Successful managed services providers (MSPs) know the benefits of professional services automation (PSA). These tools give MSPs an efficient way to manage projects, allocate resources, automate routine tasks and recordkeeping, share data with accounting, and power client portals and help desks. PSA also gives MSP leadership greater visibility into their businesses, enabling them to drill down into individual accounts to assess revenues and profits.
However, PSA functionality has never been more critical than it is right now. Digital transformation accelerated since 2020. Out of necessity, MSPs reengineered processes for effective remote delivery and virtual customer engagement. MSPs also had to determine how to gather and use data to manage their businesses digitally rather than using whiteboards or in-person meetings.
Steve Chong, COO of Projector, explains, “All of this has led to an increased importance of solutions like professional services automation tools that serve as the central platform on which services firms run their businesses.”
Chong adds that throughout 2020, firms were also forced to reimagine “historically sacred metrics” like billable utilization. He says those metrics were often too one-dimensional, and organizations now use more nuanced utilization metrics to provide better visibility into the business’s health. “I believe this transformation will survive well into the future, even beyond the point when the direct impact of COVID-19 has faded on the economy,” he says.
April Taylor, Vice President of ConnectWise Manage, says, “Professional services automation tools will play a major role in maintaining business continuity and ensuring future success. Having a single source of truth and referencing the same information simultaneously is critical to team efficiency and accomplishing a shared goal. PSA software combines the organization’s disconnected sources of business applications into one space.”
She says, for example, that PSA enables automatic alerting and escalation processes to reduce the number of staff you need to call in the middle of the night when a server is down, or it can send reminders to check in with customers about products you sold them. “Additionally, PSA software can speed up the payment process by making it easier for clients to review proposals, provide feedback and approve quotes. While video conferencing tools have helped organizations bring their customers and employees together, PSA software helps them read the same music sheet.”
The Future of Professional Services Automation Tools
Both Taylor and Chong see PSA advancements on the horizon.
“Because of the vast amount of data captured by professional services automation tools, the industry will continue along its evolution of how well that data can be leveraged, says Chong. “In the early days, solutions were focused on offering up the raw data to be analyzed by specialized data scientists or business analysts. The market progressed to static dashboards that were easier to absorb and visual data representations. The industry is progressing beyond that to technologies that enable insight over information and facilitate data exploratory over static visualizations.”
He says that artificial intelligence (AI) facilitates robust business intelligence tools, including machine learning, natural language processing, predictive analytics, and semantic analysis. “However, the key to turning AI from a gee-whiz concept into a leverageable technology is starting with a clean, relevant, unquestioned, and well-structured database. AI is, no doubt, a powerful force multiplier. But, applied to bad data, AI does nothing but amplify the noise,” he comments.
Taylor says MSPs now rely on PSA to address pain points such as inefficient accounts receivable processes, inconsistent processes, errors due to manual data entry, and falling short of service level agreement (SLA) terms. She points out, however, that the services space changes and innovates quickly, and PSA will respond. Taylor says to expect the ability to achieve greater efficiency with PSA management integrated with unified monitoring and threat management.
Advice for Using Professional Services Automation Tools
Chong and Taylor both advise focusing on basic PSA functionality to get the most out of your solution.
Chong says, “There’s no quick answer, no silver bullet. Start with the fundamentals of balancing delivery, profitability, and utilization to drive growth. Set in place the foundational aspects – which include adoption, standardized business processes, and integrated systems – of gathering clean, complete, and well-organized data.”
Chong adds, “Given that the services business is fundamentally a human endeavor, set in place a technology-assisted, data-driven, but ultimately human-led culture. After all, one of the guiding principles we keep top of mind is to automate responsibly.” This is all about intentionality – being thoughtful about how we use technology to automate and, perhaps more importantly, what we purposefully choose not to.”
Taylor says, “Use the fantastic data you have within your PSA to drive your company goals. Use that data to make decisions about your business, synthesized across all the critical applications you run. Leverage financial and operational data in a deeper, richer way than ever before to drive your business toward maturity.”
Taylor and Chong stress that their businesses continue to innovate, and your feedback influences their product roadmaps. Stay in communication with your PSA provider to let them know how your needs are changing and how they can help.