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By Neil Davidson, Regional Vice President, EMEA and APAC

Many companies are facing growing administration tasks. Admin is necessary, but savvy businesses in times of tight margins and intense competition are always looking for ways to reverse course, optimise practises and focus on the activities that generate a profit.

When advising a business on increasing productivity, it is vital to have all the data available and every penny accounted for. However, ultimately, this requires a lot of admin from business support functions such as the finance team, which doesn’t have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line. To keep their businesses running, many leaders have already had to make swift decisions on the direction their company will take in 2023 – where investments will be made and where corrective action is needed.  For those who haven’t, with economic uncertainty likely to carry through until next year, it is likely they will have to make such decisions soon. It’s no mean feat and by having data on the entire organisation, smart business moves become more visible.

When it comes to identifying where cost savings can be made, how can businesses leverage data insights, without spending even more time on admin, to optimise their processes?

Show businesses they are wasting 243 hours a year on admin

The answer lies in connected data. Connected data, by definition, is data that not only shows what is happening in the data set, but also the relationship between different sets of data, to provide more context for those looking at it. For example, data from timesheets could be connected to data from a company’s new business pipeline to identify where pockets of capacity lie to take on new projects.

This can of course be done on a small-scale using spreadsheets. However, these are prone to human error and are reliant on everyone undertaking the admin to regularly update them. Then there is the time invested in collating all the different inputs into one sheet for analysis and reconciliation.

And it’s not instant. It’s a familiar story, where a client or manager requests the data, the team look through multiple disparate spreadsheets, speak to wider team members to gather data from their spreadsheets and then collate the data (often in another spreadsheet) to make the required analysis. Say this process takes 30-minutes instead of a potential 10 minutes, with requests being made twice a day, that’s 40-minutes of unnecessary time spent. Apply that 40-minutes of employee time over a year and 243 hours, or 30 working days, is spent on a simple task.

Abolishing siloes

Every business collects and stores a huge quantity of data, from business profits and losses through to employee and customer data. The problem is, historically businesses have been set up in a time when data wasn’t shared across the organisation. This has led to data siloes between departments, so they store their own data, in their own spreadsheet, in their own folders. This leads to data disconnections, and vital business insights being lost.

Connected data helps unlock productivity by cutting out these siloes and highlighting nuggets of information that could lead to a competitive advantage. For example, a firm could see which clients are the most profitable, where teams are having a time drain, or which industries are the best to pitch for new business. The data is instantly available at the click of a button, which helps managers accurately forecast revenue, manage profits and losses, working capital and non-billable time using up-to-date information. Managers can act instantly to address issues before they develop, helping the business to meet targets and deliver client work. Actionable insights for team-wide efficiencies will be vital as costs continue to rise.

Implementing connected data

Data can be especially tricky for professional services businesses, as they work on a project basis. A project management solution, with embedded data capabilities providing data dashboards, can support employees in their everyday tasks, providing greater control and oversight into projects – while in tandem giving the leadership team overarching business insight and intelligence. Whether the business has a globally distributed workforce or is full-time based in the office, accurate, real-time data is collected, providing insights to be actioned. Connected data provides a clear understanding and focus on parts of the business that can deliver growth and areas of the business where KPI’s are below target

Taking architecture and engineering (A&E) firms as an example, 19% say that operating profit is one of their biggest challenges. Data is at the core of ensuring budgets stay on track and remain profitable. With financial margins still feeling the squeeze, accuracy of project data is vital. This can be achieved through data-based project management solutions. One example of such tools are Professional Services Automation (PSA) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The benefit of investing in tech enabled solutions is that the total cost of ownership (TCO) is significantly lower with single subscription, training, and maintenance, due to the return on investment (ROI) they make in terms of being able to increase productivity and optimise capacity.

Live data will show managers the latest insights into the status and progression of a project – for example where they are ahead or behind on time or have over-or-under-spent vs. their quote. Businesses benefit from a boost in timeliness, rather than waiting for synchronisation. They can also flag up to a client if they anticipate going over budget, to reconcile any issues or get additional revenue as early as possible. Whether a crisis or an opportunity arises, the company is perfectly positioned to react accordingly using real-time data across its project portfolio.

Meeting key performance indicators

Heading into 2023, maintaining a strategic mindset is going to be essential to combatting ongoing uncertainty within the market. While the majority of businesses start the year with plans and key performance indicators (KPIs), very few continue to monitor progress against such plans throughout the year. Live data presented in a clear dashboard is a simple and seamless way for business leaders to keep track and maintain momentum towards business goals.

Live dashboards can then be viewed in leadership meetings to influence the company’s overall direction towards growth, containing costs, and profitability. For example, if a company goal is to increase its labour multiplier, with a live dashboard, the business can easily see what their net labour multiplier is today, compare it to last year or to the company’s pre-set KPI. Should there be questions around why the company is under delivering, leaders can drill into the detail with a single click, rather than countless hours analysing spreadsheets. Tracking progress isn’t a task surround by endless admin, it’s a critical business insight.

With economic conditions tightening companies can protect themselves – or at least be aware of the threats they face – using connected data. They can quickly adapt by analysing the profit margins across each job to estimate the impact on the business’ bottom line. Operational changes can be made on individual projects, or the wider business, to offset any potentially negative financial implications. For some industries, such as management consultancy, the need for their services may increase in the wake of economic uncertainty. While this is good for business, it can also be   problematic in terms of resourcing as client demand outstrips the business’ available resource. With connected data, a business can look at its capacity to identify whether there is a justification for recruiting a new, full-time member of staff or working with more freelance consultants to plug any gaps in staff availability.

By understanding where margins are suboptimal, a plan can be put in place to help maximise profits. Leaders can no longer ignore the need for robust data that can be accessed instantly, at a time when disruption is likely.   the use of sophisticated technological solutions can significantly reduce long-term costs, optimise processes and mean a company manages to set itself apart, no matter what challenges come its way.

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