Professional services firms need a digital project management reset to deliver on time and within expectation

The professional services industry is growing at an unprecedented rate. Globally, it’s estimated to be worth more than $8 billion by the end of 2022, up from $5.7bn in 2018 – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1%. With research indicating that a majority of projects fail to deliver what was promised to customers, this significant growth is bringing more challenges for businesses to navigate in 2022, especially when it comes to project management and demand planning. Here, Chris Nichols, left,  Microsoft Dynamics Consultant at Columbus UK, argues that professional services companies should practice what they preach. He explains how all-in-one integrated systems can transform project management strategies and help professional services organisations deliver new value to their customers.

No customer experience (CX) programme can thrive without the use of technology in today’s digital-focused age. Customers expect professional services organisations to deliver quality projects on time and on budget – and this means making processes as seamless and transparent as possible. But for the 80% of the market that still don’t have connected and integrated systems, many still have no choice but to rely on convoluted and time-consuming spreadsheets, which can limit opportunities for business growth and improved profitability.

The results are clear to see – research shows that 70% of all projects fail to deliver what was promised to customers. This confirms change is necessary for companies to stay competitive. Enter intelligent project management. By replacing disparate ERP and PSA (Professional Services Automation) systems with integrated solutions, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations, professional services companies can make more informed business decisions and deliver the level of project management customers expect.

1. As projects are becoming more complex, demand planning must be more than a juggling act

As companies become more global, it’s no surprise that more projects occur overseas and involve a mix of subcontractors and other partners. That means professional services organisations must now contend with increasingly complex projects. But the challenge doesn’t lie solely with delivering a project. Instead, it’s about delivering projects faster, more efficiently and within tighter budgets to meet customer expectations. Today, 59% of project managers run between two and five projects, meaning firms often struggle to balance their time between working on current projects and planning for future ones. Shifts in customer budgets and project scopes create additional complexities and have the potential to impact project timelines and team productivity.

To overcome these challenges, it’s important for companies to gain a deeper understanding of upcoming projects, from expected costs to schedules, risks and revenue. An integrated ERP and PSA solution that brings together key areas of a project-centric business can provide the full visibility of clients and projects necessary to make informed decisions – helping companies nurture existing customer relationships and develop new service offerings. AI-driven recommendations and forecasting capabilities, for instance, can highlight project risks such as unmet milestones, over-budget projects and unpaid invoices. This helps mitigate any future problems and ensures that companies deliver projects in the most efficient way possible to suit customer needs.

2. Gain a 360-degree overview of project activity to maximise resource usage

When it comes to increasing visibility to maximise project efficiencies, successful professional services organisations are those that can manage the entire project lifecycle – resolving both resource management issues and ensuring efficient people management. With the right integrated system, businesses can see which resources and employee skills are available and needed at any one time, and remove siloes to ensure disparate teams are connected to each other, regardless of their location. This allows businesses to streamline employee scheduling and task management to increase productivity for both the operational and administrative parts of the business.

With integrated solutions, such as D365 Project Operations, professional services organisations can gain a greater level of global transparency, which allows resource managers to easily book people from different countries with the right skill set for specific projects. This not only saves time, money and resources but allows for a reactive shift whereby businesses can use the technology to deliver the information straight to the necessary individual and ensure projects are delivered within the right timescale to meet customer expectations.

3. Time is money – account for every billable hour to boost profitability

As every professional services organisation knows, time is money. The number of billable hours for each employee directly correlates to the business’ profitability. But due to the fast-paced nature of the industry, it’s often easy for employees to forget to log their billable hours. An even bigger challenge is ensuring the team has enough billable hours to begin with. The admin work behind logging hours and managing email inboxes are just two examples of non-billable activities that can clog up daily schedules. An improvement to expense tracking is just one way that businesses can maximise billable hours – and this is where advanced technologies can assist.

All-in-one ERP and PSA systems provide time and expense management tools that can forecast remaining effort for each project activity task, record costs, and automate billing and invoicing. Integrated systems with subcontracting release capabilities can have major benefits for professional services. For instance, sales team can raise a subcontract in the system, send over to the finance team to automatically manage and update the portal for subcontractors to bid for work and input their timesheets. Subcontractor details also appear on a universal resource scheduler, which allows businesses to compare skills and costs between internal resources and subcontractors. This ensures that projects remain within budget and satisfy customer expectations.

4. Prioritise autonomy and personalisation to master CX

Customer expectations are rising by the minute. The evolution of mobile technology has allowed stakeholders to become used to instantly accessing information on-the-go – and today’s customers want that convenience to extend to their projects. Customer autonomy is one key way professional services organisations can address this new challenge with technological assistance. For instance, organisations can use integrated systems to give customers the ability to check up on project progress via a user-friendly dashboard and automate certain manual activities to simplify and accelerate the overall process.

But even beyond this required level of autonomy, customers expect more transparency, accountability, higher quality of work and faster delivery. In other words, they want a better customer experience. As many as 30% of projects fail due to poor communication – making this a clear area for improvement. With an integrated ERP and PSA system, features such as AI-driven suggestions can track customer interactions and preferences, allowing professional services organisations to tailor communications unique to the customer. This intelligent functionality also helps businesses manage project KPIs on a regular basis and report them back to the customer to set accurate expectations that enhance the customer experience.

When two become one – integration holds the key to success

Within the professional services market, competition has never been higher when it comes to delivering on customer expectations. The ability to keep job scope, people and schedules on track can make or break a project – and companies have a higher success rate when they use the right tools. For companies looking to digitally transform, integrated ERP and PSA systems hold the key to project success – helping organisations improve project management and deliver current and future projects that exceed customer expectations.