How High-Tech Companies Can Drive Growth Through Digital Transformation
Andy: Hi my name is Andy Campbell. I'm the Solution Evangelist at FinancialForce, and I’m going to be your host and moderator for the webinar today. I’m delighted to be joined by two fantastic guests. First, we have Misty.
Misty: Hello, my name is Misty Wells. I’m from Collegis Education.
Andy: Right. Thanks, Misty. And we also have Nick.
Nick: Hey, my name is NIck Anderson. I’m a Managing Consultant with VFP Consulting.
Andy: Great. Thank you, indeed, Nick. I’m really looking forward to having a fantastic webinar today. The topic is around growth and how digital transformation can help digital organizations become more effective.
We have a pandemic - that hopefully is coming to an end. There’s thoughts about a K-shaped recovery. What we’re going to be talking about today is the sort of initiatives that people can put in place to make a success of that kind of transition. Many high-tech companies are looking to invest in additional technologies to ensure that they get improvements in business performance. A lot of those businesses have kind of come to a tipping point, where they’re thinking, “We’ve got so far and we’ve grown so far, but we need to think about investing in our people, in our systems, in our organizations, to put us on the same footing - to give us a proper platform to continue that growth trajectory forwards. That’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today.
Misty, can I start off with you? Collegis Education. Could you tell us something about who you are, what you do, and what it is that you’re looking to change as part of your transformation program?
Misty: I am a senior director of our Project Management organization. I’ve been with Collegis Education for about two and a half years. Prior to working at Collegis, I worked for Dell EMC for 13 years in various positions at leadership and corporate and in the field. Prior to that, I worked for an accounting software company.
Andy: Cool. Cool. Collegis, could you tell us a bit about what it was that you were looking to change as part of your transformation journey?
Misty: Yeah. So, I came on to Collegis just about two and a half years ago. At the time, we did not have a centralized project management organization. We had project managers that were dispersed throughout the organization. Everybody was doing project management in their own way to get the job done; there was no consistency.
So, when I came on, my overall goal was to drive consistency so that we could provide our customers with a better unified experience. After I came on, I found that we were doing a lot of things manually, and none of our systems were connected. So, I set off to achieve establishing a baseline for our organization to be able to run our business and measure it in a standard and consistent way.
Andy: Great. So, to give you a platform to manage the enterprise. Could you give us an indication of size? I mean, how many people are there within the organization? How many consultants are you managing?
Misty: We have over 350 people that work for Collegis full time. We have a number of contractors, and we have around 300 people using our FinancialForce system day in, day out.
Andy: Excellent. So, a typical sort of transformation project. You’ve got a bit of a mess, lots of different systems, and you’re trying to bring them together as a platform for the enterprise. Looking forward to hearing more about that in a minute.
Nick, a common example of customers wanting to go through this transformation. Throughout the period of COVID, what have you seen? Lots of organizations looking to do similar things? How have things impacted your business?
Nick: Yeah, I think COVID kind of was an alarm bell for a lot of organizations. What we’ve seen at VFP is, there was a little bit of a reaction to the initial part of COVID. There was a lot of uncertainty. So, we saw, kind of, our sales cycles push out a little bit. Luckily, all of our in-flight projects kept on trucking. But we did have to adjust to the new mechanics of this new world. Right? So, typically we're on-site for a lot of our major milestones - which is great; it's really nice to be in the room with folks. You can get a lot more stuff done, you can build those relationships a lot easier. But we had to transition to doing things over Zoom, as everyone else did. I think we did a really good job of that, but there was definitely an adjustment period there for all of us to go through. But I think we all came through it pretty well.
Andy: Yeah, and you’re seeing lots of people now thinking about the same kind of initiatives that Misty is going to tell us about. Yeah?
Nick: Yeah. I mean, talking about Zoom, that’s a digital platform. Right? So, it’s kind of opening people’s eyes to the power of these platforms and what you can do with those digital tools.
Andy: Yeah. A lot of people have said that, you know, we’ve seen more change in the past six months than we have in the past six years. Those were some really challenging times.
So, Misty, can you tell us something about your project? What was it that you did, and how did you go about doing it?
