Category Archives: Business

The Future of the Services Industry


Transcript of My Portion (slides above)

Almost two years ago now, I joined a small enterprise software company that has a product for the Property & Casualty Insurance market that supports selling, administering, billing and supporting insurance products such as automobile, homeowners, and commercial liability. This software system, as with many, requires setup and customization to enable it to support each individual insurance companies products and operating model, for example where they might use captive versus independent agents, or centralized billing and claims departments versus field or branch offices supporting customers. Ultimately, each new customer requires an implementation team to setup the system to support their business lifecycle from sales (agents) to billing to customer service when an insured reports a claim. When I joined, I inherited a number of challenges affecting the professional services organizations ability to understand what work was in flight, it’s progress, and whether or not it was even approved work whereby its costs could be recovered from the customer. There were monthly write-offs due to confusion between project teams and customers paying the bills and a dedicated resource responsible for running around and asking folks what they were working on. Having come from a fairly well organized consulting company that had explicitly defined processes around contract management, staffing, billing, etc., I knew that I needed to put in all the basics.

A few years prior I had led a software selection project for a large company that wanted to take advantage of an enterprise project management tool. During this project I became aware of many offerings on the market and had seen the idea of “Professional Services Automation” begin to be championed by several vendors. This lead me to dream big as I expected there would be great solutions to how I wanted to run this business. Services Resource Planning (SRP) really is about supporting the end-to-end business process. Fortunately, I was able to step back and think about how to put the pieces together. Specifically, at ISCS, I have new customers that need a project team to setup our product for them and have existing customers with ongoing service requests and product issues. Ultimately, I needed real-time visibility into all of this work, but more specifically need to be able to answer these questions:

  • What new service opportunities exist (i.e., projects)?
  • What issues are my customers having?
  • What are people working on?
  • Who’s available?
  • Are they working on the right things?
  • Are we billing for their work? How much?
  • Did we bill for the work?
  • What are the margins of my projects?
  • What are the margins of my maintenance agreements?
  • What are my margins by customer, by the whole department?

With answers to these questions I can then make decisions on staffing, training, recruiting, and goodwill.
More importantly, with this level of insight and transparency, I can better manage internal and customer expectations and plan for a more probable future rather than executive intuition.
It was also very important to me that both our customers and employees could see all of the cogs in the wheel and where things are at in the assembly line.

To support this vision I needed a multitude of capabilities that if not yet found in one system, needed to integrate with others to provide end-to-end business process support. In a smaller company with staff focused on customers, I didn’t want to have a large IT investment in either software, hardware or administration. Similar to how my company enables our customers to run our system in the cloud with my team working in the background to make sure everything works behind the scenes, I wanted tools that were also managed by someone else so that I could focus on running my business rather than keeping operational applications running. I choose OpenAir as the heart of my Professional Services Automation vision and Salesforce Sales and Service Clouds to enable a SRP style operating model, and we already had QuickBooks, which is used by most small businesses. OpenAir supported my SRP vision Day 1 with pre-built connectors to and QuickBooks. Beyond just opportunity management, project delivery, and financials, I also wanted human capital management, as Mike defined it, supported as well to give me a complete picture of the Services Supply Chain. Having capabilities such as resource booking, skill tracking, availability are key components to streamlining and creating an efficient process for allocating the right resources at the right time to deliver customer value.
Specifically, the tools needed to support project work and customer support, both with unique yet similar operating processes. Let me begin by walking through how I’ve leveraged these tools to meet my vision in supporting project work.

