Cloud Business Apps

Projector PSA – Professional Services Automation Product Evaluation



“Projector is a powerful, flexible and pragmatic tool for professional services automation. Built on real-world experience in the industry, it gives firms a cost-effective approach for project management, resource scheduling and project accounting without the upfront cost of on-premise hardware and software.”

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Product Overview

Behind every super-smart consultant there is a frazzled project manager, an impatient accountant and an ambitious executive. Projector is a software tool that helps these professionals do their jobs more efficiently and, as a result, improves the overall performance and productivity of the firm.

Built by a team of professional services experts who founded a company called Projector PSA, Projector is a professional services automation application. It has three main capabilities that address business needs in professional services firms.

  • Project accounting. This module ensures that firms can invoice accurately and promptly, track employee expenses and timesheets easily and, critically, make and track budgets.
  • Resource scheduling. This module helps companies assign the right people to the right job at the right time. To be profitable, businesses need to avoid over- and underutilization and forecast resource requirements in a timely way.
  • Enhanced project management. This module helps companies plan projects and track performance to those plans, reducing the risk of expensive overruns. It also empowers individual fee-earners with task planning tools and online project workspaces to enhance teamwork.

The system has two main interfaces:

  • Projector Web. This online application, accessed through a web browser, gives individual consultants access to project planning and collaboration tools as well as their expenses and timesheets. It is, in effect, an employee dashboard.
  • Management Portal. This is a dedicated Windows application that connects to the same cloud-hosted application database as Projector Web and provides detailed management reporting, project configuration and planning tools. It is used by managers, executives and the finance department.

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Projector PSA’s clients can choose different combinations of modules at different price points. They pay for the system, which is a web-hosted, software-as-a-service application, on a monthly per-user basis. Prices start at $15 per user per month, making Projector as cost-effective as it is flexible.

The system aims to provide ‘best of breed’ professional services automation without the complexity (and expense) of adding modules for accounting, enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM). It does, however, interface directly with applications like Salesforce.com, QuickBooks, Microsoft Great Plains, Excel, Project, and Access.  Projector PSA also provides an open API for custom integration.


Business Needs

Professional services automation tools, such as Projector, have become the price of entry into an increasingly competitive marketplace. They help companies improve their operational efficiency, increase utilization and enhance profitability. Used properly, the right professional services automation tool can be a competitive advantage.

A study by the National Computing Centre revealed the top reasons services organizations wanted to implement professional services automation were to:

  • Increase project effectiveness: 58%
  • Achieve better visibility: 56%
  • Improve planning and forecasting: 54%
  • Improve resource utilization: 54%

For smaller or less mature companies, these automation tools often replace whiteboards with hand-scrawled information or ad-hoc spreadsheets. In larger companies or growing firms with ambitions to look beyond just ‘getting the job done’ to ‘improving the way we work’, they provide a compass and a map.

They also provide an ongoing insight into project profitability and costs, helping companies spot problems early and take swift remedial action. This is increasingly important as a growing proportion of projects are now delivered on a fixed-price basis. Since this trend shifts more of the risk onto the service provider, fixed price work needs to be monitored much more closely than traditional projects.

There is also the human dimension. People are the stock in trade for professional services firms. While project managers need to deploy them efficiently to maximize revenue, they cannot afford to burn them out or ignore them. Good staff need a variety of challenges, new stimuli and training to thrive. Companies need to balance workloads and predict peaks and troughs to ensure that there are enough staff and contractors to cope with both current and future demands.


Customers

Projector PSA targets companies with 50-500 fee-earners with average revenues of around $20 million per year. However, they have clients ranging from just two employees (but a strong focus on best practice) to over 4,000 users. Projector is used by tens of thousands of users in hundreds of companies around the world.

With this positioning, it offers a roadmap for smaller firms to upgrade from ad-hoc spreadsheets, basic project management tools and accounting software and a way for larger firms to avoid the cost of bespoke solutions or high-end ERP systems.

The company’s client base includes professional services organizations in management consulting, software development, IT systems integration, and digital marketing as well as consulting teams embedded in larger product vendors.