Misty: Sure. So, we started off prior to COVID. When we first went with the decision to go with FinancialForce, we had looked at a number of different tools. We narrowed it down to three, and then we just kept narrowing it down to a single tool. We opted to go with FinancialForce. At that point in time, we weren't completely ready to pull the trigger,so we decided to do a paid proof of concept. So, we bought 30 licenses with the intention of running the solution for one of our big new customers. So, we were going to onboard that customer with FinancialForce, run the system and solution just for that customer, and then continue with our other parallel systems that we were going to be using anyway.
From there, we decided to work with FinancialForce, and we did the quick start, and that worked really well, but we still struggled with making the proof of concept work for our business. When we went, with FinancialForce, we really wanted to adapt our business to meet the software needs. We did that as much as we could, but then we kind of got stuck.
So, at that point in time, we looked at vendors who could really dig into our business processes and help us close the gap between the software and our business process, and make it work for our company.
Andy: Interesting. That’s quite a common thing that people don’t realize: that deploying cloud systems is just kind of different from old on-premise solutions, and there is an element of change associated with it that really requires some sort of business understanding. Your proof of concept was a real sort of proof of concept. We just want to sort of learn and check out whether this was going to work. We’ll give you some lessons of when it comes around to doing the full pieces you took.
Misty: Yeah, that is correct. So, it was a learning process. We were really learning along with the system. I don’t think we understood how flexible FinancialForce was when we were in the sales process. I don’t think we understand all the nuances of the configuration, and I think that we thought we would hit a button and it would install - like your normal Windows will - right? - and walk you through stuff step-by-step. That is now how the implementation with FinancialForce works. There’s a lot of configuration that needs to go into it, and I think that came as a surprise to our company.
Andy: We’ll talk about it a bit later, but you’re not a straightforward business. You’ve got some complexity in your business and some, let’s say, peculiarities and some nuances that you need to reflect. So, yes, some powerful learnings there.
So, Nick. Can you tell us about the VFP? When did you get involved? What was your role and what did you do?
Nick: Yeah. So, I got introduced to Collegis, I think it was last summer, as you were kind of going through, Misty, that proof of concept. So, we kind of just started with just a little bit of discovery, some scoping, and uncovered some of those things Misty talked about, and set ourselves up for, you know, a requirements phase to the implementation. So, we really did a deep-dive on the processes, got into the nitty-gritty with the Collegis folks on, “Here’s how we run our business now, and here’s where we want to go,” and that set us up for a configuration phase. Which, taking all that information - all that learning, applying it to what we want to do in the future, and then moving forward into that configuration phase. We took the PSA live, I think, end of the year 2020, all of that up with the Financials phase that went live, I believe, in March of this year.
Andy: Right. So, you’ve got a lot done in a relatively short period of time - which is great to hear. You’ve been through loads and loads of these digital transformation stories. How was this similar, or, indeed, different to some of the others that you’ve been involved in?
Nick: Yeah. I mean, similar in the fact that we’re implementing products we work with every day. So, PSA was involved along with [inaudible] and revenue management, financials accounting, and analytics. But there were some nuances, like we mentioned before.
So, Collegis, based on the customers that they work with, has to be agile and responsive to the needs of the marketplace. So, that drives some very unique needs: the need to be fleet of foot. That kind of informs how they manage their projects, how they staff their projects, how they bill. So, we really had to make sure that we designed streamlined processes that were scalable for the future, and then fit the system to that. Because, like Misty said, Salesforce and FinancialForce are super flexible. You can almost do anything you want, but that doesn’t mean you should. Right? So, we really come with this at VFP from a system agnostic perspective, thinking about putting processes in place first - putting that foundation - and then building the system to suit that, to fit that. That’s kind of what we did here. It is a challenging process going through that. There’s some change that has to happen, but luckily we had a great team - Misty and team - to work with, and it went as smoothly as these can go.
Andy: Follow up question from that, Nick. You’ve been involved in lots of implementations. This is just one example. What do you think are the keys to success? What are the tips and tricks of making that digital transformation successful as the one you’ve just been through?
