Thanks to the level of information that is now routinely available at your fingertips, the process of buying consumer products is more sophisticated than ever. It’s now possible to find out product details that extend well beyond the catalogue basics of size and price. Buy trainers online and you'll have insight into the colours available, detailed price comparisons and the opinion of other consumers from the reviews they have left. No doubt you’ll end up with the perfect pair because you’ll benefit from the available information to assess a synergy of status, context and impact.

With this insight, you are able to go ’beyond the facts’ when it’s time for your next fitness purchase - or any other purchase for that matter. And if this level of enlightenment plays such an important part in something as insignificant as choosing a pair of shoes, just think how important it is when it comes to decision-making across your consulting firm. With executives constantly striving to maximise profits and grow the firm, the information available to make business-critical decisions must go beyond the basics.

However, it’s an unfortunate truth that many consulting firms are basing their decisions on data that is no better than that found in an old catalogue — data that is just black and white and a snapshot of the past not the present. Let’s assume you’ve already made the step from spreadsheets to business development, project management and financial software. If these platforms are disconnected information silos they will unfortunately fail to generate the kind of insight that decision-makers need, thus missing those three critical advantages, namely:

• Status - visibility of the present. Just like finding out if your shoes are in stock, you need to know what’s available, what client work is on offer, what has been completed and what’s been paid or is still outstanding.

• Context - the knowledge relative and relevant to other information. The reviews will tell you who else bought the trainers and what they thought of them. Your firm needs to know more about what’s been done by whom – and, critically, the outcome of these activities.

• Impact - the ’downstream effect’ - or, in the case of internet shopping, when you’ll receive your order. In your business, this is how decisions made throughout the project pipeline, impact capacity, job progress, or key performance indicators like utilisation or realisation.

Inconsistent data generated by information silos can create a number of problems for consulting businesses. It will, for instance, fail to establish relevant context across application boundaries or fall short in predicting and evaluating future impact. Yet, a 360 degree view of your business will guide executives in making the right commercial decisions. And for this vision, it is necessary for data to be centralised and combined.

Think of the insight your firm will have if both your firm-wide information and processes are completely coordinated in a project-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)system - especially when making these three vital business decisions:

1. Capture: Is this business viable?
Status, context, and impact will give decision makers the information they need to determine if the firm will make a profit on a new client project. It will help them consider past experience in this area and uncover the right expertise to meet the client’s particular demand. It will enable them to grasp the scope of work involved and provide an idea about the client’s record in accepting work and paying on time. Knowing more about the unique relationship between client and company, including past results or resources and capacity can provide the level of visibility that can only be achieved in a wholly connected environment.

2. Delivery: Can we accept this change?
The pressure to react to last-minute project change requests and similar decisions mean speed and accuracy is paramount - along with the enlightenment brought about by status, context and impact. If getting to the information you need - like the original project agreement, available resource capacity or client credit report - means trawling through paperwork and systems, sending emails and searching through files then it’s likely to have a detrimental effect on the project’s revenue margins as you lose valuable time. But if ’real time’ information can be accessed at the click of a button, and delivered in a fast, meaningful and coherent way then you have the answers you need in the very moment you need them.

3. Payment: Is it best to write this invoice off?
You may have a policy in place whereby all bills are paid - no ifs or buts. However, if this isn’t the case then even billing decisions made by the finance team require the visibility of status, context and impact. This is because the back end decision making process often means time-consuming project manager-biller liaison that can easily have a negative impact on the project manager’s billable hours. This can affect revenue. It can also drain administrative resource, which can cut into margins. Deliberation and communication at this point can extend payment cycles - a complete no-no for controlling cash flow. Here, the ability to effectively collaborate is a must so that discussions can be easily carried out and group decisions made effectively via a shared workflow.

Current, integrated data will provide your workforce with the insight it needs to make accurate, timely and informed decisions that are certain to result in the best outcomes for your consulting firm. Support the process by installing a coordinated project-based ERP system for utmost visibility.

Deltek is a provider of enterprise software and social collaboration solutions for professional services firms.
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