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Efficiency in the Office – ERP for the professional services industry

The Autumn TV schedule has always been something to look forward to. When the nights get dark, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be found curled up in front of the gogglebox.

In celebration of flicking through a festive TV guide in the build up to Christmas specials on the telly, here’s my second look at some classic shows with an ERP perspective.

Having looked at how ERP can help the construction industry, I thought I’d move my focus to the professional services sector. Since this is more likely to be office-based, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit that TV-classic; The Office. To avoid any confusion, we’ll stick with the original (and some would say best), UK version of the show.

So, what can a mockumentary about the everyday lives of the employees at the Slough office of a fictional paper merchant teach us about ERP?

“If at first you don’t succeed, remove any evidence you ever tried.”

As the above quote from David Brent shows, if any business took inspiration from the way he managed the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg, they’re not likely to be successful for very long.

Rather than looking at Ricky Gervais’ inept regional manager for pearls of wisdom, I thought I’d illustrate some of the ways that an ERP solution can do precisely the opposite of what he does and remind ourselves about some of the more memorable episodes of the show.

Here are 4 ways an ERP system like Microsoft Dynamics NAV can benefit businesses in the professional services sector and a few of the best moments from series one and two of the hit show.

david points
Image Source; bbc.co.uk

Expanding your business and growing customers

In the very first episode of the show, “Downsize”, Brent is told that the Slough and Swindon branches are competing for survival, the most efficient site staying where they are and the least efficient merging with the victor. Against all odds, in episode one of series 2, “Merger”, the Slough branch remains open and the staff from Swindon join Team Brent. To welcome them, he performs a cringe-worthy stand-up routine and also meets his new boss. Funny, likeable and handsome, everyone takes a shine to Neil… except David.

There are a few parallels we can draw here; firstly, Brent is very much like most ineffective, out-dated accounting systems; used by businesses for so long that their inefficiencies tend to get overlooked. Ironically, if Wernham Hogg had an ERP system like Dynamics NAV, it would have been easy to monitor and measure the most effective site. With staff in various functions and across different locations using the same integrated system, any business has the ability to determine what their fastest and most effective processes are. Equally, merging sites and increasing headcount in a business becomes a stress-free, seamless process when all members of staff have been using the same software to input data.

In the same way that new-guy Neil makes an immediate impression by being professional and proficient, the most up-to-date ERP software can highlight the best practices within a business, ensuring that all staff can proactively meet their customers’ demands.

Resource management and tracking costs

The episode called “Training” is, unsurprisingly, all about staff training day at Wernham Hogg. An outside facilitator attempts to educate the staff about customer care, but David is pretty sure that he could do a better job of it. His solution is to sing a few of his own songs with titles like “Spaceman”, “Freelove Freeway” and “The Serpent Who Guards the Gates of Hell”!

In series 2, the obvious episode titles continue with “Appraisals” focussing on the day of staff appraisals. The new Swindon employees are unhappy. Brent’s solution is to take everyone for meat pies and Courage Ales.

Clearly, ERP software offers a much more effective means of understanding your employees and their performance than singing self-penned tunes and taking people down the pub (not that there’s anything wrong with the second one). You’re obviously going to get a much better picture of your business with integrated time-sheeting, resource scheduling and payroll processes.

In order to gauge the efficiency of a business and its individuals you will need to be able to gather information from different resources. ERP software like Dynamics NAV gives you the ability to access relevant data so that you can remain competitively priced, controlling spend and maintaining profit margins.

Streamline operations

In arguably one of the funniest moments of the show, “Charity” follows Red Nose Day at Wernham Hogg and features David Brent’s horrendously iconic dance moves. The episode ends with David, dressed in a Bernie Clifton ostrich costume, being offered a redundancy package.

Removing a David-Brent-type issue from your operations will undoubtedly improve efficiency, productivity and profitability. Unfortunately, most problems aren’t always as obvious. Seamlessly integrating all of your business processes into one system, like Dynamics NAV, will give you the ability to monitor these process. By highlighting how much time is being spent on data entry and where errors are being made, you’ll have the ability to reduce these errors and streamline your processes.

Project management

David Brent’s idea of motivation, in the episode of the same name, involves rambling monologues containing random Native American quotes and a boom box playing Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”. Insight into the factors driving your projects is vital but an ERP system will certainly provide a much more effective way of doing this!

With a clearer understanding of company and client interaction, you can manage projects more effectively, closing more deals and billing on time.

Finding efficiency in the office

While organisations in the Professional Services’ sector are highly diverse and offer a whole range of services, they all share the same goal; forming strong relationships with profitable clients.

This may have been David Brent’s mantra too, but here are a few ways that an ERP system with industry-specific functionality can benefit your business a lot more than he would;

  • Employees access one source of accurate, up-to-date information
  • Fully integrated solution brings information from all departments together
  • Proactively meet clients’ needs with automatic alerts and workflows
  • Manage projects and people wherever you are with remote access
  • Eliminate needless data entry and errors
  • Effectively manage costs and resources with a real-time view of projects
  • Control budgets and personnel to remain competitive and profitable
  • Improve the storage of information
  • Assign the right people to the right task

The right ERP system will offer a growing business everything it needs to effectively manage growth and increase efficiency and profitability.

I’ll leave you with a final ‘Brentism’ that is the epitome of everything that ERP is not!

“Process and procedure are the last hiding place of people without the wit and wisdom to do their job properly.”

 

Written by Mark Blackmore, Head of Telemarketing at ERP Central, part of the QBS Group