Nick: Yeah. I mean, I think the key, for me, is people. Right? So, what we want to try to do up front is build trust with the customer, get the customer to trust us, and have that reciprocal trust because in big, complex projects like this, they never go smoothly. Right? There are a lot of moving pieces. You’re going to hit some bumps in the road, and having that trust in place where the customer knows that you’re bringing expertise and experience and best practices to the table, and you’re going to guide them through those bumpy periods, is key. That’s kind of what happened here. You know, I feel like Misty and I had a great relationship, as well as my team with the rest of their team, and that was key. If you can’t trust who you’re working with, it all falls apart. So, we did a really good job of building that trust.
Then, that leads into great collaboration, which makes everything easier. When you’re in the muck, you have to be able to collaborate quickly and easily, and work well with the people across the Zoom screen - in these times, in this case - and we really had that here. That goes a long way in any digital transformation project. Collaboration is key. It’s the people-side that, I think, stands out to me.
Andy: That’s the thing. So, things like the governance giving the right people the right roles, the right resources, and then having an environment… The sort of one team, so you don’t have an “us” and “them”; it was all working together on the same project.
Andy: Yeah, cool. Excellent.
Misty, question for you. One of the reasons why people look at digital transformation is to look at processes in the way in which you did, and to try and develop something that kind of looks and feels seamless. One of the strengths of the FinancialForce proposition is that it works hand-in-glove with Salesforce, so you can bring the two together. Was that platform approach, was that significant for you? What sort of value did that offer to Collegis?
Misty: Yes, it was very significant for us, and actually it was one of the primary reasons that FinancialForce won out over the competitors. Prior to using FinancialForce, we had dispersed systems, and we had to bring in data from one system to another very manually.
Before we looked at going with FinancialForce, we looked at integrating those tools, but we ran into some challenges with having to build and maintain APIs that would have been unique to those tools. So, we went along our discovery process, and we were already using Salesforce in-house to manage our leads. It just really made a lot of sense to us, because, for us, we do a lot of "just in time" staffing, and having that early visibility into that sales pipeline, and knowing where those opportunities stand so that we can plan our workforce and our resources that we need to deliver on our projects is absolutely critical. That was one of the primary features that FinancialForce offers that stood out to us.
Andy: So, if you’ve got data in silos, then you’ve got issues about duplication of data, it takes all the risks of passing data from one system to another, time delay, scope for errors - those kinds of things. It just gave a better, tighter view of everything?
Misty: Yes. It really gave us that seamless view of… We went with FFA as well as PSA so that we could manage our workflow from the opportunity all the way to invoicing and taking cash from our customer.
Andy: Right. So, you got a view of your customer, your operations, all the cash coming together. What sort of impact did it have on your business and on your people as well? What sort of benefits did you get?
Misty: Well, we’re still in the fairly early stages of our implementation, so it’s not easy to completely tell. Early insight is that we really like the direction that we’re heading. We’re still getting used to the system and its features, but our project managers have more insight into what’s coming their way, and they can plan earlier for it. We can do a lot of “what if” planning for resources and impacts and understanding of if this deal closes, how is that going to impact our resource and capacity. I think that the biggest benefit that we’ve had so far to date is removing the barrier of non-integration between our accounting and finance team and our delivery teams. So, they can see where our products are at. They know what work has been done based on actuals. We don’t have to have separate meetings and stuff to tell them; they can actually be in our system, see it, and help recognize that revenue instantaneously when it’s needed.
So, there’s been a really large back-end savings for us. Some of the things that we have to do are a little bit more intense because we didn’t have to manage it before, from a project management perspective, but I really think that the value is that we have a seamless tool that manages the front-to-back end, and we can report on all of that data. It really has saved a lot of time.
Andy: Yeah. That’s great. There’s another customer that I was talking to the other day, and they said, “We’re not interested in having one office for the front.” You know, a front office and a back office. “We just want to have one office where it all comes together as well.” Yeah.
What about the customers? Have you had any impact on your customers yet as a result of having everything in one place?
Misty: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that the impact to our customer is that we’re more agile and we can respond faster, and we’re planning in advance. So, when we know what work is coming our way, we can plan around that. We know when we’re going to have to staff up, and we can make early decisions on, “Do we staff up with contractors or are we going to hire a new FTE?” So, the labor part of it has been really great for us to be able to manage that. That has had a direct impact on our customers because we’re able to deliver faster.
Andy: Great. If you deliver faster, you can build faster. Has it impacted your utilization rates at all or not? Do you think it might?
