Outsourcing

Can professional services automation escape the ERP legacy?

Professional services automation (PSA) looms on the enterprise application horizon as the next big thing. In this interview, Evolve's VP of marketing and business development, Mark Davis, discusses the differences between PSA and ERP.

There is a long list of botched enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations, ranging from the fiasco at Hershey’s to lesser-know failures. Will the legacy of ill-prepared, costly consultants and difficult code haunt the booming professional services automation (PSA) market? Mark Davis, vice president of business development and marketing for Evolve, doesn’t think so.

TR: What functionality does a PSA solution deliver to service organizations?
Davis: For a professional services organization, the service chain is the core set of operational business processes that are the source of value creation. The foundation of Evolve's ePlatform is ServiceSphere, a scalable, Web-enabled application that streamlines every phase of the service chain, from new business development and pipeline management, to team building, project management, knowledge management, and time-and-expense reporting.

TR: What modules are offered?
Davis: ServiceSphere consists of three integrated modules:
  • Opportunity Manager. Used by sales and business development professionals to track business opportunities from qualification though service engagement, manage the pricing and proposal process, and leverage the organization’s knowledge and experience base, thus reducing the time needed to identify and close qualified leads while maximizing project profitability.
  • Resource Manager. Designed for staffing managers to match resource profiles and availability with specific project requirements, thus optimizing resource allocation, utilization, and overall capacity planning.
  • Delivery Manager. Allows consultants, project managers, and billing managers to capture, review, and approve time and expenses, monitor and review projects with customers and partners, and provide analysis across the service chain, yielding increased billing accuracy, improved customer satisfaction, lower administrative costs, and optimized financial performance.

Evolve
Founded in 1995, Evolve is headquartered in San Francisco. Customers include Cambridge Technology Partners, CTG, and Xpedio.

TR: How do PSA and ERP solutions compare?
Davis: ERP solutions are broader, and the modules are not easily customizable for the specific needs of industries like IT consultants and e-builders. PSA addresses this gap. Because IT consultants often work remotely, they need a Web-based automation that provides real-time connectivity to other team members; tracks time, expenses, and project status; and matches client needs with staff skills and availability. In the consulting business, effective time allocation of the staff can be seen immediately at the bottom line. For example, a company with 1,000 service workers that can improve its utilization rate by 2 percent can realize $6,000,000 in extra revenues annually (2 percent x 200 working days per year x $15,000 per day x 1,000 people).

TR: Do PSAs have the same enterprise-wide implications as an ERP solution, such as end-user training?
Davis: There are some similarities and some dramatic differences.

Yes, end user adoption and training are just as critical for PSA as they are for ERP. Evolve’s PSA solution has high adoption rates and customer satisfaction because we’ve created a flexible, highly intuitive interaction model for all of Evolve’s ServiceSphere users from the CFO to the consultant out in the field.

TR: What are the differences?
Davis: Due to an innovative software architecture and technology platform as well as the most innovative implementation process in the industry, Evolve PSA solutions are implemented in the most challenging professional services environments in as little as one month, for a fraction of the cost of an ERP implementation.

ERP software has a large technology footprint, necessitates custom programming, costs millions to deploy and maintain, has a long deployment time, and a has a high cost of ownership. Evolve PSA solutions provide rich functionality for dramatically improving the core value-creating business processes of a professional services organization, and integrate with back-office applications like accounting, HR, and even ERP systems. Many PSA implementations aren’t hindered by the heavy baggage ERP carries. For example, although our [Evolve] software allows customers to tailor the system to their unique business rules and processes, it is so flexible that we never have to make source code modifications during implementation. That is unheard of in the ERP world.

TR: You mentioned the integration of a PSA solution with a back-end ERP system. What obstacles must be overcome in this process?
Davis: Evolve’s “Connector” technology allows two-way interaction between ServiceSphere and the other system.

We have customers running systems like PeopleSoft and SAP, and Evolve’s Connector technology provides the integration. As part of the purchasing and deployment process, Evolve’s professional services team works with the customer to define the business and technical requirements for integrating with other software systems, and develops, tests, and delivers a specific Connector solution for each customer.
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