Is it Professional Services Automation software? Is it Professional Services Automation tools? They are distinctly different!
Try performing a Google Search for the above words.
Browse through the responses your page. You would observe that there are many results that offer information like –
- enables the tracking, planning, management and billing of services provided by independent contractors and …
- offers an alternative to the array of separate project management, time tracking, invoicing, resource planning, …
- Features & Capabilities, Scheduling, Task management, Resource management, Document management, Team …
- …and many more!
As a professional or as a company, I am sure, anyone would be confused!
Let us start with the basics.
And more important – when should organizations go for Automation?
There are a lot of ‘tasks’ that a business manages, which, today, does not need a ‘human’ to perform.
According to research by The McKinsey Global Institute –
“…about half the activities that workers are paid $15 trillion in wages to perform in the global economy have the potential to be automated by taking advantage of current technologies. Looked at another way, at least 30 percent of work activities in about 60 percent of all occupations could, in principle, be automated.”
According to the same research, an indication of the extent of automation is reflected in the below example.
Now let us understand what happens with ‘real’ automation!
- Cognitive agents are used as a virtual workforce to support customers or employees in settings such as service centers.
- Machine learning identifies patterns in data through supervised and unsupervised learning, using decision algorithms and other means.
- Natural-language processing (NLP) creates seamless interactions between humans and technologies in applications such as data-to-story translation.
- Robotic process automation (RPA) automates routine tasks such as data extraction and cleaning via existing user interfaces.
- Smart workflow is an approach to integrating tasks performed by groups of people and machines, such as month-end reporting processes.
Treating automation as a technology-led effort can doom a program to failure. Process problems can rarely, if ever, be tackled simply by introducing a new technical solution. Often there are many underlying issues – poor quality of input data, accommodating too many client variations, “off script” procedures that cannot be quickly understood in high-level process demonstrations or requirements documents.
The reality is that automation solutions are complex because they tend to affect multiple processes with significant inter-dependencies across technologies, departments, and strategies. If these issues and elements are neglected, they tend to undermine a company’s automation objectives during implementation.
Other more thoughtful approaches—process re-engineering, organization redesign, policy reform, technology-infrastructure upgrades or replacements—need to be considered in parallel with automation solutions.
We want you to now reflect upon the Google results with Professional Services Automation!
Now do you really think that Professional Services Automation has much to do with –
- Tracking, planning, management and billing of services provided by independent contractors
- Project management, time tracking, invoicing, resource planning
- Features & Capabilities, Scheduling, Task management, Resource management, Document management
So, what is really happening here?
A few alerts, notifications, and approvals are showcased as ‘Professional Services Automation’!
Our view – the word ‘Automation’ is inappropriately being used to talk about ‘Project Management Software’ specific to the ‘Professional Services’ industry.
Now that Professional Services Automation is out of our way, let us focus on project management solutions for Professional Services organizations.
Professional Services companies are those that offer services such as engineering design, software development, management consulting, software products, architectural design, legal, and others.
From our experience, the work performed by professional services organizations into three project types – yes, these are projects as they are delivered within the constraints of scope, schedule, and cost parameters at a minimum.
- Project Type #1 – these are projects that are executed for an ‘external customer’ and go through the process of –
- Understanding RFPs (Request for Proposal)
- Craft techno-commercial Proposals
- Negotiation and formal agreement/contract
- Planning – project scope, schedule, and budget
- Monitor and control while the projects are executed
- Formal acceptance and project closure along with necessary billing
- Project Type # 2 – these projects involve developing products to cater to specific market needs or demands; they go through a rigorous process of –
- New product idea generation
- New product idea evaluation
- New product funding approval
- Creating a project team to design and develop the product
- Detailed project planning – scope, timelines, costs, risks, and communication
- Executing the project – creating prototypes, mockups, product demonstrations, etc.
- Monitoring and controlling – project performance review, defects/bugs fixes, corrective actions, etc.
- Closure – final product demonstrations, customer acceptance, documentation, and billing/invoicing.
- Project Type # 3 – these projects represent an organization’s internal initiatives aimed at enhancing productivity, efficiency, compliance (such as GDPR, GST), developing tools to solve process issues, and others. Process Re-engineering, Six Sigma, and Lean initiatives also come under this category. Once these projects are approved for funding by the top management, project manager and team members take over – they follow the standard principles and processes of project management covering project planning, execution, monitoring, controlling, and closure. It may be pertinent to highlight that this type of projects may be undertaken by any organization in any industry!
Now let us try to understand the aspects that could be ‘automated’ in the purest form – across all the three types of projects.
Remember if we have to ‘automate’, we must define a ‘rule’ for the ‘action’ to take place automatically without human intervention. In most cases, ‘workflows’ may also be required. The automation possibilities could include –
- Use Case # 1: Project issues and risks
- Identify risks
- Evaluate and prioritize risks – low, medium, high or other scales
- Define ‘TAT or turnaround time for resolving risks. An example could be –
- High priority risk may need to be addressed within one business day
- Medium priority risk may need be addressed within three business days, and
- Low priority risk may need to be addressed within five business days.
- Ownership of risks gets assigned
- Automation Rule Definition: an example – If a high priority risk is not resolved in a business day, the risk gets automatically escalated to the ‘owner’s manager’
- Use Case # 2:
- Reminders for – Meeting Action Items, Critical Deadlines, Progress Report, etc.
- In these cases, Automation Rules can be defined to –
- Send a reminder notification / alert / email to an ‘individual’
- At a specific time before the ‘due date / time’
- The Automation Rule can also perform actions such as –
- Sending automated messages that let managers know how many people logged in during a specific day/week.
- Sending automated messages letting top management know the current status of actual cost vs. budget approved
- In the above cases, the Automation Rules would generate information based on data input by various users…here a disciplined update by all users is critical to data relevance/completeness.
I presume that it is amply clear how Automation Rules work.
Now, let us assess the relevance or practicality of Automation Rules in projects undertaken by Professional Services Companies while –
- Creating business cases to justify a project.
- Creating project proposals
- Starting the project
- Defining the project team
- Documenting the scope
- Estimating timelines and arriving at a schedule
- Estimating costs and defining a project budget
- Identifying risks
- Evaluating risks and defining response plans
- Collecting project progress
- Reporting performance
- Gaining customer acceptance for deliverables
- Formally closing the project
It is obvious that most of the project-related activities may not be automated or should not be automated.
It is important to understand that projects by their nature are ‘unique’.
Work that is ‘repetitive, predictable, and rules-based’ are potential candidates for automation.
I hope that now there is reasonable clarity about –
- Nature of projects undertaken by professional services companies
- Possibilities and implication of Automation – for any organization irrespective of industry
- Professional Services Project Management Software
- The next time you intend to discuss your technology solutions requirement for your company, be crystal clear and ask these questions to your potential technology vendor –
- Are we looking for Project Management Software to manage Professional Services projects?
- Are we looking for Professional Services Automation Software or Professional Services Automation Software?
We at Product Dossier, have been very clear the distinction between Professional Services Software for Project Management and Professional Services Automation.
TouchBase is specifically designed to help you manage the complete life cycle of professional services projects. Along with its core project management design, it is well complemented by other technology components such as proposal management, margin calculator, document management, and integration with any of your enterprise applications such as ERP, Accounting, HRMS, and others.
If you are looking to build or enhance your organizational project management maturity on your Professional Services projects, you are at the right place.
We are ready to start a dialogue.