Misty: Actually, COVID, in general, had a huge impact on our utilization rates. It’s interesting to see the data prior to going into COVID versus now. So, overall, over the last year and the transition between FinancialForce and COVID, we have seen an increase in our productivity, for sure.
Andy: That’s great. I suppose, also, if you’re making a decision about whether you staff something yourself or you bring a contractor in, that’s going to give you better visibility over the margin you make on some of that business as well.
Misty: Yeah. It’s nice to be able to see the margin in real time. We cannot only look at a project margin, we can look at margin across different projects, and then at a portfolio and account level. That helps us make decisions on where we want to make our investments back into our clients.
Andy: Yeah. That whole sort of customer lifetime value. If this is an attractive customer, to put new deals in place, or maybe it’s one that we want to move to a different strategy. Is that right?
Misty: Yes, absolutely.
Andy: Brilliant. I love it. It’s such a good story.
Nick, coming back to you, and this idea of organizations needing to change. Collegis not being able to continue with the system that they had in place, and not only realizing the benefits they’ve got from having a common platform in place, the digital transformation, a lot of implications. A lot of it is technology, but there are other things as well that need to be taken into account. What are the other things that you’re seeing for a successful transformation journey?
Nick: Yeah. A major thing that I see across all successful implementations is top-down leadership. So, really need someone from the top to drive that vision and communicate that vision, and that needs to filter down through all levels of management, all the way down to the lowest common denominator. Everybody needs to know why we’re doing this, and everybody wants to know, “What’s in it for me? How’s this going to change my day-to-day?” They also need to know how this is going to benefit the company, because, again, like I said before, it’s not always a smooth process. So, you need to have that top of mind: “I’m driving towards something here. This is going to help me in the future.” It’s really about that democratization of data where everybody can see everything. Like Misty said, it’s that customer-360 view. Finance can see what the services team is doing, and vice versa. It’s a lot easier to communicate, because it’s all in one place for everybody to see and it’s real time, versus I’m looking at a spreadsheet that might be a couple of days old, or I just don’t trust the data. Now that it’s all in one place and we’ve got a shared view of it and I can trust it, it makes it easier for Misty and team to make decisions in real time so they can be responsive to their customers and deliver a better service.
Andy: Yeah. That’s absolutely key. Having that sort of clarity on what it is that you want to achieve is kind of the north star, I suppose, because projects always go through a rocky patch. It’s never going to be ideal, as much as we’d like it to be. But if you’ve got clarity of what it is you’re trying to achieve, that helps bring the team forward and over the top to success, I suppose. Is that right?
Nick: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. If you don’t have that north star, and if you don’t have everybody rowing in the same direction, it makes it that much harder. Right? So, if you communicate that vision, get everybody to row in the same direction, and then when you’re getting buffeted by the waves during the implementation, you can look at that north star and remember, “Okay, this is why we’re doing this. There’s an end goal in mind.” That gives you extra motivation to get through it, and you understand what the payoff is.
Andy: Yeah. I like it. North stars, rowing. There’s lots of metaphors that we’re mixing here, but I completely get where you are.
Misty, just coming back to you. A lot of people listening to this webinar will be earlier in the journey. They’ll be thinking; they’ll be at the tipping point, thinking, “We’ve got all these systems. We’re not quite sure sort of what to do. We’re not quite sure what it’s going to be like.” You know, if you were to give them… What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from going through the transformation that you could share with people that are in the audience?
Misty: Yeah. So, some of the things that we did that I think are really helpful: we did assemble a cross-functional committee that had somebody from each department that was a part of our tool selection process. We went through a requirements gathering session with everybody to say, “What do you and your team need out of this solution?” We did that on purpose to help drive adoption rates, because not everybody’s job got easier. So, I would totally echo what Nick said, that having that north star and being able to communicate the value and why we’re implementing a system is really important. Having that cross-functional group of people lead the implementation and understand what you’re doing and why is really important.
I would say that, for us, one of my biggest lessons learned was not to underestimate the power of having a partner that not only knows the software, but that can help you tailor your business to the software, and the software to your business. The power that VFP has brought to our organization and what they’ve done for us has been tremendously valuable. They were able to speed us up and get us to a go-live much faster than I thought we were going to be able to get there. Some of the uniqueness of our company, we have some significant challenges that we’ve had to overcome. So, I think that having an implementation partner that could really dig down deep with us is really valuable.
