Professional services automation (PSA) software offers an alternative to the array of separate project management, time tracking, invoicing, resource planning, business intelligence, and collaboration tools used by many project teams. This guide provides you an introduction to PSA software, offers resources for organizations considering an integrated software solution for managing project delivery, and highlights some of the limitations of traditional PSA software solutions that have led to the rise of the Professional Services Cloud.
WHAT IS PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AUTOMATION?
Professional Services Automation applications help professional services providers manage client engagements throughout the project lifecycle. A project starts when a sales opportunity is created, the deal is closed, and resources are allocated to deliver the work. The lifecycle nears completion when invoices are issued and cash is collected.
Using PSA software empowers services organizations to establish a consistent process for planning, managing, and measuring the performance of each project throughout its lifecycle. By centralizing business processes and data, services can be delivered more predictably, and repetitive manual processes streamlined or automated. It is often seen as analogous to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, and PSA is sometimes referred to as ERP for services organizations.
Common PSA capabilities include the following:
Customer Access (e.g., through a Customer Portal)
Software Integrations (e.g., to a CRM)
Time and Expense Tracking
WHO BENEFITS FROM PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AUTOMATION SOFTWARE?
Organizations delivering billable, client-facing work stand to benefit the most from PSA software. By centralizing project delivery data, PSA software solutions can provide visibility into performance metrics such as revenue, cost, utilization, and profit margins. Because the dollars involved in professional service delivery grow with headcount, the financial benefits of a well-implemented PSA solution scale with company size.
PSA software was originally developed for the professional services sector, which includes consultants, lawyers, professional services teams, and others. The software is now earning wide adoption across several project-based industries, including these:
Information Technology (IT) Services firms
Business Consulting firms
Marketing and Communications agencies, by both customer-facing agencies and internal departments
Software & Hi-Tech firms that use embedded professional services organizations to implement their products and enable their clients
Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) firms
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AUTOMATION SOFTWARE?
While the advantages of a specific PSA solution depends on its capabilities (and how they are used), the central benefit of PSA software is enabling people who are responsible for business performance to manage and measure service delivery at scale. Reporting features enable account and resource managers to identify trends and allocate staff to match demand. Executives can see where the business is performing well and where there are opportunities to improve certain areas.
Effective PSA applications help organizations do three things:
Easily Manage Projects (e.g., by reducing spreadsheet time)
Optimize Resource Use (e.g., by improving utilization rates)
Drive Stronger Margins (e.g., through greater reporting and visibility)
According to research from Service Performance Insight (SPI), businesses using a PSA solution have a distinct advantage over those that don’t. Business leaders surveyed by SPI say that they have seen 8.2% absolute improvement in employee billable utilization and 6.1% improvement in project margin since adopting PSA, with revenue leakage and time to generate invoices cut nearly in half. With these improvements, among many others, PSA adoption drives an average net present value of approximately $32.0 million across five years for a business with 376 employees, according to ROI analysis conducted by SPI. Because the delivery of services is where professional services organizations make their money, and because PSA is the primary solution used by project managers and others responsible for services delivery, SPI recommends that any organization with more than 20 employees utilize PSA.
Using PSA tools is instrumental in helping organizations gain control over their project, financial, timeline, and resource data. Organizations often choose to adopt and/or upgrade their PSA tools when they have the following needs:
increase in headcount
range of services offerings needs to grow to meet client needs,
expanding their market geographically
projects, deadlines and timelines become more numerous and difficult to manage using manual processes
A great PSA tool keeps decision-makers out of spreadsheets and more engaged with the contextual insights and data they need to make decisions that drive greater profitability.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AUTOMATION SOFTWARE?
Like just about any software, PSA software can be purchased commercially off the shelf (COTS) or built in house. Both require implementation, business process reengineering, and user training, all of which incur costs in staff time or budgets.
COTS solutions may have limited integrations and limited customizability; organizations opting to purchase PSA software must select an option that fits a majority of their feature needs, integrates with the systems they already use, or offers an API to build their own integrations.
Homegrown solutions come with their own limitations, including costly maintenance, upgrades, and integration build-out costs. Homegrown solutions are best suited for organizations that have a great need for custom functionality combined with significant internal expertise and financial resources to sustain a custom software application indefinitely.
Additionally, in spite of the prominence of professional services in the category name, it can be hard to find Professional Services Automation solutions that are purpose built for the current needs of services organizations. When Kantata commissioned Forrester Consulting to ask services leaders about the future of professional services technology, more than one-third of respondents who had adopted PSA did not identify their PSA solution as a vertical SaaS solution tailored specifically to the needs of professional services organizations.
