The challenge of managing professionals on the move

29th April 2013

According to Intel, there will be more than 15 billion devices connected to the internet by 2015 - many of which will be mobile devices as sales of laptops, tablets and mobile phones continue to outstrip sales of PCs.  Interestingly, British Airways reports that nine out of 10 flights carry more mobile devices than passengers.  Mobile computing is literally taking off!




But for the CIO the rapid uptake of mobile devices presents all sorts of challenges and dilemmas, for example, how to balance the organization’s need for control and security without stifling innovation and user productivity.

By now millions of column inches have been written about  the rapid ascendency  of mobile computing, but the popular view is frequently limited to the implications for busy ‘C’ level executives who need access to key performance indicators on their iPhone, or field service engineers who need to peruse technical manuals as they carry out their work. 

But mobile professionals, for example, surveyors, accountants, engineers and consultants represent another rapidly growing category of mobile workforce and in many cases their needs are far more varied and demanding.  For busy professionals mobile computing offers the potential for a step-change in productivity and control – giving them a window on the essential applications needed to drive their business more effectively.  However the IT professionals who support them are finding that the demand for infinite scalability and 24/7 availability to high quality management information is difficult to match using traditional on-premises solutions.

One of the reasons is that the globalization of business has driven increased complexity in the way that consulting and advisory organizations deliver their services. For example, international projects are frequently staffed by teams of professionals drawn from centres of excellence around the world, working in different time zones, to different chargeable rates.  Keeping tabs on resourcing, time, travel and subsistence costs as well as overall project profitability can be particularly stretching.  Project managers need complete visibility of the status of projects and sub-projects on demand coupled with the confidence that all of the professionals on their team have booked their time charges and expenses before sales invoices are raised.

In the past, the needs of professionals in the field have been met by so called, Professional Services Automation (PSA) applications but the coalescence of cloud computing, mobile computing and social platforms is driving a paradigm shift in the way that consultancies work. For the CIO of professional services organizations the debate has been elevated from policy decisions around “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD), connectivity and security to how can the entire PSA process be re-engineered to support a more productive workforce that can work more flexibly and with the latest social tools to hand?

Flexibility is central to a professional services ethos – professionals, whatever their discipline, want to spend more time practicing their craft than being mired in project administration. And very often they want access to their systems on demand and out of office hours so that they can post timesheets from their hotel room or submit or approve expenses from an airport lounge.  All of this points to the importance of a cloud-based solution. PSA solutions from organizations such as are ideally suited to this new paradigm since they effortlessly support the mobile professional with project accounting, administration and mobile expense entry as well as social collaboration tools at the leading edge of developments.

Take for example, FinancialForce PSA’s “Project Wall”, which is a collaboration facility that puts the project at the centre of the team, no matter where they are located, empowering team-members (and even customers) to collaboratively manage projects. The PSA application also leverages social tools such as “chatter” enabling real time connectivity and collaboration between project team members, allowing them to focus on project delivery rather than administration and spreadsheets.

It’s a state of the art environment that IT professionals should welcome, not only as fellow professionals, but also because responsibility for the entire process can be ceded to a trustworthy third party relieving the pressure on already stretched IT functions.  Added to which the cloud sits well with IT budgets since the subscription model replaces the large upfront cost of licence fees.

Host Analytics, a cloud based provider of corporate performance management applications says it has also benefitted from the broader capabilities of the platform, especially the ability to seamlessly integrate the PSA application with Salesforce CRM.  After implementing FinancialForce PSA, Doug Tilley, Director of Services Operations at Host Analytics says the integration gave much better visibility into the sales pipeline so that the business was no longer “blind-sided” and much more able to match anticipated demand for new work with project resources. The organization also gained better visibility of project priorities and the ability to focus resources on its most important customers. Doug also welcomes the fact that the business can get a “360 degree view of it sales, project and support commitments all on a single platform.”

Setting aside the generally accepted advantages of Cloud computing, the advantages of PSA in the cloud are compelling for both user communities and the IT functions which support them. But it is the opportunity to take PSA processes up a level by combining mobile, social and cloud technologies in a single environment that is driving the change.  For organisations that wish to improve their performance and responsiveness of their professionals while reducing the burden on in-house IT resources the Cloud makes perfect sense.