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    November 22, 2021

    Up the Ante in Professional Services with BI and Analytics

    Professional services companies have faced pressures and changes due to the pandemic that is having ripple effects today. Firms must adapt and, in many cases, adjust their operations, services, offerings and client interactions.  

    They’re asking themselves, “Are my current offerings still relevant? And how can I make them more relevant – or pivot?” 

    Enter business intelligence and analytics solutions, trying to claim their spot as the answer to today’s and tomorrow’s concerns.  

    With actionable data analytics tools, such as Microsoft Power BI, professional services firms can better understand the information collected and what it’s telling them about their businesses to make better-informed decisions.  

    Analytics Come to the Forefront in Professional Services 

    In professional services, prioritizing data-driven decision-making has been a journey.  

    • Before the pandemic, companies steadily adopted business intelligence and analytics tools such as Power BI, but the initiative wasn’t a top priority. Importing data into spreadsheets and manually manipulating information from incompatible systems got the job done, and there were bigger fish to fry.  
    • Then companies moved into remote and virtual work models – thanks to the pandemic – stretching the limits of manual data collection. Data stuck in disparate, on-premises systems was difficult to access outside the office, and the collaboration required to gather data was tough to accomplish remotely. Companies were motivated to simplify and strengthen their approach to analytics with Cloud-based tools for data collection, storage and collaboration to access information faster and more efficiently. 
    • Companies realized they needed to quickly view and use their data to identify risks and opportunities to adapt and remain relevant.  

    Analytics gives professional services companies critical insights to understand new market dynamics and trends, evaluate current company operations against demand and adjust their approach to the market – and tools like Power BI make these insights accessible without requiring data expertise. Companies can monitor trends over time, play out “what-if” scenarios and measure the success of new endeavors in real-time 

    “Maybe the products they sold previously aren’t going to be as valuable to their customers going forward. They have to figure out how they can change their offerings.” – Melissa Grover, Business Intelligence and Analytics Practice Leader at Enavate. 

    Using business intelligence and analytics tools, professional services firms will know sooner than later if an initiative isn’t catching on. If a project is gaining traction, but the margin is too slim, they can improve profitability right away. 

    For example, event management companies had to adjust how they worked to comply with pandemic restrictions, such as running virtual events online instead of in person. From now on, potential clients will have new and varied expectations for event offerings. Finding new “sweet spots” will be unique to each business based on variables like venue, format (online, in person or a combination of both) and demand.  

    Without showing performance, an event company could continue spending on marketing and tools for virtual events their clients don’t want. Or they experienced a high demand for virtual events but realized they priced services too low to realize a profit. Seeing their data in real-time enables them to act quickly to resolve issues and adapt, whether that’s reducing expenses or adjusting margin.  

    “The pandemic has caused many customers to change the way they do business. To explore the options and their viability, you need better visibility into your data.” – Melissa Grover  

    Professional Services Pain Points That Business Intelligence Tools Address  

    When manually generating reports, you have less control over the “now.” Manual data gathering and reporting come with setbacks that get lumped in as “necessary evils.” These include siloed data, reduced data accuracy, more time to generate reports and poor real-time visibility.  

    Data analytics tools will render such evils practically obsolete. 

    • Siloed Data – In professional services, it’s common for different departments, regions and business units to have their “own way of doing things.” There’s less standardization, and this extends to types of systems and processes. Collecting data meant pulling information from various systems, then combining and manipulating it. Business intelligence and analytics bring data together. (All your information is in one place.)  
    • Data Accuracy – With less standardized systems and processes, data collected often has to be re-keyed and manipulated to be accurate. Human error is inevitable. In professional services, errors mean encountering duplicate clients and missing client data. With a tool like Power BI, data comes directly from the source. (There’s no wondering if what’s keyed-in is correct.) 
    • Time to Generate Reports – Manually gathering data from multiple places is time consuming and leads to stale data. You might recognize this process: You download data from multiple systems into Excel to generate a report. Then, you manually manipulate data that is keyed under different identifiers. The process can take hours. Once complete, the report is already outdated. Real-time reporting would help firms optimize scheduling and costing. (No time wasted.) 

    “By the time you’re done, you’ve spent all this time on the report, and it’s already two weeks old.” – Melissa Grover 

    • Poor Real-Time Visibility – Manual data processes don’t allow you to be nimble. That can make it challenging to make intelligent decisions without all the facts. You could miss a signal to change, and your inaction may shrink your customer base. Even if you were to make a change, you could not track performance in real-time. With analytics, you can course-correct if needed, ensure timely payments to cover costs, and even monitor client sentiment.  

    “Companies that leverage data will make more informed decisions. The data can tell them what’s working, what’s not working, where to focus their improvements.” – Melissa Grover 

    With mature data analytics, your data is easy to access. You waste less time searching for and adjusting it, and you can find it from whatever systems you use, from resource management to payroll and ERP.  

    “Power BI will service any industry. The tool doesn’t care what the data has.” – Melissa Grover 

    How to Start With Business Intelligence and Analytics for Professional Services 

    The right business intelligence tools help design reports to meet your key performance indicators (KPIs). Take these steps to prepare for, design and implement a data analytics program at your professional services organization. 

    1. Identify the Data You Want to Track  

    Select KPIs relevant to your industry, business and clients. You’ll use these to monitor your operations and make meaningful changes toward your business goals. Most firms will track accounts receivable, accounts payable, sales, revenue and profitability. Other useful professional services analytics you can leverage include: 

    • Profitability per service line or function 
    • Budget versus actual per project, service line or function 
    • Pipeline trends 
    • Opportunity to sales closure rate 
    • Project size and duration 
    • Employee turnover rates and trends  
    • Client turnover rates and trends  
    • Projects per client  

    Not identifying KPIs and having ambiguous goals are common mistakes for companies implementing business intelligence and analytics for the first time. If you’re not sure which KPIs to focus on, start with your ongoing reports. What data is most important? What are you already measuring?  

