Ten steps to the right PSA

There are many professional services automation (PSA) vendors making many promises. Here’s how to cut through the hype and choose the right one.

1. Assemble a selection group composed of people from every part of the organization who will use the software. Make sure to balance it geographically. Not only will this give you the best snapshot of what you need, but it’ll help ensure buy-in after you choose the software.

2. Come to an agreement about the business processes that will be automated before looking at software. You may find that this step alone, even if you don’t choose any PSA software, will help your business run better.

3. If you do decide to go ahead, you can then select a package that has the specific features you need. Joe Federer, vice-president of professional services for Dayton, Ohio-based Teradata, recently went through a time-consuming process of selecting PSA software. He found that Noviant software was strong in resource management but left a lot to be desired when it came to time and expense entries; while Account4 was excellent in project accounting but less stellar in knowledge and resource management.

4. Factor in your company’s culture. The best PSA software in the world will be worthless if you choose one that’s inimical to your corporate culture. For example, if people are used to the freedom of choosing their work and working conditions, be careful not to choose a system that will destroy what people value most about their jobs.

5. Decide if you want an end-to-end, all-in-one package or one that integrates with your existing HR, billing and other systems. Small companies often choose to go with an all-in-one package, while large ones may choose a point solution that takes only certain modules and links them to existing systems.

6. Match the PSA solution to your company size and the industry you’re in. Some solutions are better for small companies, some are designed for health-care enterprises and others for government services. Ask for a list of organizations using the PSA software you’re considering, and see if they are like yours. And then talk to existing customers, without the vendor present.

7. Decide on your platform of choice. Will it be a thin-client Web-based one? A more traditional client/server model? These days most people agree that Web-based is the way to go because it will then be accessible where employees or consultants are working.

8. Integrate it into your existing architecture. It must easily integrate into your existing databases and all of your back-end systems.

9. Start small. Kazim Isfahani, principal analyst with the Robert Frances Group in Westport, Conn., recommends that a company not start off by buying and then installing and implementing the whole gamut of professional services automation modules. “Put in the most critical components for a small number of users, then to a larger number of users, and then go on to another component,” he says.

10. Don’t underestimate how long it will take to implement the package. IT executives who have installed PSA software say it can take six to 18 months. Ken Brzozowski, vice-president of the Corporate Technology Group at Merrill Lynch, says, “It may seem straightforward, so people try to accelerate implementation, but that causes delay in the long term.”