Automation Helps Services Firms, Despite Obstacles

Like IT executives at other services-related companies, advertising agency CIO Mitchell Dickerman said automating his firm's business processes is paying off in cost savings and improved efficiency -- but not without some obstacles.

For the past two years, Dickerman has been overseeing a rollout of billing and expense applications from Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft Inc. at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. Installing the software at a firm that's "not at the cutting edge of technology" has been challenging, he said, adding that he's cautious about giving workers too much automation.

But Boston-based Hill, Holliday decided it needed more timely billing information to better track employee productivity and to ensure more rapid payments by its customers. Dickerman opted to go with Surebridge Inc., an application service provider in Lexington, Mass., that has customized PeopleSoft's software to work with the advertising agency's back-end systems.

The billing system went live a year ago. Dickerman said there have been clear benefits, such as users' ability to enter data directly from Web browser clients into the agency's finance systems. "For the first time, there were no missing time sheets," he said.

Hill, Holliday is also collecting thousands of dollars in fees that previously would have gone unpaid because of late or overlooked billing slips, Dickerman said. Next up is an expense entry system, now in beta testing, that should allow users at the 1,000-employee agency to fill out Web-based forms that connect expenses to specific projects and clients.

An increasing number of IT managers in industries such as advertising, telecommunications, law, health care and construction are turning to software that fits within the category of professional services automation (PSA). Such applications could help "almost any service-based organization interested in improving [its] business processes," said Ted Kempf, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Another PSA adopter is Integris Health Inc., a nonprofit health care system in Oklahoma City that went live last August with PSA software developed by Changepoint Corp. in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The software lets managers track projects and handle scheduling and invoicing without adding administrative costs, said Integris CIO Avery Cloud.

"We're able to better streamline work processes and collaboration," Cloud said. The PSA software also gives Integris improved capabilities for forecasting how many workers will be needed at a given time, he added.

This story, "Automation Helps Services Firms, Despite Obstacles" was originally published by Computerworld.

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