Successful managed services providers (MSPs) are well aware of the benefits of professional services automation (PSA). These tools give MSPs an efficient way to manage projects, effectively 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 important than it is right now.
Steve Chong, COO of Projector, explains, “As in many other sectors of the economy, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the services industry. The most obvious one is the rapidity with which digital transformation was forced on any services firm hoping to survive the new reality caused by the pandemic. Services businesses were forced to figure out how to effectively adopt remote delivery, virtual teams, and digital collaboration overnight. Leaders had to work out how to gather and utilize data to keep a finger on the pulse of the business rather than relying on whiteboards, serendipitous encounters, or management by walking around.”
“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,” he says.
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 are now using more nuanced utilization metrics to provide better visibility into the health of the business. “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, adds that with 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce expected to work from home multiple days per week this year, “It’s clear that the pandemic impacted the way we work, as well as our business needs.
“As we look at navigating a post-COVID-19 world, where teams will remain either partially or fully remote, professional services automation tools will continue to play a major role in maintaining business continuity and ensuring future success,” she says.
Taylor points out, “Having a single source of truth and being able to reference the same information at the same time is critical to team efficiency and accomplishing a shared goal. PSA software does this by combining all of the organization’s disconnected sources of business applications into one space.”
She says, for example, 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 sheet of music,” Taylor says.
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, visual representations of the data. The industry is progressing beyond that to technologies that enable insight over information and facilitate data exploratory over static visualizations.”
He says strong business intelligence tools, facilitated by artificial intelligence (AI), 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 base of clean, relevant, unquestioned, and well-structured data. 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, the services space changes and innovates at a quick pace, 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 in 2021
Chong and Taylor both advise focusing on basic PSA functionality to get the most out of your solution this year.
Chong comments, “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 we choose to use technology to automate and, perhaps more importantly, what we purposefully choose not to.”
Overall, 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, and to drive your business toward maturity.”
Taylor and Chong both 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.