Advantages of a Cloud-Based Financial Reporting Tool

Using the cloud is an everyday occurrence in our personal lives. We demand the ability to store information where we can access it anytime, anywhere. Whether we’re posting photos of our family vacation on Facebook or accessing documents from Dropbox, most of us take full advantage of the cloud in our personal lives. The real question is: Why haven’t our business lives caught up?

At work, we accept we can’t get instantaneously updated information, have to be logged in to the network to gain access to reports, and must have IT’s help to get information from the system. It’s time for a change; we need to make our business data as efficient and accessible as our personal data.

The use of Excel in financial reporting is common, but leaves companies in the dark ages. Users spend more time dealing with data and worksheets than actually analyzing the data. While other companies use expensive and cumbersome bolt-on apps with their ERP system, cloud-based financial reporting tools are relatively inexpensive to implement and combat the disadvantages of hardwired financial reporting systems. Implementing cloud-based financial reporting tools can bring analog companies into the 21st century.

Cheaper Than a Data Center

The cloud is a cost effective solution for multiple reasons. It requires less infrastructure, reduces the burden on internal IT, and reduces the size of the company’s data center. Companies are able to use a smaller data center because, unlike the hardware of a traditional system, cloud storage does not take up physical space. Using a cloud-based system cuts IT’s cost as well. The burden of constant maintenance and upkeep of cloud based systems falls on the supplier, not internal IT. Cloud-based systems don’t require an in-house system expert, which frees up the IT department’s time and budget, allowing them to move into an administration and security role.

Faster Implementation

Cloud-based systems are more dynamic than traditional systems, allowing for increased productivity and a quicker implementation. Multiple resources can work simultaneously on the build. During the implementation, the project team can test the system as they build, and address problems before reaching user acceptance testing. Validating data and tackling major hurdles ahead of time results in a smoother user acceptance testing process. Addressing issues during the implementation allows the project to stay on track and decreases the risk for major system rework.

Finance and Accounting Take Ownership of the System

With cloud-based systems, the supplier maintains and updates the system instead of IT. Because the end-user can take ownership of the system, it creates a more autonomous relationship between accounting and IT. No technical or coding knowledge is required. IT handles the system security and user profile maintenance while accounting handles data updates.

Easy Transition from Excel

Many businesses have grown accustomed to Excel’s ease of use and flexibility. Making the switch to the cloud is easy because, similar to Excel, cloud-based systems are intuitive. All the features an end user needs are in one location, so users no longer have to dig through hierarchies only programmers who built the code understand.

Easily Scalable

Businesses can scale their company quickly using cloud-based systems. They have flexible interfaces, making it easy to scale the system as a company grows. The end user can add a legal entity or a new account without going through rigorous hoops and can see information updated instantaneously. This gives companies more time to analyze financial data and perform scenario analyses.

Cloud-based financial reporting systems decrease costs, speed up the implementation process, create an autonomous relationship between IT and accounting and are easy to learn.

How to Get Real Value out of the Budgeting Process

Pundits argue budgeting is a useless exercise and companies should curtail the efforts. In many organizations, budgeting becomes mere drudgery to appease the executive team. The budget process is long, and once complete, rarely reflects what management believes to be true. For example, a cost center budget is typically developed based upon historical costs with some small percentage increase or decrease. The process does not add value.

Convincing an entire executive team to eliminate budgeting is close to impossible. However, there is a way to get value out of the budgeting process.

Think about the last time you hired a service provider to do anything. There was likely a signed agreement containing expectations of both parties with an agreed upon set of fees in exchange for the work.

Why not use the budgeting process to allow each of the service providers in the organization (Finance, Human Resources, Engineering, Marketing, etc.) to “contract” for the work? For example, the Cost Accounting Department’s primary goal is to accurately capture product and inventory costs to enable make/buy, capacity and pricing decisions. The cost accountant’s customers include marketing and plant managers. The cost accounting team’s budget would be considered the price marketing and plant managers pay for the cost accounting services. This price (or cost) can be weighed against the value provided.

The budgeting process should allow each of the business functions to revisit what they do in terms of value provided to the organization. Functions can be stacked against each other in terms of the value provided and used as a means to reduce costs or build high-value capabilities.