Every project begins as an Opportunity, creating visibility into current and future demand just like a factory manager would have to plan for the manufacturing of its widgets. Managing services opportunities in the same sales system as our product sales, all of us on the management team have greater visibility into all potential revenue without waiting for financial reports that are after the fact. Sold and lost project opportunities are tracked not only by title and forecasted revenue, the focus of most CRM tools, but also by resource costs whether it be time or expenses as each become a Project in OpenAir. The Project is the heart of the operation. All resources track time to a project, whether it be internal facing or customer facing inclusive of expenses.
If the project opportunity is lost, then business development costs are captured to reflect true profitability. If the project opportunity is won, then the project kicks off! The great thing about OpenAir is its ability to marry actual work efforts, captured in individual timesheets, to the original plan. The really exciting capability we use is something I call “Democratized Estimates”. As resources keep track of time spent on a task, they are also asked to provide feedback as to how much effort they believe is remaining on that task. This is then aggregated and gives a more accurate picture of how a project is progressing. Both our employees and our customers have access to this information. I also use OpenAir’s resource bookings module to match up active and potential projects with current staff to allow me to better plan for when I need to increase capacity whether it be by recruiting more FTE’s or leveraging partner resources to deliver the work. And of course all this service needs to be billed and fees collected from our customer. Again, the project is the heart. Opportunities have a corresponding contract that defines the fees and planned effort. We capture this data in the Salesforce Opportunity record as I have illustrated. This data is then passed to the project, which tracks it as budget in dollars and hours, two existing OpenAir fields. Following the billing rules defined by the contract or Statement of Work, OpenAir’s billing function then processes time spent and its associated fee rules (e.g., rate card based, task based, or fixed fee) to calculate the billing amount, which maps to the invoice. These charges are gathered and processed monthly, rolled up and packaged into an Invoice that is passed along to QuickBooks, our financial accounting system of record along with expenses reported. Customers now have a complete view from what was expected per the original contract to what is invoiced, which provide task level detail and charges that map directly to the project plan. This provides exceptional visibility into the profitability of project work, but for those of us that are responsible for additional support activities, that may be managed in a traditional case management system, one needs data from the cost of that effort as well to see true profitability across a customer on the whole services operation.

Our customer support team uses’s Service Cloud to track and manage customer issues along with small service requests. These cases are visible to our customers through an online customer portal and are managed by the same lifecycle of project work. Each maintenance agreement sold with our product is expected to provide budget for continued support to our customers following a successful implementation of our product AND of course this revenue drives R&D, sales and marketing, and of course provide profits. The main question is, “are we charging enough for these maintenance contracts to enable further product innovation, allow us to grow the business AND support the customer?” Or alternatively, “Are we charging too much?”
To answer these questions requires time and expense accounting to support each customer. We begin again with an Opportunity in Salesforce representing a year of the contract, which then gets a corresponding project in OpenAir, which creates a container for us to track our time against. Cases are pushed into OpenAir as tasks within the “maintenance” project to allow for this accounting. This approach also allows us to combine billable work requests as they come accross as cases with a type that is recognized by OpenAir’s billing rules as something that needs to be charged for. You may be wondering why we’d break up the maintenance contract as separate opportunities given they’re typically a multi-year deal. Well, we found that if we were going to keep adding cases as tasks within that project that over time it would become too unmanageable, so we decided to close it out at the end of the year and create a new one representing the subsequent years value. Having costs tracked against cases and rolled up against the project, which contains the budget allocation from the maintenance agreement, we can then produce management reports illustrating the profitability of each contract. This data is not only available to us in OpenAir’s reporting, but is also pushed back to some extent into Salesforce so that we can leverage it’s powerful Analytics capabilities and aggregate with forecasted sales data. As with project work, any charges and time spent on support cases can be pushed into the invoice for increased transparency showing some work with $0 and other effort having charges, which will have the Case ID allowing the customer to review back in the customer portal. Hopefully, my team made sure to get the customers approval before doing the work, something I haven’t figured out how to automate yet. 😉

We had all of this live in a couple of months and immediately received feedback from customers that they felt more comfortable with what we were working on even though our billings went up on account of better tracking of billable work. From their perspective they had better insight on the status of their requests and in real-time, everyone knew who was working on what, and we nearly eliminated the monthly dance of explaining the invoice and negotiating write-offs. The new operating model and tools have enabled us to reduce overhead on project staffing, project setup and the billing process. But most importantly, leveraging the decision sciences of ERP we are able to make more insightful business decisions on real operational data.