Growing companies often approach Projector PSA on the rebound from a failed project. For example, a fixed-price assignment with cost overruns or a large project where the team suffered from burnout and delays. Typically, these problems are a sign that the company has outgrown its existing systems. They may not know that they need a ‘professional services automation’ tool—they just need a better way to allocate resources and track costs and time invested.

At the other end of the target customer base, large firms switch to Projector after making a decision to table bespoke in-house software or to upgrade from a less-flexible competitor product. They are looking for tools to help them achieve business goals such as enhancing resource utilization or improving profitability.

In both cases, an increasingly competitive economy and a switch to fixed price projects mean that every services organization needs to get smarter about the way it operates. Projector gives them the tools to do exactly that.

For a list of reference customers see: www.projectorpsa.com/customers.html.


Competition

Projector’s competitors include:

  • Microsoft Excel and Project. Many smaller companies (and some larger ones) use general purpose applications to manage their projects, track costs and allocate resources. Sometimes in conjunction with standalone accounting packages, these tools form a loose, ad-hoc solution that lacks Projector’s integration, sophistication and fitness for purpose. These organizations often find the internal development and maintenance investment required can outpace what they would have spent on a commercial system. They also often realize that all they’ve been able to accomplish with this investment is to automate poor existing processes. Generally these companies get significantly better insight and control by upgrading to Projector and often take the opportunity to rethink processes along the way.
  • Basic cloud solutions. For some companies, simple online collaboration tools and time and expense capture applications can address some of the basic coordination and tracking requirements of a professional services firm. However, as with the Excel and Project approach, they lack integration and specialist features.
  • All-in-one systems. Several of Projector’s competitors are components of overarching ERP suites which means that they are joined at the hip with other functionality such as finance, HR or CRM. This approach can work if the organization needs all the functionality, but many companies already have effective CRM or accounts packages and just need a solution tailored to their professional services management needs. Specialization and industry focus mean that Projector provides a best of breed solution for a specific requirement and it integrates well with other software. Sometimes you need a precision blade not a Swiss Army knife.
  • High-end professional services automation tools. At the top of the price range, specialized professional services automation software can give the largest firms extensive customization options and support for esoteric approaches to project management. However, they come at a cost. Projector, conversely, lets clients choose and pay for the functionality they need and has a clear, public pricing structure that starts at $15 dollars per user per month. Projector is not a simplistic tool, but it provides proven and pragmatic solutions for common scenarios without adding extra complexity or requiring expensive customization services.

Differentiators

Projector is both broad and deep in its functionality. However, a number of features stand out and differentiate it from its competition.