Organizations have adopted the concept of service level charters as a means to drive value out of the budgeting process.

For example, a CFO has a global $6M budget for cost accounting whose value is considered high and a $7M global budget for accounts payable staff providing considerably less value. The immediate argument is accounts payable requires more effort. However, why would an organization spend more on activities that result in lower value? The CFO creates service level charters for Accounts Payable, Cost Accounting and the other finance functions. The service level charter outlines the scope of work, services provided and associated costs. The service level charters expose the inefficiencies with accounts payable and an effort to streamline processes allows the accounts payable budget to be cut in half.

The concept of a service level charter contains 5 key components:

1. Real Value

Each charter must have some connection with what is strategically important to the company. It is easy for the engineering department to identify the value of new product development. However, it is more of a challenge for the internal controls group to define their value statement. That being said, the Internal Controls Department keeps the executives out of jail. How is that for value?

2. Transparency

Department managers often shy away from sharing budgets with peers for fear of finger pointing. However, sharing the cost of the business functions should be transparent across the organization. A department manager who cannot justify his value should be challenged. There is nothing wrong with peer pressure to reduce costs and demonstrate value.

3. Service Expectations

In any contract, it is important to set service delivery expectations. It is easy for the cost accountants in the plants to get dragged off performing special assignments for the plant managers which have nothing to do with controlling and analyzing plant costs. Nonetheless, these special assignments are of value for the plant managers. The cost accountant’s delivery expectations for performing the special assignments need to be in the service level charter and budgeted accordingly.

4. Customer Expectations

As with every service agreement, there are expectations from the customer. In a service level charter between a technical support group and plant operations, plant operations would expect timely reporting of support issues. The old adage “I cannot help you if you don’t help me” applies here.

5. Measurement of what Matters

Defining performance metrics tied to the budgets is important. For example, a safety organization’s key measure is lost time incidents. During the budgeting process, some may believe there are too many safety supervisors. At the same time, the organization has zero lost time incidents displayed on the service level charter. The metric curtails any debate over costs.

Developing service level charters should be a simple process. Organizations may try to over-engineer the process.

Keep the service level charter simple:

1. Stick to One Page. The charter should be simple enough to put on one page in a 12+ font. Anything longer and the customer will not take the time to read.

2. Select Few Measures. Do not try to develop too many measures or select complicated measures. The easier to calculate the measures, the more likely everyone will understand.

3. Keep it High Level. This not about creating bureaucracy and trying define the specifics of every business function.

4. Stay Flexible. Organizations need to stay fluid and understand business changes may mean straying a bit off course to address the unexpected.

Implementing service level charters in an organization might be disruptive, but in a good way. Service level charters can drive a change in the culture of a complacent organization stuck in the process of budgeting for the sake of budgeting. Budgeting is not fun. But it can be if it is competitive and value focused. Trenegy has developed a service level charter format used by leading organizations. For an example, please email Bill at: waimone [at] trenegy.com

Just a Flesh Wound! How Not to Cut Costs

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of funniest movies I’ve ever seen. One of my favorite scenes is the Black Knight skit. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, you can watch the five-minute scene here (although I recommend you watch the whole movie!) In the scene, King Arthur tries to cross a bridge, but the Black Knight refuses to let him pass. They enter into a sword fight and King Arthur cuts off the Black Knight’s limbs one by one. The Black Knight responds:

  • After his left arm: “’Tis but a scratch.”
  • After his right arm: “Just a flesh wound.”
  • After his first leg: “I’m invincible!”
  • After the second leg (and King Arthur crossing the bridge): “Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You yellow b***! Come back here and take what’s coming to you. I’ll bite your legs off!”

I’ve always thought of cost cutting to be like a surgical procedure where a doctor wants to remove the diseased tissue, but ensure that the patient stays alive and gets better.  However, lately it seems that cost cutting in energy companies looks more like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with companies madly continuing the fight although they’re missing their arms and legs.

Although I admire the gumption of the Black Knight, this is no way to go about executing cost cutting measures in your business. Here’s why:

Somebody else is deciding what to cut.

In the movie, King Arthur does the cutting and the Black Knight has no say. When executing cost cutting measures, it is best if management decides what to cut. Letting analysts, board members and other external parties make these decisions won’t work because they don’t have the insight into your long-term strategy and/or the full understanding of your current position.

