REDMOND, Wash. , Jan. 11, 2006 – Keeping clients, chief executives and other employees on the same page with relevant business information is a challenge facing many organizations today – and often a must for aligning actions with business strategy.
One Australian law firm has found an innovative way to meet this challenge using Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005 – a comprehensive scorecard and dashboard application launched in November that provides knowledge workers with deep contextual insight into business drivers. Deacons Australia has operated an extranet for clients with token access for about three years. Now – with the help of Microsoft and ADERANT, an Atlanta-based provider of software for services organizations – the firm is using Business Scorecard Manager to develop the functions available via the portal for internal users and external clients.
To learn more about Business Scorecard Manager, how it’s benefiting Deacons and its clients, and the potential benefits for other professional services firms, PressPass spoke with Ken Payne, chief information officer of Deacons; and Elliott Ichimura, industry manager with Microsoft’s Professional Services Division.
PressPass: What is Microsoft Office Business Scorecard Manager 2005?
Ichimura: Business Scorecard Manager – formerly code-named “Maestro” – is a server-side Microsoft Office product that empowers employees to build, manage and use their own scorecards, reports and visual resources using familiar tools. With these tools, they can analyze relationships between key performance indicators (KPIs) and practical business objectives. More specifically, it’s a Web-based solution that provides organizations with a cost-effective stage on which to articulate goals, priorities and strategies, monitor business activity through performance metrics, identify and analyze issues, and collaborate and act on business intelligence.
Beyond being simply a product that we provide, Business Scorecard Manager is a component of a broader industry solution that we are bringing to market called “practice performance management.” This has to do with deploying the three core assets of professional services firms – people, intellectual capital and client relationships – against market opportunities for the best results possible for the firm. We have a number of solution components that address, for example, how to manage the inventory of competencies and knowledge in the firm, how to manage allocation of staff and how to evaluate their performance over time. Business Scorecard Manager fulfills a key component – what we call a “portfolio management” capability – which practice performance management needs. It is the fundamental glue that holds the pieces together and helps the firm’s leadership deploy assets effectively against market opportunities.
PressPass: Please tell us a little about the Deacons law firm.
Payne: Deacons is among the top 10 law firms in Australia, where it employs about 1,000 people at offices in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. We also have firms located in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam. We do legal work for large corporations and businesses, serving core industries such as construction and engineering, financial services, energy, government, property, IT, insurance, media and entertainment, to name a few. We have a very comprehensive computer network that helps the lead lawyers to communicate and collaborate together.
PressPass: How is Deacons using Business Scorecard Manager?
Payne: Our Business Scorecard Manager solution is extremely professional and quick and easy to use. We’ve only been working on it since April and we’re almost ready to release it to the firm internally, which is an incredibly short time to achieve that. It’s based around our lawyers and the firm’s business objectives, which cover the quoted cost for work, the hours that the lawyers bill, the rates they charge and the budgets set. All that information – value, rates, chargeable and non-chargeable hours, investment hours, fees earned compared to our budget, variances and net earnings — goes into analytics and performance dashboard functionality within the ADERANT product (ADERANT Expert Executive Office). This in turn allows business scorecard functionality built on Business Scorecard Manager, which utilizes Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server as the delivery mechanism.
This solution takes the hours that a lawyer works and gives us scorecard information for time sheets and whether they’re on target or off target for the hours produced – for the day or the week or the month. The solution uses that data to give us a trending of billable hours on, say, a monthly basis from January to June, so that we can see whether those hours are trending as they should be to the firm’s business objectives and a lawyers KPI’s. The solution also gives us the top matters of a law firm for a particular lawyer, so the lawyer can actually see what the top matters are, the hours he’s working on them and whether he’s on target to meet the client’s expectations in regard to billings. The scorecard also gives visibility into the revenue or cash received and collected, and again charts that for the lawyer or for the group of people managing a particular business unit. All of this is excellent information and because it comes through Business Scorecard Manager and is deployed utilizing Web parts, we can pool those Web parts and put them into specific areas like My Site on SharePoint and build a special area for reporting on matters for a client. We can also track, say, the top 100 clients in the firm, what work is taking place and the financials associated with those clients and their matters.
PressPass: What customer pains does Business Scorecard Manager address in the professional services industry?
Ichimura: Among the different professional service areas, our focus at the moment is accounting, legal, and management consulting. But we also address systems integration, business process outsourcing, human resource and administration services, real estate, architecture, engineering and scientific and technical-type services. The common thread that runs through all of these and aligns with the Business Scorecard Manager opportunity is that they’re people-based businesses and they’re billing for time, and they have to manage their competencies against a changing set of demands.
