The surplus of project management software that overlooks financial planning has made it increasingly difficult for managers to effectively plan and track resources. Unanet Technologies aims to streamline that space with its current offering of project accounting and management solutions, and the goal of producing a full-fledged ERP platform within the year. For this week’s Q&A with Unanet Technologies, we spoke to Richard Hayden, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, about how Unanet has carved out a space for itself in the marketplace and the company’s plans moving forward.
LOCATION: Dulles, VA
CUSTOMERS: Adayana Inc, NETCONN Solutions, TeleNav Inc, International Center for Research on Women
Unanet was actually founded as a professional services company in the late ’80s, and then reengineered as a software company in 1998 to try and address the needs of professional services companies. Initially, the company saw the opportunity of using the web – web browsers and web-based software – to support professional services firms, and it actually started with time tracking and expense management.
I think [in terms of the company’s goals] it’s about trying to provide more holistic support, so more end-to-end support of processes. Not just expense tracking, but also integrating that with project management, project accounting, invoicing, as well as the front end in terms of forecasting and budgeting.
[Unanet has retained its relevancy] by working closely with customers and partners – we see what’s important to them and what will really make a difference to them. The evolution of the product is driven by adding value, by making sure that we are covering the right kind of depths and breadths to help automate their processes and continue to find new efficiencies and new kinds of insights for them.
It’s about helping our clients mature and helping them improve efficiency as they move from solving one problem to solving a whole set of interconnected challenges. With the benefits of having a single solution, you tend to have control over access, avoiding any redundant data and making the whole process more efficient.
We started with a focus on tracking – tracking labor, tracking expenses — and then moved into more project management. Beyond that we began to cover forecasting; understanding opportunities and probability and asking questions such as “what’s the impact of that on revenue?” and “what can we do to make sure our utilization is in line with our goals and we are operating efficiently?” From there we moved toward understanding more financial metrics such as understanding project margins and understanding how much revenue and margin is associated with customers. Then into invoicing, revenue recognition and so on and so forth.
As people within professional services firms start to do more project management, they want to have a better understanding of projects and profitability and the financial aspects of projects. Many times their accounting system is more focused on traditional financials such as a chart of accounts, but often they want special functionality for project accounting and to be able to make information accessible to key project staff. They want to make sure all the important project financial data is available and accessible in real time to the key project managers.
It’s really about trying to make the project managers and the key project staff more financial-savvy, ensuring they have the right information when they need it without requiring access to certain financial data that’s not appropriate for them. A lot of financial systems obviously don’t focus on project operations; they’re more focused on the needs of the CFO.
Today Unanet feeds many traditional financial systems like QuickBooks, collecting all the project-oriented labor and expenses so that data can flow downstream into the financial system. All the regular financial management can be performed in the company’s accounting system. But the important thing in terms of project planning and forecasting is to understand where you’re going, tracking performance on those projects and making that information available to the key project managers and executives. Project accounting doesn’t do away with the need for financial management, but it provides much better and much more timely information to the project and operations team.
Project-oriented profit and loss margins are a key thing. People, as they manage projects, will want to understand how the work is progressing against the funding for that project. Are they accomplishing project goals, both in terms of budget and also meeting deliverables? Are they delivering value? A lot of the focus for project executives and project managers is not only whether they’re on track in terms of cost, but are they meeting their revenue goals and also meeting the delivery goals for the customer?
One element of that is earned value, but it’s also what people call job summary reports, where they see the breakdown of direct costs. They see all the indirect costs such as fringe and overhead applied to the project, and then as a result of that they understand what the total cost of the project is and the true margin. A lot of the time in project management, people understand the raw cost of salaries and materials or expenses, but they don’t see the fringe or the overhead or all of the general and administrative costs that will be layered on top of that to tell whether they’re actually profitable on this project.
We continue to grow our teams that service our customers, so they [the customers] continue to get greater value. A very key part of our business development comes through referrals from customers and from our partner network. Keeping customers happy and working with partners so that they can understand the value of Unanet are key, and we continue to focus on that. And through other channels as well, such as growing our own business development team as we expand nationally.
It’s really trying to improve ease of use and provide efficiency for the organization. In the case of expense tracking, one thing that a lot of our customers find very valuable is integrating per diems into their expense tracking process. For example, they go on a business trip to Sacramento, and when they go to record their expenses, the system knows what the allowable government per diems are or what your organization implemented as per diems. All of that information is available immediately and can flow through accounting and invoicing smoothly. That’s an example of how you can make the expense-tracking and invoicing process very efficient.
We’ve talked a lot about how Unanet delivers complete project management and project accounting capabilities, and today we integrate with a lot of third-party financial systems. A key goal as we move forward is to provide our own end-to-end project-based ERP. We’ll provide from the initial opportunity planning of projects through execution of projects, as well as invoicing, revenue recognition and financials. That’s the major goal for 2014.
A lot more depth and sophistication in terms of the functionality for invoicing and for managing funded amounts. Many organizations work on projects where there are quite complicated rules in terms of how they earn fees, and supporting that from a billing and an invoicing and a revenue recognition perspective is part of where we’re going. Also providing sophistication in terms of how people want to recognize data and post that to their chart of accounts. As you implement this sophisticated project-based ERP, there are many different ways of recognizing revenue and posting costs, and we want to provide tremendous flexibility for our customers to be able to manage their chart of accounts.
I think people want to get rid of their islands of information. Systems like Excel are obviously very powerful for people to do forecasting in, but as these systems get more complicated, maintaining the data becomes very hard. You see the same [issues] on the invoicing side, too. It’s about trying to integrate different sources of information as much as possible to reduce the cost of administration, the errors associated with having data that’s out of date or the wrong version, and so on. I think continued integration of data is a key thing, and we are very focused on it.
I think you see people in the professional services industry working on quite different types of projects – traditional time-materials projects, different types of fixed-price projects. Then in certain sectors such as government contracting, you see a need to support cost plus fixed-fee environments, where they will be awarded fees based on performance of the contract as well as have their costs covered. There are obviously a lot of different requirements in terms of setting up projects. That environment is quite complex and does require specialized systems for particular niches, and that’s one thing we’re focused on. It’s reflecting the different ways people want to work and making sure it’s easy for people to create projects that reflect this complexity, but that it’s not complicated for the end user and the typical project manager.
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