There is no path to being as healthy as before the cuts.

For the Black Knight, there’s no way to fully recover after losing his arms and legs. Likewise, overzealous and under planned cost cutting can leave your organization critically wounded.  Instead, use a deep understanding of your current state and long term strategy to eliminate costs today that don’t impair your future. Try to make these cuts scalable so they can be reversed when the up cycle returns. Use a scalpel, not a sword.

Regardless of how hard you fight, the competition still gets the advantage if you make the wrong cuts.

In the end, even as courageously as the limbless Black Knight fights, King Arthur crosses the bridge. When making cuts, understand what elements of your business are critical to the bottom line and competitive position, and begin cutting elsewhere.  Otherwise you may be opening a door for your competition to pass you.

Trenegy helps companies successfully plan and execute cost structure improvement projects. Our three step methodology clearly confirms what needs to be cut, maps out how the trimming can be done in a scalable way–which allows for future growth, and ensures that you stay ahead of your competition. To achieve your desired goals, we work with you to:

  • Survey: Clarify your strategy, the levers that drive your bottom line, and your current processes, organizations and systems.
  • Target: Draw a clear vision of what your organization, processes and systems need to be to achieve your strategy while lowering costs.
  • Roadmap: Prepare a detailed step-by-step plan to achieve your cost reductions rapidly (while maintaining a healthy organization) that provides quick wins.

When times are tough, like they are in the energy sector, cost restructuring is a requirement. But bravery alone will not get you through this down cycle. To paraphrase King Arthur: although you may be indeed brave, don’t be a loony.

Why Another Auditor Can’t Fix Your Audit Problems

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • You hired a Big Four Audit firm to assist with fixing some internal control deficiencies. It cost an absurd amount of money and they provided you with narratives and process flows that were never implemented. Your team is left without a plan or the resources to roll it out. This results in a significant deficiency or material weakness around internal controls.
  • Your company recently went public and spent a lot of time and money hiring an audit firm to assist with 404 compliance. After three months, your controller asks for an update. The audit firm has created some inaccurate policy/process narratives and hasn’t started a risk assessment or built controls documentation. Your Audit Committee isn’t happy.

Both of these are true stories. In each case, we’ve helped our client determine the root causes of deficiencies and implement the appropriate process solutions.

Those who come from the Big Four or another audit firm are familiar with the following audit process:

  1. Risk assessment and walk through: Identify and categorize risks (mostly using PCAOB guidance and previous audit results). Walk through the process and identify any other risks.
  2. Testing Plan: Identify sample sizes, timing, and test scripts.
  3. Test: Test the trial balance and internal controls.
  4. Results: Review with four levels of management and then offer an opinion.

This tried and true testing process allows the audit team to catch any significant errors or fraud. Auditors are trained to work long hours, know what’s needed, and find significant deficiencies. But they should not recommend changes or corrections, as this could create a serious conflict of interest. If they did, they would be met with the wrath of the PCAOB (the auditors’ auditor) and the Department of Justice!

This process is ingrained in the minds of external auditors and problems can arise if they join the industry or an advisory group. Many can break this mindset as they take on positions in industry. Yet for those who never leave audit, the find-the-problem mentality doesn’t morph into fix-the-problem.

Taking it even further, many audit and consulting firms employ the SALY method: Same As Last Year. This is a practice where the firm just repurposes deliverables from previous years or clients. This leads to deliverables that aren’t tailored to your needs or processes.

The Audit Mindset

Audit firms impact in the following ways when assisting clients with their internal controls framework:

Audit Mindset

  • Audit firms will work with Internal Audit and Internal Controls to identify risks and control deficiencies
  • Audit firms struggle with recommendations and do not tend to possess the knowledge to make processes more efficient
  • Audit firms don’t have change management experience and struggle with process owner and end user communications
  • Audit firms employ the SALY method—no personalized touch

Don’t hire an audit firm with the expectation that they will change/improve business processes.

Auditors have an ingrained methodology that works great for analyzing risk, but they miss out on the crucial piece of recommending and implementing changes. Even though more and more audit firms are getting involved in controls rollout, there is still a huge gap in their process and change management experience.

