This is a guest post by Accelo. In their own words, “Accelo is the leading cloud-based platform for managing client work, from prospect to payment, for professional services companies. Each month, tens of thousands of Accelo users across 43 countries create more than 3 million activities, log 1.2 million hours of work, and generate over $140 million in invoices.”

Imagine driving a car with a blacked-out windshield. It sounds terrifying, but it’s the way things are for most small businesses. While they look into the rear-view mirror to see where they’ve been, they lack visibility into what’s ahead of them. The lack of real-time data and reliable forecasts leaves critical decisions like investment, hiring, and resourcing to “gut feel.” An industry survey conducted by Accelo shows 67% of senior leaders don’t have visibility into team utilization, and 54% of them can’t track client project budgets, much less profitability.

Professional services businesses generate most of their revenue directly from billable work they do for clients every day. Because no two clients, projects, or team members are the same, real-time and actionable insight is paramount to ensure happy clients and a successful, profitable business. A big part of the problem is that many businesses are trying to manage their client work with a cocktail of different, disconnected systems. No wonder KPMG found that 56% of CEOs have little confidence in the integrity of the data they’re using for decision-making.

Accelo’s mission is to solve this problem by giving businesses an integrated system to manage all their client work, from prospect to payment. By combining what have historically been disparate parts of the business—CRM, sales, project management, time tracking, client support, and billing—Accelo becomes the single source of truth for your business’s most important data.

Even with a trustworthy, automated and integrated system, decision makers still need to harness the data so they see what’s in front of them and can anticipate for the future. Accelo devoted all our resources and expertise to building a complete client work management platform, made up of essential products to achieve the greatest profitability. We recognized that in order to make the platform most effective, users needed to be empowered with the strongest analytics and actionable insights for strategic decision making. This drove us to seek out a leading BI solution that could seamlessly integrate with our platform and create the greatest user experience. Our objective was to ensure that Accelo users had access to the best BI tool without requiring them to spend more of their valuable time learning yet another tool – not to mention another login. We needed a powerful embedded analytics solution.

We evaluated dozens of leading BI and embedded reporting solutions, and Amazon QuickSight was the clear winner. In this post, we discuss why, and how QuickSight accelerated our time to value in delivering embedded analytics to our users.

Data drives insights

Even today, many organizations track their work manually. They extract data from different systems that don’t talk to each other, and manually manipulate it in spreadsheets, which wastes time and introduces the kinds of data integrity problems that cause CEOs to lose their confidence. As companies grow, these manual and error-prone approaches don’t scale with them, and the sheer level of effort required to keep data up to date can easily result in leaders just giving up.

With this in mind, Accelo’s embedded analytics solution was built from the ground up to grow with us and with our users. As a part of the AWS family, QuickSight eliminated one of the biggest hurdles for embedded analytics through its SPICE storage system. SPICE enables us to create unlimited, purpose-built datasets that are hosted in Amazon’s dynamic storage infrastructure. These smaller datasets load more quickly than your typical monolithic database, and can be updated as often as we need, all at an affordable per-gigabyte rate. This allows us to provide real-time analytics to our users swiftly, accurately, and economically.

“Being able to rely on Accelo to tell us everything about our projects saves us a lot of time, instead of having to go in and download a lot of information to create a spreadsheet to do any kind of analysis,” says Katherine Jonelis, Director of Operations, MHA Consulting. “My boss loves the dashboards. He loves just being able to look at that and instantly know, ‘Here’s where we are.’”

In addition to powering analytics for our users, QuickSight also helps our internal teams identify and track vital KPIs, which historically has been done via third-party apps. These metrics can cover anything, from calculating the effective billable rate across hundreds of projects and thousands of time entries, to determining how much time is left for the team to finish their tasks profitably and on budget. Because the reports are embedded directly in Accelo, which already houses all the data, it was easy for our team to adapt to the new reports and require minimal training.

Integrated vs. embedded

One of the most important factors in our evaluation of BI platforms was the time to value. We asked ourselves two questions: How long would it take to have the solution up and running, and how long would it take for our users to see value from it?

While there are plenty of powerful third-party, integrated BI products out there, they often require a complete integration, adding authentication and configuration on top of basic data extraction and transformations. This makes them an unattractive option, especially in an increasingly security-focused landscape. Meanwhile, most of the embedded products we evaluated required a time to launch that numbered in the months—spending time on infrastructure, data sources, and more. And that’s without considering the infrastructure and engineering costs of ongoing maintenance. One key benefit that propels QuickSight above other products is that it allowed us to reduce that setup time from months to weeks, and completely eliminated any configuration work for the end-user. This is possible thanks to built-in tools like native connections for AWS data sources, row-level security for datasets, and a simple user provisioning process.

Developer hours can be expensive, and are always in high demand. Even in a responsive and agile development environment like Accelo’s, development work still requires lead time before it can be scheduled and completed. Engineering resources are also finite—if they’re working on one thing today, something else is probably going into the backlog. QuickSight enables us to eliminate this bottleneck by shifting the task of managing these analytics from developers to data analysts. We used QuickSight to easily create datasets and reports, and placed a simple API call to embed them for our clients so they can start using them instantly. Now we’re able to quickly respond to our users’ ever-changing needs without requiring developers. That further improves the speed and quality of our data by using both the analysts’ general expertise with data visualization and their unique knowledge of Accelo’s schema. Today, all of Accelo’s reports are created and deployed through QuickSight. We’re able to accommodate dozens of custom requests each month for improvements—major and minor—without ever needing to involve a developer.

Implementation and training were also key considerations during our evaluation. Our customers are busy running their businesses. The last thing they want is to get trained on a new tool, not to mention the typically high cost associated with implementation. As a turnkey solution that requires no configuration and minimal education, QuickSight was the clear winner.

Delivering value in an agile environment

It’s no secret that employees dislike timesheets and would rather spend time working with their clients. For many services companies, logged time is how they bill their clients and get paid. Therefore, it’s vital that employees log all their hours. To make that process as painless as possible, Accelo offers several tools that minimize the amount of work it takes an employee to log their time. For example, the Auto Scheduling tool automatically builds out employees’ schedules based on the work they’re assigned, and logs their time with a single click. Inevitably, however, someone always forgets to log their time, leading to lost revenue.

To address this issue, Accelo built the Missing Time report, which pulls hundreds of thousands of time entries, complex work schedules, and even holiday and PTO time together to offer answers to these questions: Who hasn’t logged their time? How much time is missing? And from what time period?

BDB 1843 dashboard

Every business needs to know whether they’re profitable. Professional services businesses are unique in that profitability is tied directly to their individual clients and the relationships with them. Some clients may generate high revenues but require so much extra maintenance that they become unprofitable. On the other hand, low-profile clients that don’t require a lot of attention can significantly contribute to the business’s bottom line. By having all the client data under one roof, these centralized and embedded reports can provide visibility into your budgets, time entries, work status, and team utilization. This makes it possible to make real-time, data-driven actions without having to spend all day to get the data.

BDB 1843 dashboard2

Summary

Clean and holistic data fosters deep insights that can lead to higher margins and profits. We’re excited to partner with AWS and QuickSight to provide professional services businesses with real-time insights into their operations so they can become truly data driven, effortlessly. Learn more about Accelo, and Amazon QuickSight Embedded Analytics!


About the Authors

Accelo Mahlon Duke headshot Mahlon Duke, Accelo Product Manager of BI and Data.

Accelo Geoff McQueen headshot cropped 1Geoff McQueen, Accelo Founder and CEO.

Categories: Big Data