansion, only to discover that hundreds of hours of resource time were duplicated. The company is caught making CapEx decisions based on flawed revenue reporting.
Perhaps the most damning effect of an inaccurate picture of one’s fiscal position, however, is inaccurate reporting to the financial analyst community. Upsetting Wall Street is no way to garner confidence in an organization’s reliability and sustainability.
As businesses grow, they often recognize the above problems by using siloed solutions to compare real-time business activities. In response, they may construct a jerry-rigged workaround, otherwise known as middleware, which typically attempts to aggregate, normalize and standardize multiple data sources. The issue here is the weak link; only one integration needs to go wrong—one erroneous comparison of two spreadsheet fields—for substantial issues to emerge.
An example: To pull together a report aligning sales activities with project delivery, those two sets of data must be aggregated into a central repository, then cleaned up based on several value judgments. Which bits of data should be included or excluded? In what time frame? Six weeks? Twelve? What stage? Four? Six? This level of complexity can be difficult for middleware to handle.
Another issue with middleware products is timing. Most don’t report activity/performance statistics in real time; rather, they batch reports in 24-hour increments. As businesses grow and activities rapidly proliferate, that can be problematic. Daily batch reports’ findings are, by definition, up to 23 hours and 59 minutes out of date. In a business environment where things can change significantly in any 24-hour period, making business decisions based on day-old data is about as appetizing as making a sandwich with day-old bread.
Connected Services As A Business
The remedy to all this suboptimal coordination of processes is a services-as-a-business (SaaB) solution that integrates all core business processes. SaaB creates a true single source of truth, with a common data set that the entire organization can agree on and utilize uniformly across their reporting and strategic planning activities.
With an integrated SaaB solution, data no longer needs to be extracted from one source and inserted into another for comparison. Everything from selling, quoting, delivery and billing to general ledger, A/P, A/R and customer success is on a single platform, sharing a common data structure, common business logic and common interfaces.
For a typical example of the difference that an integrated SaaB solution can make, let’s return to the sales/resources scenario and consider a before-and-after picture. In most siloed businesses, one professional brings the sales data, and another brings the utilization data. They’re inserted into a spreadsheet to compare them—with largely suboptimal results.
Conversely, with a connected SaaB solution, all resource data is already in one place. Workload statistics don’t have to be normalized. With sales data linked to resource data, it becomes easier to forecast workload utilization. Answering the question, “How many deals do we expect to close in six weeks?” informs the question, “How busy will we be in six weeks?” and consequently, “How many hours do we need to assign in six weeks?”
While it may not be the perfect solution for every problem, a powerful SaaB platform ties together all the people, processes and systems required to deliver exceptional services and meet the expectations of even the most demanding customers. With a single source of truth, a business can deliver excellence to customers across the entire opportunity-to-renewal cycle.