The Trenegy Mindset

Trenegy performs the critical tasks of remediating controls weaknesses with process solutions.

Trenegy Mindset audit

Trenegy is a management consulting firm that understands your business processes, systems, compliance requirements, and the proper way to roll out change while improving efficiencies.

How to Implement Internal Controls That Work

In a period of rapid change driven by historically low and volatile crude prices, publically traded companies cannot lose sight of their controls framework among the chaos. Finance departments need help keeping the controls framework in place and operational in the face of emerging risks and opportunities. Finance doesn’t simply need more internal auditors to tell them what’s wrong, but the CFO needs a team that can:

  • Analyze emerging risk
  • Design effective processes and controls
  • Test controls and fix underlying deficiencies

Risk Environment

Don’t fly blind. The risk environment is always changing, even more so as market volatility increases. A recent survey shows that only 5% of CFOs and Audit Committee chairs receive “informed perspective on emerging risk” from their Internal Audit department.

This environment is driving companies to pursue extreme measures to manage financial exposure, but the exposure to financial reporting risks is often placed on the backburner. Both the conservative approach of hunkering down to shed costs and the opportunistic approach of making acquisitions while prices are low breed new risks. Risks identified in previous assessments must be reanalyzed as this business climate renders each decision more critical.

When performing this year’s risk assessment, be aware that the integrity of segregation of duties is threatened each time an employee is laid off. Each revenue accrual should receive greater scrutiny as your firm hovers near earnings targets, and emerging threats like cyber security can impair your controls framework.

Process Design

A control only functions if:

  • The process it exists within is effectively managed
  • All employees know which aspects of the control they own
  • The process is scalable to control for future risks

For example, a firm may capitalize on this downturn and purchase a strategic target with seemingly similar business processes. However, if the company has only ever operated within the confines of the United States, their vendor management control process will reflect that risk level. The majority of all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations occur because of payments to foreign vendors, and if the acquired company conducts business across borders, old processes won’t identify red flags.

The only way to control for the above risk, and scores of other risks, is with effective process management. Roles and responsibilities must be delineated between accounting, operations, and legal to appropriately vet all new vendors, and the process must be scalable no matter whether you use a checklist or a vendor management system.

Underlying Deficiencies

Do not let a control deficiency fester. Finding the underlying cause of a failure is critical. Internal auditors are the in-house experts on discovering control concerns, but you need a team to remediate as soon as problems arise. On the surface, many control deficiencies appear like isolated incidents with straightforward remedies. However, material and systemic weaknesses like tone at the top, resource availability, and technology flaws often reveal themselves during remediation.

On the flip side, what may seem like a doom and gloom scenario – control deficiencies pervasive through your entire organization – might have an antidote. Your internal controls team must analyze the root cause of each problem and search for trends that link them. For example, if you notice repetitive failures within journal entry support, account analysis and financial reporting key controls, don’t jump to the dreaded conclusion of “failure of accounting governance.”

Instead, look for what precedes all of these processes: closing the books. Implementing an improved accrual process to facilitate closing your subledgers on the first day of the month will give accountants more time to perfect journals and analyze accounts, and provide managers more time to review final reports.

How Trenegy Helps

Trenegy provides a comprehensive review of an organization’s risk environment by drawing on years of experience advising multi-national publically traded companies. We work across organizations through accounting, finance, HR and operations to help design and implement effective controls with a focus on efficiency and future flexibility.

Trenegy does not simply identify and report control deficiencies. Once we have identified failures in the process, we develop a specific course of action to remediate the underlying causes of control failures. By leveraging our expertise in ERP implementation, process design and COSO 2013, we build strong controls around the people and tools you have invested in.

We arrive with both an attack plan and an exit strategy. Whether you recently became a public company and need a controls framework built from scratch or are trying to maintain a stable control framework in an volatile market, our focus is on providing the finance organization deliverables and strategies that can be used long after we are gone.

How to Do More With Less in IT

This article first appeared on Peter Purcell’s CIO.com blog: Tech and the Business of Change

Many companies are striving to be more agile, efficient and productive in response to uncertain economic conditions in 2016.  Capital projects have been cancelled while companies shift their attention to surviving in the current environment without hindering their ability to expand in the future. Functional areas are facing significant pressure to cut costs and “do more with less.” Successful cost reduction or right-sizing efforts result in organizational realignment, process improvement and system changes.