Business Scorecard Manager provides a level of visibility into operations for these firms. It allows for the synthesis of information from different silo systems within the firm – financial-type systems as well as human resources systems, competency and skill set tools systems, staffing and allocation systems – into aggregate scorecard-type perspectives and KPIs. This concept of KPIs refers to a set of measures that tells you how you’re performing both from a leading indicator and trailing indicator perspective, and helps you understand the connections between the two. In other words, it helps you understand, from a cause-and-effect perspective, how changes in how you’re allocating your staff and the inventory of skills you have available in your business are going to influence your end results at the end of the quarter or the end of the year, based on the demand that’s coming from your client base.
PressPass: What pains does Business Scorecard Manager address for Deacons and its clients?
Payne: Before implementing Business Scorecard Manager, we had multiple Crystal Reports running and we would have to publish those to the Internet where a lawyer would have to churn through them to find the desired information. That was a pain for the lawyers. With Business Scorecard Manager, we can deliver exactly what’s required to a legal portal, be it through the My Site area for the lawyer or a particular legal page for financials. Overall, it enables the lawyers to understand how they’re tracking with their clients, and also how they’re tracking themselves in accordance with their time and billings and the business objectives of the firm.
As far as alleviating pain for our clients, we try to give them a quotation based on what we believe the cost of a transaction will be. A transaction could be a sale of a business or a land subdivision or corporate finance. By being able to track the actual matter that’s running and look at the information, we can then get back to our clients and tell them we’re on track to deliver at the quoted cost, and it makes for a good client-customer relationship. They’re happy because they can see that what they were quoted is going to be achieved, and we’re happy because the client is. We have a win-win in that respect. If for some reason we find that we’re going over, again we can give notice to the client and trace back the reasons for that and discuss it with the client, so that there are no surprises at the end of the day with people being billed more than what they’d been quoted.
PressPass: How is Deacons’ use of Business Scorecard Manager applicable to the broader professional services industry?
Ichimura: The need to synthesize information from silo systems is applicable across professional services, because firms typically adopt different systems for different purposes. In terms of being able to collect information into a scorecard-type view that assists strategic alignment, that is similar to what professional services firms do with their roundtable-type approach. By that I mean when senior partners from different practice groups sit together and talk about how the business is doing, look at operational reports and then collaboratively arrive at a directional set of decisions in terms of how they’re going to march forward. The beauty of what Deacons is doing is that they’re leading the way in terms of using technology to essentially streamline that process and bring a greater level of consistency to the mutual understanding of those partners in terms of where they’re headed, how they’re performing and how they can reach their goals.
This is important because a common problem facing professional services firms is different interpretations of performance. If the world looks a certain way from where you sit, then that’s how you tend to manage. What Business Scorecard Manager brings and what Deacons is driving to is the ability to share a common perspective and to increase the speed with which information flows. It gives the partners the ability to speak the same language and make apples-to-apples comparisons of performance as opposed to apples to oranges. This helps ensure that people are making decisions based on a consistent understanding and therefore it holds people more easily accountable for the actions they take and the results that are achieved. Individuals have to work collectively to achieve the best results for the firm, and when a level of accountability can be brought to the picture, it enables that collective action much more effectively.
PressPass: Please give one or two additional scenarios of how Business Scorecard Manager works for Deacons and its clients.
Payne: Through our existing extranet for client access (what we call a client “D-ROOM”), something we’re going to be doing in the future with Business Scorecard Manager is enabling our clients to look at the financials associated with a matter. So if a transaction has occurred and you have a partner working on it, plus maybe two or three lawyers, plus law clerks, the client can see the percentage of hours those people have put into the matter. Early in the transaction, the partner would put in a large amount of time because the partner will start the matter, then as the matter progresses other lawyers will work on it and cover 10 percent or 20 percent, or maybe paralegals will be involved for discovery. Overall, the client can see all this on virtually a daily basis, because it’s extracted from our financial SQL Database Server and placed into a centralized data warehouse SQL cube, which allows Business Scorecard Manager to deliver the information back through the D-ROOM. What does that deliver to the client? It shows transparency and that we’re not just charging at a partner’s rates all the time; we’re splitting the work among the best-qualified people to do the work for the client and giving him the best price or cost for what he requires but never sacrificing the quality of the work.
PressPass: What is Microsoft’s long-range strategy or vision around Business Scorecard Manager in the professional services industry?
Ichimura: The tendency is for professional services firms to look at Microsoft as a vendor of product. What we are trying to do here, working closely with our partners, is to go to that next level of bringing to bear solutions that help professional service firms deal with the issues they face from a business perspective. We understand those issues. They are business problems first and foremost, not IT problems. And in this case, the solution is practice performance management – a combination of different solution elements that happen to include products like Business Scorecard Manager. In other words, we’re trying to show that technology is clearly a component in the pathway to meeting these firms’ needs, but it’s the solutions that we’re bringing together that are actually going to make that possible, not the individual technology pieces themselves.