When I was in the Bay area recently, I took the opportunity to talk with NetSuite (see disclosure) about their relationship with OpenAir. OpenAir is now owned by NetSuite and has a product line aimed at both professional services automation (PSA). The proposition behind OpenAir, combined with Netsuite’s CRM+ and Netsuite’s accounting platform is to extend this to provide Services Resource Planning or SRP.
First however we need some context as to why PSA and SRP are necessary. Simply put, managing a professional services company is difficult and fundamentally broken. In an industry with exceptionally high staff costs – managerial control and oversight are critically important.
In a similar problem space that led to the invent of ERP, professional service managers and staff waste a lot of valuable time updating spreadsheets, searching inboxes and having project meetings to try and keep control, instead of servicing clients and earning revenue.
This becomes critical when a business grows beyond a handful of operatives. Having multiple people in managing schedules and forecasting future workloads becomes a priority, yet the tools to handle this sort of ERP-style Professional Service Automation have traditionally been non-existent or difficult to find. This has lead to a downward spiral of firms building their own system based on spreadsheets.
This is where the PSA solutions come in – I spent some time talking to the East Coast sales and engineering teams in order to get more of an understanding of this emerging space. OpenAir has concentrated mainly on specific verticals – they’re targeting consulting/services firms, professional services within software firms and also the creative industries. In all of these sectors they offer functionality across several areas:
- Project management
- Resource planning and management
- Project accounting
NetSuite OpenAir starts at $399-$899/per month, $25-$49 per user per month depending on the functionality licensed. So for a fully featured application set for a 20 person operation, OpenAir ends up costing around $22000 per annum. While this is a significant amount of money, on a day to day basis it only needs to save each employee 15 minutes a week to pay for itself – for anyone who has lived in a world of complex excel spreadsheets, imagining this sort of saving is pretty easy.
I wanted to see the results of PSA on an end-user customer so heard the tale of POSitive Technology, a company producing “end-to-end retail point-of-sale solutions to clients ranging from small restaurants to major professional sports teams and leagues”. POSitive has found PSA has added a lot of value to their organization, especially during the GFC given the visibility it gave them over resource allocation and workload. Brett Bennett, CEO of POSitive Technology says that:
Over the last twelve months, we have been hiring while a lot of our peers have been letting people go, I attribute that to OpenAir and NetSuite allowing us to take advantage of our resources and to predict what we will need in the future.”
In an example of the rationalization that PSA (and for that matter integrated enterprise software generally) can bring, it is interesting to note that before implementing OpenAir, POSitive had to double-enter project management tasks in both NetSuite and Microsoft Project. OpenAir took away that need and given its tight integration with NetSuite, provides a one step solution with data appearing on both sides of the ledger.
PSA is an example of just how enabling integrated cloud software can be, it’s a theme we revert to often but one which is well worth remembering.