Cost reduction initiatives will have a significant impact on IT. Not only will IT be asked to do more with less, but IT will also face increased demand to make changes to existing systems in support of functional area realignment. Forward-looking CIOs and IT departments should proactively focus on:

  • Reducing costs
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Improving security
  • Migrating to the cloud

Reducing costs

The unfortunate reality is that companies are overpaying for IT services. The real challenge for a CIO is to perform an unbiased review of operations when identifying cost reduction opportunities. IT personnel will state that IT is already lean and cannot endure additional budget cuts. Cost reduction opportunities will be identified if IT starts by focusing on licensing fees, projects and personnel. None are easy to attack, but are areas that should be reviewed.

Companies pay maintenance on software that is no longer used. While initiatives to review software licenses and determine which maintenance fees should be discontinued are started, they are rarely finished. Personnel hate this exercise because it exposes rogue software purchases and raises questions about IT’s ability to control access to the technical environment. This is a worthwhile exercise given the potential savings that can be quickly identified. A similar exercise can be performed on existing hardware platforms, but may have a smaller benefit.

The IT steering committee should review all projects to determine which can be cancelled or delayed. Reviewing upcoming projects is easy if the right guiding principles are created and used. Only continue the projects that increase revenue, impact market share or support compliance. All other projects should be delayed. In-flight projects should undergo the same scrutiny, but may require more discussion.

Reviewing the IT organizational structure to identify cost savings is a difficult, yet necessary exercise. Most IT departments have grown along with the company without significant thought for optimal organization structure. When times are flush, it is easy to add personnel to plug gaps without determining the long-term impact on costs. Realigning the organization around a framework like COBIT 5 will help ensure business is properly supported in the long term.

Increasing efficiency

IT and business should work together to determine how to better leverage existing systems to improve process efficiency. A quick review of trouble tickets can help IT develop an inventory of complaints where workflow, configurations and heavily modified code are hindering employees’ ability to perform day-to-day activities. A joint effort to change processes while refining system configurations can have a huge positive impact, sometimes leading to elimination of positions within the business.

Changing business conditions or processes could also lead to elimination of heavily modified code reducing the amount of effort required to support the system. Specialized external resources may no longer be needed to monitor and continually modify the code. Internal support resources could be redirected to focus on other areas that can increase business efficiency.

Extending the existing systems with new modules or add-on capabilities may be counterintuitive in a down economy. However, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at how new functionality can support revenue-generating processes. IT should work with business to ensure processes are rationalized, efficient and effective. Then determine if additional functionality is required to support the new environment. A strong business case could lead to implementation of new CRM, field service, asset management or other systems.

Improving IT security

IT breaches, no matter how minor, can lead to a significant expense. The consultant fees and data loss liability can quickly add up whenever a system breach is detected. IT can work with the business to increase employees’ awareness of cybersafety. Implementing new processes and awareness programs is tantamount to an inexpensive insurance policy to avoid the cost of a breach. Successful cybersecurity programs can also help reduce the need for expensive cybersecurity detection, penetration and removal tools.

Migrating to the cloud

Companies that have data center managed services contracts should take a hard look at migrating to the cloud. Many data center contracts were not written with clauses to reduce capacity if a company shrinks. As a result, companies are paying for more capacity and service than needed. Going through an exercise to determine the cost savings of moving to the cloud can encourage the managed services provider to reduce contract costs. If not, then moving to the cloud can often reduce the overall cost of running core systems. And moving to the cloud will help ensure IT’s ability to support growth in the future efficiently and cost effectively.

It is difficult to tell exactly what is going to happen to the economy this year. However, IT should get ahead of cost reduction activities, striving to be agile, efficient and productive.

The Bitterness of Poor Quality: Why Reliability Matters!

I always wanted a two-seater German sports car. A few years ago, I finally checked that item off my bucket list when I found a great deal. I was the owner of a beautiful, champagne colored, road-handling machine. It was a dream come true. Until my dream broke down.

