Efficient processes are important for professional services companies just as they are for every other type of business. One way that professional services firms drive this efficiency is through the use of an enterprise resource planning solution (ERP).
ERP is backend software that runs a business end-to-end and serves as the nerve-center for an organization. With the use of ERP, professional services companies can streamline internal workflows, manage employee allocation more precisely, track billables in real-time and gain a bird’s eye view of the dynamics and utilization that shape the business.
Not all professional services companies use ERP; smaller firms with only a few employees and businesses that already have bespoke backend systems are not strong candidates for an ERP solution. But most professional services firms either currently use or should be using ERP to drive service process automation and efficiency.
ERP Features Professional Services Companies Need
The list of ERP features is long and comprehensive because ERP solutions are built to handle businesses of all types. That’s why professional services-friendly ERP solutions such as SAP Business ByDesign and SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition take a modular approach that enables a business to turn on only the features it needs.
The features we’ve found that are most commonly used and needed by professional services firms include the following. Consider this a brief explanation of why professional services firms choose ERP to run their business backends.
1. Project Management
ERP’s project management capabilities help professional services companies handle project management tasks, schedules, budgets and resources among various clients.
Juggling multiple projects requires a significant amount of coordination and manual work. By using the project management features in ERP, professional services firms can automate team resource allocation, accounting and oversight for greater profitability and improved tracking.
2. Time and Expense Tracking
ERP makes short work of accurately billing clients for the time and expenses incurred during a project.
Keeping track of billable hours is an ongoing concern for every professional services business, as is accurately billing for expenses incurred as part of a project. While employees can keep a list of this time and expense for each project, or group spreadsheets can be used, the dispersed nature of this ad hoc recordkeeping reduces operational visibility and encourages both inefficiency and the potential for unbilled hours. Centralized, real-time expense and time tracking through ERP makes an immediate difference for professional services firms.
3. Resource Planning and Scheduling
With the resource planning and scheduling features available in ERP solutions, professional services companies can optimize personnel utilization and ensure that projects are completed on time.
Managing specialized personnel so there are enough hands without these hands going idle is one of the tricky parts that all professional services companies face. Manual allocation and ad hoc scheduling works when a professional services firm is small, but it increasingly breaks down as a services company grows and juggles a larger volume of clients. Optimizing human resources and scheduling work efficiently takes planning software like that baked into ERP.
4. Financial Management
ERP’s robust financial management features help professional services companies accurately manage accounts payable and accounts receivable, deal with payroll across multiple geographies, and produce financial statements efficiently. Professional services companies also get real-time visibility into billable hours, something that can be hard without a centralized backend system.
Every business needs financial management. Since professional services firms juggle multiple clients and rely on variable billable hours as the primary revenue source, the automated and real-time reporting of financial performance via ERP is even more critical for these firms than it is for other types of businesses.
5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
With ERP, professional services companies can effectively keep track of clients and prospective clients at every level of the sales funnel. The CRM built into ERP also assists with centralizing both client documentation and the interaction trail.
Client relationships are key for professional services companies. The centralized nature of ERP ensures that all client data is collected and accessible across the organization so these customer relationships can be fully understood and managed effectively.
6. Reporting and Analytics
Because all business data is housed in a single system, ERP expands on a professional services company’s ability to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and gain insight into organizational performance dynamics.
Spotting trends and understanding the pulse of the business is vital for professional services organizations to maintain competitiveness. At the same time, it is important to generate this visibility without heavy overhead. ERP brings automation and artificial intelligence to the task, delivering an edge for professional services firms that use such systems.
7. Mobile Access
ERP enables consultants, contractors and employees of professional services companies everywhere access to company systems so they can add and update data while working remotely or on the road.
Professional services businesses are people-driven. The people at these businesses often are more mobile and dispersed than workers at other businesses. Because work spans multiple clients and is usually driven by billable hours, the need for everywhere access is even more important for data access and recordkeeping. Modern ERP delivers this everywhere access by housing all company data in the cloud and making it universally accessible.
Learn more about Navigator’s ERP solutions for professional services companies.