Getting Employees On Board for Automated Workflow

When Intria-HP of Toronto?a joint outsourcing venture between hewlett-packard and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce?was formed, its executives had a daunting task ahead of them: Transform an IT department that had been a cost center into a revenue center selling IT services to banks.

To aid in the transformation, the executives turned to professional services automation (PSA) software, which automates work assignments, billing and invoicing, time sheets and similar kinds of labor. The software is designed for organizations that provide professional services, such as global IT shops, financial services organizations, consulting firms or organizations with many far-flung consultants around the world.

In theory, the tool seemed ideal for Intria-HP’s overhaul. The reports PSA software creates can help a company closely track what work IT employees and consultants are doing, see what resources are free at any given time, and assist managers in determining whether their workers are ready to take on new assignments. The idea is to allow managers to more effectively use their existing workforce.

But Intria-HP soon found that theory clashed with practice. The system just wasn’t working, says Bent Fink-Jensen, an IT executive whose official title is director of process and knowledge management. And it wasn’t working for a very simple reason: People weren’t using it. Rather than learn and adapt to a system in which they saw few benefits, people simply reverted to the old ways of doing things?and so the promised benefits of the software, which cost $345 per license ($550 in Canadian dollars), weren’t forthcoming.

Interviews with other CIOs who have used PSA software, and with consultants familiar with the technology, reveal that Intria-HP’s story isn’t an isolated one. While PSA software holds out the promise of increasing the effectiveness of businesses that provide professional services, employees often balk at using it, and the investment may be wasted.

"You can’t just drop this technology on your workforce and have people magically use it," says Dave Hofferberth, research director responsible for the PSA practice of the Aberdeen Group, an IT resource and consulting group based in Boston. "Executives so far have loved this. But if it’s an executive mandate, you’ll typically get resistance."

To forestall such resistance, CIOs must do some homework before they even invest in this kind of software. To begin with, they should have a thorough understanding of their company’s corporate culture and how the company assigns work. Companies that provide consulting or Web design services are often staffed by creative types who don’t cotton to a lot of structure, and may balk at attempts to compartmentalize their work. On the other hand, IT organizations that have employees who like structure and order may embrace workflow software.

CIOs also have to understand how employees report their progress on assignments, note time on each project and bill for their work. If such business processes are not in place and clearly spelled out before the software is in place, it isn’t going to work. All the technology in the world cannot compensate for a disorganized work environment, as Fink-Jensen discovered.

Culture Shock

Since Intria-HP began life as the product of a merger between a hardware company and a bank, it had no in-house store of knowledge to turn to in setting up the right kind of processes for a consultancy. "We weren’t set up to have a handle on getting [consulting] work into the organization and knowing who the work was assigned to," Fink-Jensen says. "So we had difficulty in knowing what commitments we could make and what we couldn’t make."

To solve the problem, the company turned to Account4 PSA software, now known as Lawson Professional Services Automation. They began to roll out the software in August 2000, and by January 2001 they had 900 users. But it didn’t take long for the problems to start piling up. It started at the most basic level: People simply didn’t use the software.

"Under the old way of doing things when we were owned by the bank, there were a lot of back doors for getting work done," says Fink-Jensen. "And those back doors stayed open?so people in IT were doing work when requested, but without reporting it [in the software]." And without people reporting their work into the software, he says, there was no way for managers to use it to manage and control projects.

In fact, experts say, the biggest obstacle to implementing PSA software has nothing to do with technology?it has to do with corporate culture. People may not like the idea that they have to document everything they do, and they may balk at finding out about their daily tasks from software rather than directly from superiors.

Using the software will mean that people’s work lives become much more structured. An IT worker, for example, might log in to the PSA system in the morning and find out what jobs have to be done that day. He would then fill out Web-based time sheets for when each task must be accomplished. "You need to explain to the people doing the work why [PSA software] is important, to let them know that it can make their lives easier," Hofferberth notes.

There is another downside: The use of the software could lead to less face-to-face interaction with colleagues, Hofferberth says. Even so, he believes that the increased efficiency, faster invoicing turnaround and sophisticated reporting features of the software are well worth the effort. And he notes that people who work in IT departments "tend to like more structure than do artists or public relations people" and are often happy with the greater structure it imposes.

Bonnie Nardi, research scientist at Agilent Laboratories, and an anthropologist who has studied how technology is used in the workplace, is not so sure. She is concerned that the resulting decrease in face-to-face interaction could take its toll on an organization. (For more on Nardi’s ideas, read "Software for the People" at www.cio.com/printlinks.)

