Integration and Visibility – The Cloud Delivers for Services Teams Where ERP Failed
I’ve been working with professional services firms for over 12 years now. During that time I’ve seen services organizations invest in new technology for a variety of different reasons. In the late 90’s, there was a rush to modernize due to Y2K. Then the Internet spawned a wave of browser based systems to support consultants working remotely in the field. Later, we saw a consolidation of services firms, causing bigger firms to make serious investments in automation to control large teams of professionals. Meanwhile, smaller firms started leveraging new, simple cloud-based solutions that allowed them to roll out automation without a significant investment in IT resources. The latest catalyst for a change was caused by the challenging economy we’ve endured over the last few years. True visibility into all aspects of a business has never been more critical than it is now. As one executive shared with me recently, “I need to know the key indicators of my business at all times: Revenues, Utilization, Backlog, Cash Flow and Win Rate.” What I ultimately found out is that he had to look in four different systems to get these answers. This problem exists primarily because ERP suppliers failed to deliver truly integrated systems for services firms, despite all their marketing claims and high maintenance costs that border on price gouging. Need proof? Just visit any services firm and see how many spreadsheets are used to bridge gaps between disconnected systems and to work around missing application functionality. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, apparently you can’t run a services firm without Excel based on what I’ve seen. The economic situation has also led to a more rapid adoption of cloud-based CRM applications. In an effort to boost the top line, services firms have adopted more sophisticated marketing and sales automation applications like Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com now has approximately 33% (and growing) market share in services organizations according to professional services researchers SPI in a report titled: The New Revenue Growth Engine – Sales and Service Alignment. There is no denying that firms need to be more business development- and customer-focused in this economy. In fact, SPI reports that “sales effectiveness” is the business area needing the most improvement at professional services organizations, scoring 6.2 on a scale of 1-10. Combine that with the need to be more cost effective in economically difficult times and you can see why Salesforce and cloud computing are seeing such growth. The salesforce.com trajectory has been remarkable, now serving almost 100,000 companies on the Force.com platform. But how do you make sure the adoption of Salesforce CRM isn’t creating just another information island? Today, many services organizations run a hybrid – and therefore fragmented – environment with CRM in the cloud, accounting and PSA on traditional on-premises servers and of course the usual mixture of custom spreadsheets running on laptops and desktop systems. To be clear, visibility and integration really matters, irrespective of your technology platform. In another SPI study, The 2011 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark, SPI revealed that companies with integrated CRM and PSA systems report higher bid/win ratios, higher project margins, higher utilization and higher revenue per billable consultant. So although cloud based CRM systems are a step in the right direction, we don’t want to repeat or exacerbate the fragmentation and spreadsheet problem we’ve been complaining about all these years. Up until now, there has not been a PSA and accounting solution for services companies that is tightly ingrained with Salesforce CRM on the Force.com cloud platform until FinancialForce.com came along. Thanks to FinancialForce.com, I am delighted I can now offer a CRM centric professional services solution that can deliver complete visibility – from one application cloud. We’ve built our Services Resource Planning (SRP) application as an end to end solution for professional services organizations encompassing sales, the hand-off from sales to services, resource management, project & portfolio management, time & expenses, accounting, billing and more all on the Force.com cloud. From a user’s perspective, the system has one login, one UI, one workflow system, one reporting engine and only one system to learn across CRM, PSA and accounting applications. Our applications are not just integrated; they are embedded with Salesforce CRM, completely eliminating the data fragmentation problem and the overreliance on spreadsheets. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to be going. I need to go visit that executive that wanted to know his key indicators at all times. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.