Enterprise Software Companies & System Integrators

Just published an article at on why enterprise software companies should partner with system integrators/consultancies to implement their system for their customers. Excerpt below:

Recently, I joined a small, but quickly growing software company with a policy automation solution for property and casualty insurance carriers and large agencies. My immediate challenge was to increase the number of new customers that could be implemented annually. The company has had success from having a highly relevant product that has a tremendous amount of industry insight built in. However, the challenge was that the company had a limited capacity to implement new customers. Partnering with one or more system integrators or consultancies was a quick way of immediately gaining access to capacity while minimizing financial risks to the company as these resources could be more flexibly ramped up and down as project requirements demanded. This is one of the most financially valuable components of partnering with a system integrator. By minimizing the total headcount in the services organization, there is also a natural organization psychology that maintains the focus on the product rather than on services. Additionally, often times there is a symbiotic relationship that can be created as the system integrators are looking for new technologies to bring to their existing clients and you as the software company can introduce them to new customers.

A Better Restaurant and Entertainment Guide

I think I work too much, or something, because it seems most of my ideas originate from needing to be able to orchestrate something quickly and last minute. Or, I’m just a big procrastinator.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really disappointed with the current restaurant and entertainment guides out there. They just haven’t evolved from a basic database of items with attributes. To really make a great Yahoo! Local or better Citysearch, you have to move away from what fields go in the database tables and start thinking about the user experience first.
Here’s an example use case that illustrates the struggle one has with existing guides (try to go online and solve this riddle quickly):
You have a friend that just called you up and said they’re in town for business and would like to get together for dinner. They’re a close friend and someone you’d like to entertain and show a good time in your city, of which they’ve never been to and are really excited to see. Oh, and they’ve only got a couple of days and one evening with you.
Now, let’s say you want to pick out a restaurant that highlights something unique about your city or has some form of entertainment. How do you find that in a list of cuisines or restaurants by neighborhood?!
Bring on the wizards! The design needs to include a wizard type questionnaire, something that guides you through options and then returns a succinct list of places that match your criteria. Oh, and it should be accessible from your computer or mobile phone. It could start out with basic options (like the Limbo iPhone app): Dining, Event, Shopping, Outdoor Activity, and Indoor Activity. From here, you’d drill down into more specificity that would ultimately bring back the short list of places.
Returning to the use case, we’d start by selecting Dining. From there, it might offer the next options such as: Intimate, Lively, Entertaining, Quick, and Culinary Delight. Let’s say you want to have it be entertaining. The next menu may ask: Live Music, Dancing, Theatre, and Participatory. From here, if you choose participatory it may include a place that has belly dancing, or a restaurant with a comedy show where you become part of the act. Ultimately restaurants could be listed under multiple options if appropriate.
Now, you have some great options, but which one do you go with? At this point, if it’s done right you’ve made it pretty easy, but I’d take it a step further. Let’s integrate with OpenTable and have location based service utilized. Meaning, tell me what has a table for when I can make it and is closest to my friend’s hotel!
To take it just a bit further, let’s say you chose Intimate. The next screen would then ask: black tie, sport coat, nice shirt, outerwear, T-shirt, no shirt. I’m sure your imagination can plug in different restaurants that fit the different attire. Speaking of attire, what a great way to start if the person doesn’t have anything in mind!
I’d include a “no idea” start button that skipped the first menu of Dining, Shopping, Events, etc. and just ask a simple question. What will you be wearing? Then offer the same menu. An example break down for T-shirt might bring up bowling. It would also need to specify when at the end to determine whether to include items with advance purchase requirements.
If anyone wants to give me the budget to put this together, I’d love to!

