Summer Doldrums: An Opportunity to Assess Next Steps for Your Professional Services Organization

In preparing to write this post, I was searching for a thought that might prompt you to action during the time of year when warm weather and greater daylight beckon many of us to vacations and more outdoor, non-work activities. “summer doldrums” popped into my head. As this seemed counter to my association of summer as a period of increased activity, particularly having lived on the East Coast, New England and the Midwest where colder winters drove many indoors, I did a little checking.

Doldrums, I learned, is a colloquial expression for those parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans affected by a low-pressure area around the equator where prevailing winds are calm and variable. Summer doldrums refer to reduced financial market activity in the summer as traders, brokers and money managers spend more time on vacation. As a result, market volatility rises as executed transactions have a bigger impact on stock prices.

So, why shouldn’t you take your boat for a sail or join the money managers for a beer and BBQ?  You should! However, when you are in the office, mid-year is a great time to step back and assess how your professional services organization is performing towards your annual goals while you still have time to impact them.

To help with this, NetSuite offers the “SPI 2012 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark Report” filled with over 750 metrics used by many PS organizations as KPIs. With many metrics reported for verticals, like IT services, software, consulting and marketing firms, you’ll probably find data that will give you a sense of how your organization’s performance compares to others.  This report also discusses steps that professional organizations can take to move to higher levels of maturity and performance.

While numbers can give you an idea of the targets you’d like to reach, they may leave you wondering how some organizations ever reach such heights. Thus, NetSuite asked SPI Research to share best practices determined through analyzing differences between top-performing professional services organizations and those still developing capabilities. You can reach the full details in “Benchmarks and Best Practices for Professional Services Success.”

SPI found that top-performing professional services organizations shared several characteristics. Here are a few:

  • Visibility that enables great resource management: By seeing projects as they move through the sales pipeline, top-performing services groups are able to ensure resources with the right skills, in the right locations, and at the optimal cost are available when deals are signed. 
  • Adept project management: Because industry leaders have visibility into schedule, resources, budgets and deliverables, they can plan for and mitigate risks and are best able to deliver projects on time and on budget.
  • Accurate and timely project accounting: A robust financial system, including time and expense capture, is critical to top performance. 

NetSuite’s services resource planning (SRP) offering was designed to support these and other best practices for professional services organizations. It provides 360-degree visibility from bid to bill, integrating CRM, financials / ERP and NetSuite OpenAir, our professional services automation (PSA). That’s probably why 40% of the 10% top performing organizations in the SPI study use NetSuite. As a world’s most deployed cloud solution , you can gain this visibility at a substantially lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and with significantly faster implementation time than you’d have with an on premise solution.  Without the need to maintain equipment or install upgrades, your time and resource can be devoted to more productive activities that will grow your business.

Having spoken with many of our customers, I’ve heard first-hand how a great financial system like NetSuite’s, with flexible billing and revenue recognition rules and automation, enables them to bill and collect their fees faster. Plus, with easy mobile, web and offline T&E tracking, more of your team’s efforts become billable.

While the SPI white papers may not be the best beach read ever, they may be the most useful summer read for a services exec, CFO or CEO at a professional services or software company. They’ll give you plenty of fodder for thought while you’re reclining in your hammock.  If you pull yourself out of the summer doldrums and heed their advice, you can move your organization from the variability of today’s summer doldrums to high levels of consistent, predictable and profitable service delivery.

Next summer, you may be joining the money managers at an ocean resort with your new bonus. Here’s to smooth sailing ahead! 

Ed Marshall — GM of Services Vertical, NetSuite

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