Traditional PSA tools emerged from a business need for efficient financial management and project accounting. Initially, they were developed as financial department-focused utilities, aiming to simplify and automate invoicing and historical business performance tracking. While that focus can be useful to a degree, it provides a rear-view mirror perspective, often lacking the forward-looking vision that services businesses require for growth and sustainability. While many PSA suppliers have transcended the limitations of that financially-focused legacy, some of the PSA solutions currently available in the market have failed to keep pace with the evolving priorities of contemporary professional services organizations.
Prospective buyers attempting to navigate the PSA landscape today can feel like they are maneuvering through a labyrinth filled with multiple dead ends. The category has become inundated with many one-size-fits-all, horizontal solutions that provide some tacked on PS-specific features. These additions do not align with the scalability required by the businesses that deploy them.
The people-centric businesses in the professional services industry require people-centric solutions that cater to their unique needs. Professional Services Cloud solutions have emerged to meet that need, equipping services organizations to manage their operations through a lens that is not limited to a focus on financial metrics.
A Professional Services (PS) Cloud delivers a complete set of vertical SaaS solutions that are purpose built to make PS organizations more productive at every step of the professional services value chain. This ensures better outcomes for their teams and clients. A PS Cloud synchronizes processes and data that often remain siloed, orchestrating resource planning, service delivery, time capture, and project accounting to provide businesses the future outlook they need to keep their skilled workforce and client-enabling work aligned.
Unlike traditional PSA tools built backward from Enterprise Resource Planning needs, PS Clouds shift the focus from mere historical financial performance to a holistic understanding of potential business opportunities and challenges. By helping PS leaders understand the impacts service delivery has on the wide array of people that make the business successful, including employees, partners, and clients, PS Cloud solutions improve not just billable utilization and margins, but also employee engagement and client retention. Consequently, businesses avoid the substantial costs associated with replacing top talent and valued clients.
Professional services automation has helped countless organizations around the world cope with an increasingly challenging industry, but the PS Cloud is helping those same businesses accelerate and thrive.
CHOOSING A PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AUTOMATION SOFTWARE SOLUTION
Applications in the PSA and PS Cloud software categories typically advertise similar capabilities (e.g., accounting, resource planning, project collaboration) but vary widely in the depth of those capabilities. User interfaces also differ significantly, which has implications for user adoption and team morale.
At a minimum, the system should:
Include details about current and future resource availability to better understand who is available to take on project work at the task level
Track skills and proficiencies to improve the matching of people to projects and key financial data related to resources (e.g. cost and bill rates) that will impact the profitability of projects
To select the right solution for your services team, start by identifying your organization’s objectives and needs. Try to state your requirements in terms of business objectives (e.g., “Organization will use this PSA to see who is spending time on which projects”) rather than in overly prescriptive features (e.g., “Organization wants a button that generates a PDF of today’s time entries”).
Next, prioritize your requirements into must-haves and nice-to-haves. You will likely need to make tradeoffs between different applications that offer different capabilities. Remember to consider qualitative requirements like user experience, since this will impact the success of your software implementation.
MAKING A FINAL EVALUATION
Once you have a draft list of requirements, you can begin evaluating software providers. Software comparison sites like G2, GetApp and Capterra provide lists of leading applications and reviews where current customers describe their experiences.
Once you’ve developed a list of vendors to consider, schedule personal demos to see how the applications perform. After each demo, ask yourself (or your team) core evaluation questions. Here are some to get you started:
Does this solution meet my team’s key requirements?
Would my team enjoy using this solution on a daily basis?
How would my stakeholders access the solution? (Can I get mobile access?)
How does the solution handle security?
How does the solution link to my other applications (e.g., accounting, billing, CRM, sales)?
What tracking functions (e.g., budget, invoices, milestones, resource utilization) does the solution offer?
How does the solution handle the unique aspects of my business (e.g., custom fields)?
How easy does the solution make it to build custom reports?
How does the solution display information? Can my stakeholders easily spot trends?
SEE WHY PROFESSIONAL SERVICES LEADERS CHOOSE KANTATA
If you are ready to start evaluating professional services automation software, you can schedule a call with one of Kantata’s representatives to discuss your organization’s needs. We are also available to answer questions 24/7 by clicking the Live Chat button on the right. We look forward to speaking with you!
“I wish I would have moved to Kantata sooner. There were a lot of blind spots previously, and Kantata gives you the tools and the data you need to be able to run your business.”
Corey Ariss, VP of Operations & Technology, Hakkoda