Office Lunch Aggregator with PayPal Billing

On one of my last projects, one of my managers that regularly gathered lunch orders, proposed the idea of a simple online site to do the job. There are a number of restaurant delivery services in different cities, but none of them that I am aware of offer an aggregation service for work colleagues that includes split check billing.
The idea would be to have integration with a number of different restaurants that provided take-out lunches. The system would then have one person choose the location for the day and then allow a group of colleagues to go to the site and pick their order. They would then be able to pay for their portion via PayPal or something easy for the pick-up person to be able to pay the bill (or have it automatically paid) and get the food.
The simplest way to integrate this service with restaurants would be to have online orders simply faxed to the destination, aggregate the funds from each colleague and transfer them to the person doing the pick-up. More fancy integrations could include automatic payment to the restaurant and automatic insertion of the order to their systems. With an open platform, this could be really awesome.
For now, we’ll all continue to collect cash in the office.
Author’s Note: As part of all my blog entries I try to provide a lot of links to relevant reference material related to the entry. I typically do this research after I’ve written the entry. In this case, I was impressed to find Lunch Prodigy. Now they just need to add billing capabilities!

Frequent Traveler Woes

As someone who seems to be in the airport almost as much as they’re home, I want to take this entry to just rant about some business processes and systems that need some investment.
Canceled Flights
– If a flight is canceled or delayed significantly, the system should automatically reconfirm everyone onto the next appropriate flight rather than have the desk agent try to manually handle these. They would simply provide boarding passes or make changes when the customer has a new preference.
Membership Lounges
– If you’re going to code share, then you should share customer data as well. Recently I was in the Frankfurt airport flying Lufthansa and as a Star Alliance Gold member through United, I wanted to use the First Class lounge even though I was only business class. The lounge said Star Alliance Gold members were welcome, but I had nothing that “proved” that because my boarding pass was with Lufthansa and thus didn’t show my credential. It was surprising to me that they couldn’t simply look me up to verify I in fact had earned the right to be in that lounge. Interestingly, on another visit, I had a United boarding pass that showed I was Premier Executive (Gold) and they argued with me as to whether that was acceptable proof. Someone needs to check the customer service processes for this loyalty program.

Fun Things To Do “.com”

I am trying to come up with some ideas for some fun things to do outside of my normal itineraries. Similar to my idea about half priced events, it would be great if one could go online and get new ideas for something fun to do. I’ve looked at many of the events listing type sites, but they only show you what is going on with respect to a particular date and type of event. But, what if I just want something new to do that I don’t know about? It could be a place I’ve never been or something as simple as playing tourist and renting one of those three-wheeler scooters (something I’ve been meaning to do). Seems like this should exist (and I’m sure it does somewhere). My first thought was Unfortunately, the owner hasn’t launched the site yet. If I owned it, I would set it up to be a craigslist type moderated list engine that provided a categorical list of fun events by location, type, cost, etc. Then people would have the ability to list their ideas (social moderation would keep it clean, fun and organized).

Product Pricing Strategy

With the advent of the iPod and iTunes, everyone is trying to get into the game of providing instant access to video and music. The one point I want to make is that these companies need to rethink their pricing. I was in a hotel a few weeks ago and was shocked at how much it cost to play a movie on demand. I thought, “Do they realize I have a Netflix DVD in my bag and a couple downloaded movies on my laptop?” Pricing strategy needs to be focused on more. Quantity in this game is the goal.
Let’s take the above example and illustrate my point. If the hotel charges $6 to download a movie, and we assume that 10% of guests take advantage of the service, and you have 1,000 guests, that’s $600 in revenue. Now, change the price to $1 per movie, which would drive more usage. Assume that 80% of guests play a movie on demand (many would start movies that they didn’t even intend to finish at $1). At this rate, you make $800 a 33% increase in revenue (break-even is 60% adoption of service per guest). As you can see, changing the price can have a dramatic effect. Now, this is all basic pricing strategy taught in every business school, but why am I seeing these overly priced services. I mean come on, I realize that Apple has sold over a billion songs via iTunes, but I wonder how many songs would have been purchased (rather then pirated) if the cost was $.25?