Andy: Yeah. That’s true.
Misty: The last one I would say - for a lesson learned, for me - is that we went through three different user acceptance testings. One thing we didn’t do was migrate our data until the very end, before we were going live. We made that decision, I think, because of the expense - because migrating data is expensive. So, we didn’t want to do it a bunch of different times. I think that if I could go back and do it all over again, Nick, I would say we should start with our data migration, because while we went through user acceptance testing, we were learning the system, but we didn’t really see the gap and the impact of the decisions that we were making on how it would impact our data. So, it looked good in test data, and there were things that, I think, I would go back and change now had I seen the impact to our data. But, you know, a system like this - like I said earlier - is really around continuous improvement. Our business is continuing to grow and change, and with that, the software needs to continue to grow and change with us. So, we’re always going to be in this cycle.
Andy: Yeah. That’s great. That’s a really powerful piece of advice. I mean, so often people will look at user acceptance testing and say, “Will it do this? What kind of good ... ?” They almost test the functionality first, and they’re not really testing, “Will this work for our customers and for our business?” It really is a business test, rather than a user test. Right? Your advice is absolutely brilliant.
Just quickly, you talked about people coming together. You have people from different departments coming together. You consciously tried to break down some of those barriers between departments, did you?
Misty: Yeah. Absolutely. So, some of the unique history about our company is we had two really subcultures. We provide marketing services, admissions, and enrollment services. We provide course development services and we manage our customers’ infrastructure to drive down the total cost of ownership. So, there’s kind of an IT side of our business and a marketing side of our business. Those are the two subcultures that we had.
The marketing side of our business was using our old tool, and they were really leveraging it and using it and driving it and getting the maximum value out of it. But, the IT side of our business was not using it at all. What I learned, prior to when I came on and they brought the tool on, they didn’t work together to select the tool. So, the IT side of the business thought this is not a tool that’s going to work for us. So, they had very low adoption rates. They only used it, truly, for time entry.
So, when I came on board, we had seven different project management tools: between JIRA, a custom Salesforce application, a Microsoft Project, Excel, and everybody was doing things differently on the IT side. But, on the marketing side, they really did just use the one tool Work Front.
So, one of my lessons learned from that, just listening to people and why they were using our tools and why they weren’t, it was important to me that if we were going to drive increased user adoption in the new tool, we had to have buy-in from all of the departments. It was expensive to pull people away from their jobs, but it’s far less expensive long-term when you have higher increased user adoption than it is to buy a tool that doesn’t work for half of the business.
Andy: Absolutely. A really powerful piece of learning there. I love it. Thank you very much, Misty.
Nick, one point. VFP did loads and loads of these implementations and successful transformation projects as well. If you were to give one piece of advice to people in the audience just about starting the process, what would you recommend?
Nick: I think I’d piggy-back on what Misty just said. It needs to be inclusive of everybody that’s going to be using the tool. Again, that north star comes into play. Right? That vision of where we’re going to go needs to be clear, concise, and communicated to everybody so we’re all going in the same direction. So, cohesiveness as a company is key, and that needs to be in place before you go on this journey. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself in that situation that Misty described: where this group loves the tool, this group doesn’t love the tool, and - again - you’re losing that democratization of data, you’re not in a centralized place, and the initiative will fail. So, it’s really important to get buy-in from all the groups involved.
Andy: Yeah. Right. I’m conscious that we’ve got to finish now, unfortunately. Short on time. But, some really powerful learnings there. Thank you very much, indeed, Misty and Nick. Really appreciate it. It’s been a great project. It’s been a really successful project. Lots of interesting transformations, some great advice that you’ve given us there around testing, around governance, the north star, the way in which you bring everybody together. Some really useful pieces of information for people to sink into. It’s great to see a true transformation project - something that’s not just a little bit of automation. It’s not just taking out one system and putting in another. You truly made a significant difference to Collegis, and I hope your business success continues and thrives into the future.
Thank you, very much, indeed.
Misty: Thank you.
Andy: I do hope that this has been a useful webinar for you. We will be sending a copy of the recording to you, to share with your friends and family. We’ll be in contact with you as well. So, thank you, very much, indeed, for your time, and I hope you’ve found this of value.