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At Your Service: Automating People and Processes
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By Morris Panner

Service professionals are often the most talented, educated, and nimble employees in an organization. Yet, the work they do is often a mystery to management. It’s hard to measure and quantify. However, service professionals are not all that different from other customer-serving employees.

Your sales force and your customer service representatives have similar skill sets. True, those employees focus more on relationships than projects, but not that long ago it was the nature of relationship-oriented tasks that was considered the big mystery.

Then, Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications came along and taught us that these relationship-oriented workflows could be measured and optimized. Common processes were streamlined and shared across the organization.

Services professionals not only have to focus on customers, like their peers in sales and support, but they have to manage complex projects with long-term financial objectives. Sarbanes-Oxley makes that task even tougher.

What applications do you leverage to make their jobs efficient? They have clients and quotas, just like sales reps, but sales figures don’t accurately measure their work. They service customers just like customer-service reps, but you can’t measure a service professional through how many calls they take.

The only measure is the project itself. So how do you judge how long the project should last; how many employees should be devoted to it, or how much should you charge customers for it?

Typically, projects are priced by best guesses. Then, after years of experience, the price shifts as you get a better sense of its cost and value. In today’s just-in-time business climate, this goes against the grain of how the rest of the organization works. It prevents you from shifting prices effectively as your own costs shift.

To optimize anything, you need to measure it. Understanding exactly what people are doing is difficult to measure, though. Thus, the natural tendency is to do nothing. People work differently. Each person accomplishes tasks through different means, relying on different strengths and weaknesses.

How do you measure that? The short answer is that you don’t. This is where most attempts at professional services optimization stumble: they attempt to quantify the wrong things.

Linking People to Shifting Priorities

In any service organization, what can be measured is core processes. An emerging software sector, Professional Services Automation (PSA), focuses on service employee optimization. PSA improves your service workforce not by changing how your employees work, but by giving them a fuller understanding of each project, each associated task, and each pending goal.

PSA helps professionals perform their jobs better by providing project managers and executives with clearer, more immediate visibility into key operational and financial metrics. PSA actually lets you zero in on a specific project and quantify what it is worth, allowing you to deploy your staff appropriately. As project values change, so does your staff’s priorities.

Today, too many projects are weighted incorrectly. Your employees waste time on dead-end projects, when your organization would be better served if they were moved to a different project, one that needs more hands on deck.

Resources are shifted among projects inefficiently. They’re shifted after a customer complains, after a manager notices drops in productivity, after a deadline is missed, or after a periodic review. Wouldn’t it be better to conduct these shifts in real time and on the fly – before big problems emerge?

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Morris Panner is the CEO of OpenAir.
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