Making the Case for Best-of-Breed Professional Services Automation

The most recent blog post from the Projector PSA team focused on the idea that time is a professional services organization’s most precious resource. All organizations, regardless of size, need to utilize their time and resources in a way that drives ongoing profitability and efficient project delivery while also ensuring an accommodating work environment. Selecting the Professional Services Automation (PSA) software that best fits a firm’s operational objectives and priorities is essential to that balance. Staff will be engaging with their PSA application for the significant portion of a day, and their feelings toward the software can shape their long-term perception of their workplace.

Pairing the right mix of features, technology, and observable outcomes with the unique needs of a professional services team is essential for a successful deployment of a PSA tool. In this article we’re going to focus in on the technology component to understand how it influences success.

Understanding Business Application Buzz Words

Business applications are commonly classified “best-of-breed” and “best-in-class/best of suite.” The difference between these two classifications can be hard to parse, and the terminology is not always used correctly; these terms are meant to describe how a solution is architected. A “best-of-breed” solution is a rich software package that addresses industry-specific needs in depth, while “best-in-class/best of suite” is a full-service software package with broader functionality that is run on a widely used, popular platform. A more direct and understandable way to distinguish these solutions is “industry-focused” vs. “platform-based.”

When evaluating these options, there are four core factors that need to be considered before making a purchase decision:

Professional services organizations are driven by their technology decisions, and when comparing the benefits of “industry-focused” against “platform-based,” a PSA serving a specific industry is a stronger and more versatile fit for this rapidly changing, highly competitive marketplace. CMSWire, a publication specializing in the Martech and workplace technologies industry, notes that in their 2017 industry research, “the group getting the most out of their marketing tools are those using best-of breed stacks.” CMSWire’s David Roe, citing a 2019 whitepaper from integrated marketing agency Walker Sands, further states that usage is “up from 27% , movement toward best-of-breed hasn’t slowed down since we last checked in.” While this research was focused on cloud-based marketing technologies, this trend applies across productivity software. Organizations are unlocking the power of thoughtful solution design paired with robust system integrations.

Devote Resources to Your Revenue Drivers, Not Your Technology Management

An industry-specific PSA platform is characterized by open architecture, which means that it is possible to integrate with both front office (CRM) and back office (general ledger/accounting) software, blending naturally within the technology stack already existent within a firm’s workflow. The other benefit of this architecture is that when an industry-focused PSA vendor makes version updates, debuts new features, or patches newly discovered issues, you benefit from these upgrades without compromising organization-specific customizations, minimizing any disturbance to ongoing operations.

A platform-dependent PSA solution is hard-coded, meaning any changes need to accommodate the underlying platform (in many cases, force.com). Integrations can usually only occur with either existing applications already running on that platform, or external software that has pre-established connectors to this suite.

Building custom integrations on a pre-established platform can consequently lead to a far greater time investment than implementing an industry-focused solution. New updates and iterations of the platform can conflict with these customizations, leading to significant disruptions that require ongoing assistance from external consultants or a dedicated administrator. Both the time and financial investment in these “technology managers” takes resources away from the work that actually drives revenue, impacting overall profitability.

The investment you make into a platform-based solution goes beyond cash investment; if a firm needs to transition onto new technology as a result of adopting a rigid, platform-dependent PSA, all personnel need to devote time away from revenue-driving projects to train with new software. An industry-specific application that can integrate with the existing software in use means that there’s only a single new system to learn, minimizing time away from critical projects.

An Agile Response to Growth and Organizational Transition

Industry-specific, best-of-breed PSA applications power fluid adaptation to changing conditions in an organization or its technology infrastructure. This scalability means that as a professional services team grows, the industry-specific solution can be seamlessly reconfigured to adapt to new integrations, needed functionality, or shifts in personnel. Scalability also does not always require moving forward – if operational constraints require maintaining legacy systems, a best-of-breed PSA can work to extend the life of other software in your technology stack.

While industry-focused PSA software is responsive to shifting needs in an organization, a platform-based solution may force clients to work around the updates schedule of their software suite, as well as impair or prevent organizations from working with existing tools that do not integrate with their applications. Consequently, these clients may need to adopt unnecessary feature sets, be subject to pricing shifts or license minimums, or lose integration/compatibility with older software. Adopting platform-based software takes the control over your technology out of your firm’s hands.

Personalization and Institutional Knowledge for the Support Process

Selecting B2B software is more than a simple transaction; it’s the beginning of a long-term relationship between two companies that can make a significant impact on a professional services firm’s business and reputation. Once the software is implemented, a robust, responsive dialogue with the vendor’s support and technical staff is essential to maximizing “time to value” and facilitating strong adoption throughout an organization.

Best-of-breed software vendors are industry experts, and typically offer dedicated support teams buoyed by institutional knowledge of the specific marketplace and its technology challenges. These providers usually provide a direct-line of support for questions, concerns, or troubleshooting, and assign a dedicated representative to all client accounts. This personalized approach often results in faster response times than you would see in companies with a much larger, platform-based product portfolio, enabling clients to again focus on their billable projects.

Platform-dependent vendors with a multitude of products also may have decentralized support networks, and service representatives may not necessarily be experts on all facets of a particular product. The larger nature of these platform environments also means that support tickets may take longer to resolve, and if it is determined that the problem is with an underlying platform and not the product itself, users may be redirected to a different support network. Professional services organizations that require agile problem solving and fast response times cannot afford to experience these obstacles to continued productivity.

Determine Your Team’s Needs Quickly

Platform-reliant professional services applications offer a broad range of feature sets, but most lack the depth and flexibility to adapt to unique operational processes, shifting business goals, and unexpected challenges.  Industry-focused platforms, due to the specialization and institutional knowledge of the professional services industry, are often better-equipped to adjust the software to your business environment.

However, when speaking to either a platform-based or industry-focused vendor during the sales process, it is vitally important to communicate a clear and detailed outline of the expectations for the solution. The more answers you receive during the sales process, the less likely it is to encounter unexpected problems once the software is implemented. When asking questions around functionality and business outcomes, focus equally on breadth and depth. Many vendors in the marketplace will be able to satisfy a check-list of features. How well those features match the needs of your business and their ability to affect change in the organizations that use them will make the difference between a good solution and a great solution.

A productive dialogue during the sales process is beneficial to everyone involved. The vendor can better anticipate potential needs and provide more precise support. The buyer will feel more confident that they are making the right decision for their firm. The best approach to engaging in a productive dialogue is to ask every vendor to walk you through how their software handles the common use-cases within your business, step by step.

An Open Road for Technology Adoption

Professional services automation software is the engine that drives sustainable growth, and teams need to fully understand its inner workings to thrive.  Best-of-breed PSA software empowers professional services teams to make the application an intuitive portion of their operational machine, establish confidence in the scalability of their PSA solution, and leverage a trusted partner to help navigate the path to sustainable growth.

Projector PSA Logo 2020

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