Just a few miles from home my dream car started smoking, and flashing messages told me that I was having a catastrophic transmission failure. I spent an hour waiting by the side of the road for a tow truck and then waited weeks while the dealer fixed my new car. All the waiting, the expense and the inconvenience were irritating. And the irritation made me angry. And the anger made me bitter.

And at the end of the day, the bitterness was caused by a broken, small and inexpensive aluminum bracket that allowed a transmission fluid line to become disconnected.

I recalled a saying a friend of mine learned early in his career:

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

This is an important idea to remember when developing your operational excellence strategy. But how does a company design a program that ensures reliability? How can your organization ensure that whatever product or service makes you money will be available when called upon?

There are five features to a superior reliability program. These aspects, when properly applied to your internal product production and asset strategy, and when applied to your supplier network, ensure that your customers and clients will not experience the bitterness of poor quality.

1. Set the right tone from the top.

It is important for your employees and suppliers to understand that reliability will not be compromised. Recent examples have shown how easily an organization will take the path of least resistance when it perceives that management doesn’t care (airbags from Japan, diesel emissions from Germany, etc.) One step to setting the right tone is to ensure quality-related concerns are addressed thoroughly and rapidly when they arise.

2. Address reliability holistically.

Inspections alone will not guarantee reliability. Quality must be promoted through:

  • Improved management practices and policies,
  • Streamlined processes and procedures,
  • Built-in quality in the design and manufacturing of your products and those from your suppliers,
  • Robust maintenance procedures to support your assets, and
  • Strong supporting technology infrastructure.

3. Work on a few high-impact items.

Research shows that an organization working on less than three enterprise initiatives is successful. When that increases by one or two more, the chances of success drop significantly. Focus on and prioritize where reliability will have the biggest impact on the bottom line and work on that first. Once these reliability items have been conquered, move on to the next challenges.

4. Be data-driven.

There’s an old adage: ask five experts what the right answer is and you’ll get fifteen different opinions. Therefore, use data to take emotions out of the equation and get the right answer.

5. Keep going.

An excellent reliability program never ends. Continuous improvement needs to be incorporated into the organization’s culture. Once this spirit of continuous improvement is established, the challenge will shift from motivating employees and suppliers to think about reliability to ensuring focus on the right priorities.

Don’t leave your customers and clients stranded on the side of the road, tasting the bitterness of poor quality.

This is the third in a series of articles on operational excellence. Trenegy helps companies successfully manage operational excellence.

6 Ways to Think Like a Project Manager

Expecting the unexpected is critical in project planning. However, even the most carefully designed project does not always go according to plan. The least predictable element, the human element, heavily impacts the timeline and outcome of any project.

The responsibility of organizing project team members generally falls on the manager. Tasks and responsibilities are divided, and each member is expected to contribute accordingly. So, the project manager’s success is a reflection of individual effort.

For most team members, a project is an opportunity for career advancement and development. Below are several habits of effective project team members and a few practices to avoid:

Do’s

1. Be Curious. Ask questions and research topics that are relevant to the project at hand. You may clear up confusion think-like-a-pmbefore it becomes an issue.

2. Be willing to help in whatever way possible. You may not want to build spreadsheets, but successful completion of small tasks shows your ability to take on more complex assignments.

3. Be on time. For everything. Whether it’s a lunch meeting or deliverable, respecting deadlines builds trust among team members and clients alike.

4. Be versatile. Understanding the ultimate goal keeps the focus on the end result and less on the individual tasks. Be willing to take on or change responsibilities when necessary to ensure the goal is met.

5. Be considerate of other work styles. No two people are the same and neither are work habits. Being flexible with scheduling and communication styles will create fewer obstacles in the workplace.

6. Be available for questions. Remember that not all team members will have the same knowledge and experiences. Encouraging questions and discussion

Don’ts

1. Don’t act like you know everything. This will cause you to miss out on the chance to learn and develop your own knowledge base.

2. Don’t withhold assistance. When you limit your team, you limit yourself. Discussion cultivates new questions you may have not yet covered.

3. Don’t prioritize your time over others’. If you need coffee for your 2 o’clock, don’t head to the coffee shop at 1:59. Showing up late gives the impression you’re lazy and ill prepared.

4. Don’t put on blinders once you have a task. You will limit your perspective and understanding of the project. Keeping your eyes open will keep you in the know.

