If you spend all your time as a fireman, you’ll never be a builder

It appears that most ‘C’ level managers in Australia and around the world, operating in service companies, are more interested in being Fireman, not Builders. A global survey of more than 300 executives commissioned by Compuware found that 48% experience at least one IT issue that impacts on productivity and performance every week, with the average short-term cost of a single major failure calculated at over $14 million.

The reality is if you’re spending a considerable amount of your time putting out fires, you’re going to have a lot less time to focus on building your business and exploiting opportunities. Outdated technology has been one of the leading reasons why service companies stagnate and loose their best people. Repetitive tasks, system overloads and failures, as well as poor customer interactions lead to frustrations that reverberate throughout companies, leading to toxic behavior and high staff turnover.

How can any company realistically remain competitive when their competitors are using more up to date and advanced technology to manage their business and customer relationships more effectively?

The key to growth in the services sector

In a recent global survey of 363 business executives commissioned by PwC, the overwhelming belief was that ‘Economic growth and technology are inextricably linked.’ The survey also noted that ‘the ever-changing global marketplace, fuelled by fast-growth economies and new technology, has accelerated the speed of most business activities, from product development to customer response. Real-time business intelligence and predictive analysis will be required not only for faster decision-making, but to cope with unexpected market risks and opportunities.”

For service companies the challenge is even greater. Diminishing margins, global competition and high employment costs are placing more and more pressure on service companies to ‘evolve or perish’. Much of the focus in the service sector has been in reducing costs, however without the right technology to inform such decisions, service companies face the prospect of a ‘race to the bottom.’

A ‘glass half full’ view of the service sector

What benefits can upgraded systems bring service companies? Integration, for a start, of all their daily functionality, from financial management to job costing, customer relationship and process management. Many manual tasks can be automated, freeing up staff to focus on more important (and stimulating) work, reducing administration costs, and giving management more time to concentrate on growth strategy.

In addition, the right new systems (such as MYOB Greentree ERP software) delivered the information needed to make those strategic decisions; where to invest capital, how to identify new markets or disconnect from those that were no longer profitable.

The case for technology investment in the service sector

"Our biggest challenge is retaining clients," explains Bill Wu, Finance Director of cleaning company Paramount Services, which trebled its growth in seven years. "Our growth hasn't come from getting new buildings to clean; it's from taking contracts from our competitors." Paramount uses its MYOB Greentree ERP system to provide superior customer service and when it comes to acquiring other companies (four in as many years), the system is flexible enough to incorporate them.

Flexibility of MYOB Greentree Software’s ERP solution has also a key benefit for Ryman Healthcare, one of the leading providers of retirement care services in the ANZ market. “Our progress has been fantastic, and our business system has been a major part of that success,” says CEO Simon Challies. “It’s stood the test of the company growing tenfold and it’s still working admirably today.”

Business intelligence for the service sector

As the PwC survey indicates, perhaps the single most important company growth benefit brought by modern technology is business intelligence. The report noted that ‘as the pace of business accelerates and the cost of data storage falls, business analytics can dig deeper into data for early identification of market trends. Equally important, such tools can now help executives stress-test and even future-proof their businesses.’

Depending on your perspective, this survey is a wake up call or a breath of fresh air for the service sector. No matter what your perspective, many will welcome the fact that a new ERP solution may be a panacea to many of the ills that plague the service sector. It’s also a chance for ‘c’ level managers to put down their fireman axes, pick up a tool belt and start building again.