  • Domain expertise. The team that built Projector comes from the professional services sector, so they understand the issues that firms face in the real world. This means that many design and implementation decisions reflect industry best practice and the most pressing needs of the sector. One small detail is representative – they know that consultants are loath to complete expenses forms but that it is important to track billable expenses.  The Projector team has built an expenses reporting tool that is very easy to use, minimizing the amount of work required to file a report.
  • Reports. Projector provides powerful reporting capabilities that are appropriate to the user’s role. For example, a busy consultant can easily see what they should be working on from day to day. A team leader can see who is overburdened and re-allocate tasks. A company accountant can see which projects are over- or under-budget. The system comes with dozens of pre-built reports that address common questions and provides the ability to customize dashboards, alerts and reports.
  • Control. Projector makes it easy to model your business practices and workflows in the system. This extends to approvals, permissions and audit trails. It’s not glamorous but it is essential.
  • Integration. The system comes with pre-built connectors for Salesforce.com, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Dynamics GP (Great Plains), Project, Excel, and Access. It also provides a web services API that enables custom integrations to other systems if required.
  • User self-service. The web-based portion of Projector delivers a simple, easy-to-use interface for fee-earners and consultants. A dashboard tells them what’s going on and simple web-based forms let them file expense claims and time-sheets easily. This encourages users to keep the organization’s data up to date and improves billing accuracy and forecasting.
  • Simplified planning. Unlike traditional project management tools, Projector doesn’t require you to pretend to know everything at the start of the project. When setting up a project, for example, it is not necessary to specify which individuals will be working on it. Instead, managers can set up placeholder profiles based on required experience, skills, seniority etc. This makes it easier to budget and plan a project and then mobilize the right resources for it when the client gives the go-ahead.
  • Pragmatic resource allocation. A responsive, fleet-footed professional service organization reacts quickly to changing circumstances and customer requests. This means that it is not always possible to allocate resources to a schedule months in advance. Projector has capabilities like ‘lumpy scheduling’ and ‘rolling wave planning’ that reflect how people actually work rather than the idealized world of Gantt and PERT charts.
  • Flexible contract modeling. Projector provides flexible contract modeling for projects, reflecting the most commonly-used approaches. Companies can structure their work into engagements and projects that model their contractual relationship with their clients versus how they choose internally to deliver those contractual obligations.
  • Dynamic revenue allocation. Projector includes powerful modeling technology that gives managers a snapshot of a project’s financial state in real time by projecting costs and revenue from the present through to the completion of the project. This lets people spot potential problems, such as cost overruns or declining profitability, much sooner than they would if they had to wait for month or quarter end. This is especially important in the case of a fixed-price project where the risk of an overrun falls on the company not the client.
  • Choice of cloud or on-premise hosting. For the vast majority of Projector’s customers, the company’s cloud-based hosting works very well. It means that they do not need to buy expensive servers or install any software. They like the fact that Projector lets them focus on their business not on IT. However, Projector also offers the option of on-premise hosting while still having the Projector team manage the software for them. This extra-cost option works well for the small minority of organizations that can’t adopt cloud computing for security or regulatory reasons.

Pricing

Projector includes three functional modules: resource scheduling, project accounting and enhanced project management. The company’s pricing model lets customers choose the functionality they need and pay for it on a per-user, per-month basis (with a minimum monthly subscription).

There are no activation or termination fees and no minimum contract terms. The company offers a 30-day free trial to let potential clients see if the product is appropriate for their needs.

There are three basic price points:

  • Team Edition at $15 per user per month (and a $400 per month minimum)
  • Professional Edition at $25 ($500)
  • Enterprise Edition at $30 ($2,500)

The Team edition includes the full project accounting module that includes time and expense tracking through invoicing functionality. The Professional edition includes all three modules and the ability to add optional services and integrations as required. The Enterprise edition includes all the system’s capabilities plus enhanced support and the option to host Projector on your own servers. Volume discounts are available.

Projector PSA’s clear, public pricing stands in contrast with the ‘call us for a quotation’ approach of some of its competitors. The different price points and the ability add or subtract users at will lets clients adopt Projector at their own pace and in response to their changing needs. Projector PSA’s approach is the polar opposite of the typical strategy of locking clients into multi-year contracts and forcing them to plan (and pay) for peak staffing levels. As such, this actual usage-based pricing structure often proves to be a more cost effective approach in practice than more restrictive contracts.

For full details of the company’s pricing see: www.projectorpsa.com/pricing.html.


Product Features

This section introduces some of Projector’s key features. There are two main interfaces for the system: a web-based employee interface (“Projector Web”) and an installed application that gives managers and finance staff access to project setup, management and reporting tools (the “Management Portal”).

Projector Web

Feature and benefits Screenshot
The dashboard provides a user-centric overview of current projects and individual performance as well as shortcuts to activities like filing a timesheet or expense report.  image014
Detailed, individual stats give users a view of their personal contribution over time.  image016
A simplified project view gives users clear goals and priorities – ‘what should I be doing next?’  image018
Projector Web makes it quick and easy for employees to log hours against different projects and tasks. It also provides a feedback mechanism from the employee to the project manager about progress and task completion.  image020
It’s the same with expense reports. It takes a few minutes to fill in expenses incurred and drag and drop receipts onto the expense report. Once submitted, users can track the approval status of the expenses all the way through reimbursement.  image022
An easy-to-use collaboration workspace lets users store key project information and track documents and issues online.  image024