5. Don’t get bogged down by differences. From work styles to breathing habits, it’s easy to find annoying ticks. Looking past personal habits will cause you less stress during the project.

6. Don’t race away from conversations. Leaving unanswered questions leads to misunderstandings. After a meeting or at the end of the day, sharing your time will make others more willing to do the same.

Trenegy works with project teams to promote behavior and thinking which aligns with a project manager. This mindset produces a flexible, adaptable team that can succeed should challenges arise through the project.

The 3P’s of Effective Field Service Automation

A version of this article first appeared on CIO.com.

The current economy is driving companies to mine value from key, revenue generating functions. The most value typically comes from reorganizing the sales and service functions while implementing new, efficient processes. Another way to find value is by focusing on operational excellence, which can reduced costs as a result of improved safety and reliability programs. As new processes and programs are introduced, many companies quickly realize the need to implement field service systems accordingly.

Field service solutions can eliminate paper-based systems and support processes while providing timely information to field employees.

However, selecting the right field service solution is a bit like hugging a porcupine. It must be done carefully given the impact on field employees! After all, field employees are the ones performing critical, customer facing processes that generate revenue.

How can a company confidently determine which solution will support field employees efficiently and effectively? Consider the following:

Process

Which processes should be automated? This question is often given little thought. Many companies assume that all activities performed by field employees can be supported by field service automation, no matter how non-standard the activity. As a result, companies often select and start implementing field service solutions only to stop mid-project as budgets are exceeded by a significant amount.

Field service solutions work best with standardized processes. Given the broad range of activities performed by field employees, determining which processes should be supported by a solution can be difficult. The most obvious processes to be considered include those that are checklist or form-based including safety incident reporting, inspection, maintenance and work tickets.

Standardizing these forms and processes across divisions and geographies is challenging. Create an inventory of forms reports and work flow supporting each process. Work with the divisions and geographies to determine if existing forms and processes can be standardized. Expect resistance! A lot of resistance! The business case for standardization should easily trump the “we don’t do it that way here” syndrome. A field service solution can be considered once agreement on the proposed future state is obtained.

Platform

Many field service solutions are sold as SaaS (Software as a Service) cloud-based software. The SaaS model is designed to help ensure reliable service without additional IT hardware or support personnel. The functionality of many SaaS solutions is based on the assumption that field employees have internet connectivity 100% of the time.

Unfortunately, expecting internet connectivity 100% of the time is unrealistic in many industries. Crew pushers, field mechanics and field service technicians often work in environments that are out of range. Only consider solutions that provide robust functionality in disconnected mode.

The optimal solution will download all the necessary information to support field employees as they perform day-to-day tasks. At a minimum, this should include work tickets, price lists, engineering drawings and checklists. The solution should also allow field employees to enter changes to work tickets, including pricing, as well as capture key check list items. Once the employee gets back into range, the solution should sync with the cloud. Local databases and software should be updated at the end of the sync process.

Pokeability

This new solution will not work for me! Put a new technology solution in front of field employees and the reaction will be almost unanimous. Why this reaction from the same people who have no problems navigating smart phones when not at work? Perceived difficulty in navigating and using a new technology tool leads to resistance.

Watch these employees in the lunch room on smart phones and you will see a lot of poking on the screen. Smart phones are “pokeable.” Menu layouts are intuitive and activities require few screens to navigate. Unfortunately, many field service solutions are quite the opposite—very hard to navigate with many screens capturing small amounts of information.

Field service solutions that support menu and screen simplification through configuration will be easier for field employees to accept and use. Getting to screens that support key processes should use no more than two menu drop downs. Each process should be supported by no more than two or three screens. Workflow should support approval processes with a minimal number of steps.

Additionally, one of the biggest mistakes companies make is selecting a solution that supports both tablets and laptops. Choose one platform or the other and optimize features and functions for touch or keyboard. It is difficult and costly to choose both. Think Microsoft’s Windows 8 release!

Remember:

Choosing the right field service solution to improve customer service must be done carefully. The biggest challenge will be process standardization, but don’t let that be a barrier. Expect initial resistance, but don’t let that porcupine scare you. Implementing a field service solution in the right technical environment can reduce costs and increase efficiencies, all with the greatest ease of use.