Customer Service for Lines and Queues

Over the holidays I found myself in many lines, whether they were to buy something or mail it at the post office. On the occasion I was trying to ship a package I found out that I did not have the right form. Unfortunately, I waited for over half an hour before learning this and had to start over at the end of the line once I had the correct form. I’m guessing something similar has happened to you where you didn’t have what you needed to perform the transaction when you reached the end of the line or found out you were in the wrong line all together. In scenarios where these types of lines exist, the organization should employ an individual (could be someone rotating out of one of those boring seat jobs) to talk to people in the line in order to make sure they a.) have everything they need for when they’re at the counter and/or b.) are in the correct line.

Product Placement Will Pay for All Content to be Free

In a little under 10 years we went from accessing text through gopher to listening to music, watching the latest episode of survivor, IMing one friend, and talking to another across the world?all at the same time. And if I want to know how to make a cup of chai, I can access the recipe and directions a thousand times over within seconds. I remember when I could only access the Internet at my high school, which had a connection to the local university. Now, I can answer a question stumping everyone at a party through my mobile phone, which calls up google for me in seconds. So far I only pay around $20 for my home broadband access and $40 for my unlimited data plan on my mobile phone. Yet, I can access almost anything for free through those two pipes. The only subscription I have is to the Wall Street Journal, which I enjoy to read and they don?t supply for free. Advertising pays for a lot of this, but as most know, much of this is well?just used.
So, what will I have at my finger tips in the next 10 years? Between peer to peer file sharing technology improvements, lower cost bandwidth, ubiquitous wireless access, and a proliferation of devices that can access anything, I expect I should be able to do all of this, but faster, with higher quality and easier. I want to be able to listen to XM radio from my mobile phone, decide I want to keep the song for later that I?m listening to, pull up the nightly news (video) when I get home from work, have the WSJ read to me in the bathroom while I shower, and be able to see my friend across the world that I?m talking to on the phone while showing her the funny clip from a TV show I watched the night before. (long sentence used to dramatize how all of this will be accessible anytime, anywhere and all at once if desired) Oh, and I don?t expect to pay anymore. In fact, I expect that the cost will go down a bit. So, who?s going to pay for this? Well, I think it will be product companies. I don?t see anything that can be displayed on a screen costing money. I do however expect to be persuaded to drink more Diet Coke, buy new clothes more often and be enticed to run to the store to get the latest gadget, etc. However, in a time that will be over stimulated, I expect less advertising that?s in my face, but more subtle. For example, it may be that the can of soda in every video clip I watch happens to be Diet Coke, because Coca-Cola would know I like Diet Coke and they would pay to have it so that everything I watched would show only Diet Coke (of course, Pepsi may overbid them every once in a while as simple as Google AdWords and I may see a few Diet Pepsi cans occasionally). I happen to like PDA type phones more than the latest thin phone, so Warner Brothers may make it so that every movie/TV show I watch just happens to have the latest one laying around in a scene with a character that it knows I like (it would know I like the character as simple as Amazon knows I have taste for philosophy, business, and Harry Potter). This would then inspire me to likely get it after repeated visuals, and if I bought it immediately from watching, then the WB of course would get a larger commission. Product placement, I believe will pay for everything. Content will be free. Do I think there will be no advertisements? No, but I expect they will be more ?on demand? when I?m interested in something (for example SOBE may get their can in one day promoting their new energy drink. I may then be curious, touch it on my screen and be taken to an advertisement telling me what it is and why I should try it). Oh, and I?m a privacy nut, so I sure as hell hope that someone figures out how to let me give up some of this information without having it abused so that I can do all this for ?free.?