    “Most reports just tell you what happened. Analytics can tell you the cause and effect between the KPIs and the overall performances so that you can predict your future more accurately.” – Melissa Grover 

    For example, you want to improve your budget versus actual per project by a specific percentage quarter over quarter. You can: 

    • Discover common culprits behind overages. 
    • Accurately price and cost projects or address issues that may arise (e.g., administrative delays). 
    • Collect data over the next quarter. 
    • Measure whether your budget versus actuals improved. 
    2. Map Out Systems That Currently Hold Your Data  

    To collect and unify data from multiple systems, you must map out where your information currently resides. For instance, financials live in your ERP system while client data is in your CRM.  

    3. Find and Solve for Uncaptured Data  

    If valuable data exists outside your systems, capture it. For example, if you aren’t considering administrative time as a reason for going over budget, determine the best solution to capture that data and include it in your database for your reporting.  

    4. Determine the Best Tool to Aggregate Your Data  

    Your business needs and the complexity of your data play significant roles when determining the right analytics solution. A complex dataset might warrant a data warehouse. However, many professional services companies do well with Power BI on its own, Power BI with a data warehouse, or expanding to other solutions such as Power BI with Solver.  

    5. Design and Implement Your System 

    System design has the most extended timeline, and it’s imperative to design beyond your current needs. Companies tend to discover many other uses for business intelligence and analytics after deploying the first round of visualizations. You want to be sure a solution can grow with you. 

    “Many companies start with, ‘This is the thing I want to track.’ And as soon as they get that done and they’re tracking it, they realize 20 other things they’d like to track. You want to design the solution so that when you add those 20 other things, it doesn’t overwhelm it.” – Melissa Grover 

    6. What Will Your Training Program Entail?  

    Training is a vital component of a successful analytics program. Limited end-user training is a common downfall for implementations and leads to slow adoption. Teach employees to be self-sufficient with analytics and visualizations so that individuals and departments can easily create their reports and track their own KPIs.  

    Putting Business Intelligence and Analytics to Work in Professional Services 

    Business intelligence tools unify data from various systems and give you a tabular and visual representation. What’s the value here?  

    Example: What’s Happening With Your Cash Flow? 

    In professional services firms, cash flow is how you fuel your upcoming projects and ensure business continuity. Analytics can help you identify where you might be missing payments on projects, so you can solve the issue faster and get back to business. Here’s an example of how it works: 

    • You find you have $500,000 that has been due for 90-plus days.  
    • You put that information into a pie chart and notice the amount is 80 percent of your total outstanding accounts receivable (AR). 
    • You now know to focus on discovering the “why” here. 
    • In Power BI, the trend shows that the 90-plus-day amounts account for 50 percent of total outstanding AR for the past five years. This last year, it jumped to 80 percent. Why is that happening? 

    If that $500,000 was 2 percent of your outstanding AR, it probably wouldn’t be as big of a deal. However, having 80 percent of your AR in 90-plus days unpaid in professional services is no small concern. 

    The above example illustrates the difference between looking at your data – how much each client owes relative to the overall percentage of the total. You’re looking at the same information differently and can make decisions with a more holistic perspective.  

    “The number itself doesn’t tell a story. It’s how that number relates to other numbers, then how it relates to itself over time, that tells a story.” – Melissa Grover 

    With business intelligence and analytics, you can review trends and make correlations to improve your service and customer satisfaction. For instance, you can learn your average project completion, how many projects are finished on time and within budget, etc. Reporting on this data and visualizing it will help you make connections and understand trends. 

    For Professional Services, Nimble is the New Normal 

    “Don’t be tied to old ways of doing things just because they have worked in the past. With all the exciting changes in the industry, companies need a better view into their data so they can quickly and accurately determine which changes are successful and which need improvement.” – Melissa Grover 

    Professional services firms have had to become increasingly agile in response to uncertainty. Some have found themselves investing in business-enhancing initiatives, such as business intelligence and analytics to stay competitive.  

    Business intelligence and analytics can be transformative. And you’re missing out on a wealth of opportunity if it’s not a priority. Consider the two industry challenges below. 

    • Employee “knowledge centers” are leaving. Many firms are losing employees to attrition. When people go, so does their institutional knowledge (e.g., processes, reporting requirements, etc.).  
    • Today’s clients are “streamers.” Clients expect more on-demand services as opposed to customized options. They’re comfortable with streaming, for instance, over ownership. While clients once expected customized services, customization is being outweighed by demand for immediacy, streamlining and ease of use.  

    With these challenges on the horizon, being nimble is essential. At Enavate, we specialize in implementing business intelligence and analytics tools for the professional services industry. Here are a few insider tips. 

    • Participate in your system design. Your implementation partner needs to know all the data points. A new solution can’t help you reach your goals without all the pertinent information.  
    • Target the proper “refresh” numbers. You don’t want to look at data that’s too static to be valid. Some data should be updated every 15 minutes, while some may be OK to update quarterly. 
    • Go beyond the summary level of data that business leaders seek out. Be willing to uncover the “why” behind your information so that you can act. Consider where your insights will lead you and what additional information you need to know.  

    Talk to one of our experts to learn more about your options with business intelligence and analytics for professional services.  

     

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