Management Portal

Feature and benefits Screenshot
The project dashboard gives managers a quick overview of all the company’s projects, highlighting variances and problems. Access controls restrict visibility based on company policies, if required.  image026
Projector lets you customize this display, set alerts and track KPIs. This dashboard features real-time data, dynamic revenue allocation and the ability to drill down into the data if required.  image028
Projector constantly projects forward from the present day to the end of the project, dynamically allocating revenue to give a rolling estimate of the project’s profitability. There’s no need to wait for the month or quarter end for this information.  image030
The resources tab lets managers see how much work individuals have and allocate staff to tasks. The system permits ‘lumpy scheduling’ so that people’s time can be allocated in different proportions for different time periods, not evenly (and unrealistically) spread out.  image032
Projector users typically have 6% better utilization than other professional services firms thanks to features like ‘lumpy scheduling’ and ‘rolling wave planning’ where managers can add more detail to the near-future schedule while leaving the longer-term plans less granular.  image034

System and Project Configuration

Although they are part of the management portal and share the same user interface, it is helpful to think of system and project configuration as a separate functional module of Projector.

Feature and benefits Screenshot
The system lets firms choose from a range of charging models for each project.  image036
It also lets you define ‘roles’ which are like placeholder slots on a project, for example a ‘business analyst’ or ‘developer’. Managers can then populate a project plan with roles and allocate actual people to fill them later.  image038
Projector comes with 50 pre-defined report templates but the system makes it easy to define your own. No coding skills, extra costs or consultants required.  image040
You can also create Excel PivotTable and graph reports to help you analyze project information in more detail.  image042

Specifications

Web browsers requirements:

  • IE 9+, current versions of Firefox, Chrome, Opera

Operating system requirements:

  • Any OS for the web-based Projector Web interface
  • Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 for the installed Management Portal interface
  • Installed interface can be run in most Windows emulators on the Mac OS

Database requirements:

  • Almost all Projector clients use their public cloud hosting environment, so are not tied to a particular database
  • Clients that choose to host the application on their own private cloud will need a SQL Server environment, but this configuration is rare

APIs and integration:

  • Pre-built connectors and web services are part of certain editions and are an optional add-on for other tiers
  • Pre-built connectors are available for Salesforce.com, QuickBooks, MS Dynamics Great Plains, MS Project, MS Excel, MS Access
  • Projector can integrate with almost any other application through the use of technology-agnostic web services

Security and availability:

  • Data center SAS 70 Type II certified
  • 128 bit SSL encryption over HTTPS
  • Passwords stored in random salt string and one-way cryptographic hash
  • Data backed up every 15 minutes in parallel environment, encrypted, archived and shipped off site

Recommendations

For companies that either need more than ad-hoc software to manage professional service projects or that have sophisticated requirements but don’t want the cost or complexity of an all-embracing suite, Projector is a compelling choice. Its feature set delivers the advanced functionality needed for project forecasting, planning and management. Its simple interface makes it easy to use, not only for individual end users but also for people in finance, management and the executive suite.

After a careful analysis of the software, several points stand out:

  • Software as a service pricing. Projector has a transparent, up-front pricing model that is flexible and cost effective. It allows companies to pay for what they need when they need it rather than take expensive bets on what they might need in the future. You don’t need to speak to a sales person to find out what it’s going to cost.
  • Fitness for purpose. Projector was designed by people with a background in professional services so it consistently works with the grain instead of against it. Its designers understand the challenges that the industry faces, such as fixed-price projects, and helps to solve them with pragmatic solutions that reflect real-world practice.
  • A focus on what matters. Although Projector Web has a clean, elegant interface, Projector as a whole dispenses with shiny chrome in favor of a powerful engine and well-balanced design choices. Its job is to help firms achieve their business goals, not win design awards.

The results speak for themselves. Companies that use Projector have better utilization rates than people who use competing professional services automation tools (76% versus 72%) and much better results than companies who don’t use anything (and manage to achieve just 66% utilization). This is worth an extra 1.3 months a year of billability for every resource, easily justifying the cost of a system like Projector.

Given Projector’s competitive price, companies can achieve a rapid and substantial return on their investment and address the most pressing business issues facing professional services firms. In short, the critical path to success runs through Projector.

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Matthew Stibbe

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Overall rating: (5.0/5)




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