In many businesses, both sales orders (1) and project revenue are measured as important business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In this article we look at some of the benefits of fully integrating these sets of data.
One-off projects are mainly carried out by professional services organisations like accountants, law, consultancy, IT services and engineering firms. As most ERP and CRM systems are not primarily designed for project-based processes; they do not naturally integrate with each other. This leads to system workarounds and manual processes to achieve integration, that adds both complexity and cost. So is this worth doing?
Professional services organisations benefit from having a single business process linking sales through to project delivery. This improves project delivery by involving project managers early in the sales process, so if it is won everything is in place to successfully deliver the project. Integrating the financial aspects of opportunities and projects helps support this aim (for example avoid losing projects in the transfer between sales and delivery).
More integrated measurement of the financial numbers also has other major benefits. At a basic level, integration will ensure that the value of sales orders will tie in with the value actually achieved in project delivery. It may seem odd, but without a single set of data there is a significant risk that the two will be different. Typically salespeople may exaggerate the value of their orders (for example by including optional follow-on tasks in their order value), that project managers are not contractually obliged to deliver.
As sales orders and book-to-bill (2) ratios are important KPIs, without reliable orders data, its value is substantially diminished. For example a positive book-to-bill ratio suggests a business is growing and a negative one that it is shrinking. This then points to either effective recruitment or a reduction in staff numbers as a priority for the business. Without reliable data this inference can not be drawn.
This effect can be quantified. Orders are an advanced performance indicator; without it business performance can not be measured until later (i.e. by revenue after the event). With accurate KPIs, changes in business performance are more quickly identified, can be investigated and where appropriate action taken earlier. This can result substantial savings - for example a recruitment freeze is much cheeper than later redundancies, last minute hiring is more expensive than a properly planned recruitment programme.
Integration is technically difficult - most ERP and CRM systems do not easily fit together - so this may involve additional programming and/or manual user workarounds to make it happen. A common set of standards of what constitutes a sales order may need to be developed along with new ways of recording data in the systems. User behaviours also need to be changed so that everyone works to the new set of rules. Despite this, the benefits of the changes will usually far outweigh the costs and hassle of achieving it.
Unfortunately as most IT systems are based around replicable sales (typically manufacturing companies), vendors should consider offering off-the-shelf modules to better support professional services organisations with their project related sales.
(1) A sales order happens at the point when a contract is signed with a customer to deliver a project. That project may take a number of weeks or years to complete; so revenue does not get billed to the organisation’s accounts until work is done.
(2) The book-to-bill ratio is the value of sales orders divided by the value of revenue accrued in a set period of time.
Author: James Lloyd