Automating your workflow, knowledge management and billing processes can work only if employees and managers are on board ahead of time. Otherwise you're just wasting your time and money

Reader ROI

  • See why professional services automation software doesn't always work
  • Find out what to do if you meet employee resistance

When Intria-HP of Toronto - a joint outsourcing venture between Hewlett-Packard and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce - was formed, its executives had a daunting task ahead of them: transform an IT department that had been a cost centre into a revenue centre selling IT services to banks.

To aid in the transformation, the executives turned to professional services automation (PSA) software, which automates work assignments, billing and invoicing, time sheets and similar kinds of labour. The software is designed for organisations that provide professional services, such as global IT shops, financial services organisations, consulting firms or organisations with many far-flung consultants around the world.

In theory, the tool seemed ideal for Intria-HP's overhaul. The reports PSA software creates can help a company closely track what work IT employees and consultants are doing, see what resources are free at any given time, and assist managers in determining whether their workers are ready to take on new assignments. The idea is to allow managers to more effectively use their existing workforce.

But Intria-HP soon found that theory clashed with practice. The system just wasn't working, says Bent Fink-Jensen, an IT executive whose official title is director of process and knowledge management. And it wasn't working for a very simple reason: people weren't using it. Rather than learn and adapt to a system in which they saw few benefits, people simply reverted to the old ways of doing things - and so the promised benefits of the software, which cost $US345 per licence ($550 in Canadian dollars), weren't forthcoming.

Interviews with other CIOs who have used PSA software, and with consultants familiar with the technology, reveal that Intria-HP's story isn't an isolated one. While PSA software holds out the promise of increasing the effectiveness of businesses that provide professional services, employees often baulk at using it, and the investment may be wasted.

" You can't just drop this technology on your workforce and have people magically use it," says Dave Hofferberth, research director responsible for the PSA practice of the Aberdeen Group, an IT resource and consulting group based in Boston. " Executives so far have loved this. But if it's an executive mandate, you'll typically get resistance."

To forestall such resistance, CIOs must do some homework before they even invest in this kind of software. To begin with, they should have a thorough understanding of their company's corporate culture and how the company assigns work. Companies that provide consulting or Web design services are often staffed by creative types who don't cotton on to a lot of structure, and may baulk at attempts to compartmentalise their work. On the other hand, IT organisations that have employees who like structure and order may embrace workflow software.

CIOs also have to understand how employees report their progress on assignments, note time on each project and bill for their work. If such business processes are not in place and clearly spelled out before the software is in place, it isn't going to work. All the technology in the world cannot compensate for a disorganised work environment, as Fink-Jensen discovered.

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