Letter to the Airlines

When I book a ticket on my own dime I usually have a destination in mind and want the cheapest ticket. Why can?t any of the sites just tell me, “hey, the cheapest possible way to get you to Somewhere, State on the third weekend of march is if you fly on our 6pm flight Friday, and are willing to go through Somewhere Else, Other State. Or tell me hey, I understand you want to fly on these specific dates, but if you fly at these times here are the discounts because those planes aren’t very full right now. And speaking of booking tickets do you really need to jack the price up the last minute? Have you ever thought about lowering it to just fill the plane? Note to non-airline websites, if you let me just give you the dates and destination and find me the absolutely lowest possible fare regardless of airline, I?m your customer for life. Note back to airlines, I?ll stick with you if you let me get a discount for turning in a bit of mileage or foregoing earning mileage for the trip.
Ok, so let?s talk about some of the things that I think are either annoying or odd while flying.

  • Interruptions by the captain. I’m watching my movie and all of a sudden he/she is talking. That pause feature never seems to work and the voice usually makes me miss a key scene. Some of them go on forever. Someone needs to tell them that we really don’t care what the weather is like where we are going to land, or the flight speed or how happy they are that we chose to fly with them.
  • And speaking of long winded announcements, flight attendants should also keep it short and sweet. I think some of them feel powerful when talking on that mic and enjoy hearing their voice thunder over the terrible intercom.
  • Does anyone know why I have to put my bag under the seat in front of me? I like keeping it under my legs so I can stretch them out. I asked once and the flight attendant said it was so everyone could get out in an emergency. I guess I can understand this, but why is it only during take-off and landing? Seems to me that you can’t really do much evacuating at those times.
  • Being told that mobile phones may disrupt the navigation devices, then hearing one ring as we’re safely landing.
  • 500 mile upgrades. Just tell me when I’m eligible for first class.
  • Checking in. why does it take me four clicks on a kiosk, but 5 minutes of typing if I go to the checkin counter.
  • Does anyone know the “rules” for using curb side checkin? Why isn’t that used more often? Are we really so stingy that we’d rather wait in long lines then tip the folks outside a couple bucks?
  • Could we please come up with something other then making everyone have to take their shoes off? At least give us some carpet.
  • And how about laptops? I can keep a mobile phone with as much electronic guts as a laptop, my iPod, powered ear phones, AC adapters, my mouse, etc. but the laptop has to be seen outside the bag?
  • Temperature of the cabin. Why does the captain, locked in his little room control the main cabin. Often it’s too hot or too cold. Let the flight attendants manage this
  • Anyone know why the windows have to be open in the main cabin for take off and landing?
  • Answer found:
    DO I really have to keep my window shade open for takeoff? Some of us would prefer not to watch the world whiz by at 150 mph.

    If the shades are open, passengers can keep track of which way is up during an emergency. Windows are also a source of light if the cabin goes dark. The crew dims the lights during takeoff so, if the plane loses power, your eyes won’t have a hard time adjusting to the dark.

  • I believe that a good majority of passengers are business passengers that fly often. Can we get some more updated media for the TVs? If the airports can run CNN, why can’t you? Let’s upgrade those old VHS players, install some TiVos.
  • Stop wining and thanking me profusely for choosing your airline. It’s just weird.
  • Can you figure out something to let me sleep and not have my head falling all over the place? Good attempt on the curve in sides of the headrest, but not quite. Oh, and while you’re at it, any reason why the chair is shaped such that my head is pushed forward rather then preferably allowing me to lean it back so that it rests. Add a neck roll and I think we’re there.
  • Does anyone use those air phones? I’m glad it’s finally getting cheaper, but am I really going to pay $10 a month?
  • When am I going to get internet access. Now that’s something I’ll pay for. Hell, you could put little computers in, offer IM access and probably make a ton of money.
  • Why do they come around to collect trash two minutes after they gave you your drink. Am I supposed to slam my soda?
  • Who the hell decided the middle guy shouldn’t get any elbow room?