"There’s some magic in interaction, and any software that cuts down on that will cut down on efficiency and creativity," Nardi says. Specifically, she notes that it could cut down on creative solutions that come out of brainstorming sessions, informal mentoring among employees and team building. And if people are assigned jobs and sign off that they’ve finished jobs primarily via webpages, as you do with some PSA software, "then that’s all that people will do," Nardi says. "They won’t interact, and they’ll be plugged in to a webpage all day.

"A lot of really amazing people in organizations in America do far more than they are paid for. When you take away the ’invisible incentives’ [of interacting with others], you won’t get the best out of people," she says.

At Intria-HP, the problem of employee resistance was exacerbated by the fact that the software itself was somewhat difficult to use. So when people did report their work via the software, they often put in the wrong work codes. Those codes are of vital importance because if improper codes are put in, there’s no way to track work properly or create usable reports. And people would sometimes book their time as nonbillable when it should have been billable, leading to "revenue leakage," in Fink-Jensen’s words.

Managers were also equally confused about how to use the software, and so they weren’t able to generate the workflow reports they needed.

Fink-Jensen attributes the problems to three causes: the difficulty of learning the software, not providing enough training and not having adequate understanding of the ways in which work flows through an organization before implementing the software. "We had done a fair amount of training," Fink-Jensen says, "but we found out that we had to go back and follow up because they didn’t get it the first time around."

The company currently has 900 people using the software, and by taking more time to carefully document how work assignments are handled, Fink-Jensen says the problems have been straightened out. The software is now proving valuable to the business, he says, primarily because it allows the company to bill for more hours and lets managers utilize their workforce more efficiently. But it took a year to get it straight, Fink-Jensen says, and warns other CIOs to spend more time on training than they think they will need.

If at First You Don’t Succeed...

Scott Kitlinski, CIO of ePresence, a professional services company, echoes Fink-Jensen in saying that a big problem with PSA software is getting people to use it. When Kitlinski joined ePresence two years ago, the company was undergoing a dramatic change. It had been known as Banyan Worldwide and was purely a product company (it made and sold a networking operating system and directory product). As ePresence, it was transitioning itself from a product company into a services organization that provided e-business consulting. But in its new configuration, the software applications it was using didn’t allow the company to create workflow reports and merge new clients into the business. Kitlinski decided that PSA software would be ideal for the Westborough, Mass.-based company’s new focus. He spearheaded a group that chose Evolve PSA software, and in February 2000, he started the implementation. A few months later, however, a major problem became apparent: People weren’t using the software.

To begin with, salespeople weren’t entering data, Kitlinski says. "The simple process of getting salespeople to share pertinent information about clients was a pretty big change because they were used to the idea that they owned the customer."

It wasn’t only salespeople who weren’t using the software though. Resource managers?those in charge of determining what resources are available for projects at the company?weren’t using it either. Because of that it was difficult for other managers to know which workers were available for projects. Workers were either underutilized or misutilized, says Kitlinski, a potentially serious problem in a consulting business.

"All you really have in a consulting business are people and their experience, and if they’re not being utilized properly, then your profitability suffers," he notes.

EPresence spent months trying to get its employees to use the Evolve software. And in the midst of the implementation, the software was revised in a way that made it even more difficult to use; the upgraded version, for instance, no longer allowed its users to get an overview of all the lines of business at once, Kitlinski says.

So ePresence dropped Evolve and halted the PSA project. Kitlinski declined to say how much money the company wasted on that endeavor. But several months later, the company chose another vendor, Changepoint, to install PSA software. In the interim, he says, the software had gotten easier to use and integrate into an organization. And he had learned from the first go-around that it was vital to get people on board first.

"The key the first time around is that people weren’t using it because they didn’t see a reason to use it," he says. So with the Changepoint implementation, he spent much more time up front detailing the benefits of the software?for instance, showing how it would allow the company to better manage projects and time and make sure people were doing the work they want to do.

The new software has already helped in a number of ways, Kitlinski says, including better matching people’s skills with the kinds of projects they’d be most effective with, and having more accurate and timely financial information that allows company officials to better manage the business.

The lesson learned? When it comes to PSA software, organizational issues are more important than technical ones. "Technology is very seldom the problem," he says. "It’s dealing with culture change."

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Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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