Posted on 9/2/2021
Over the past year, Perks Cloud Solutions has played an integral role in transitioning the in-house practice management software of the broader Perks firm. It has taken the firm from a legacy platform to a modern cloud-based solution, leveraging Xero Practice Manager with custom add-ons, and integrating the data through to Microsoft Power BI, and Adaptive Insights. Thanks to the Perks Cloud Solutions team’s careful planning, implementation expertise and strong post-launch training support, this complex transition has already netted strong results for the firm. It has transformed the firm’s business processes to be more streamlined and transparent, while also delivering significant efficiencies that were noticeable within weeks of rolling out the new solution.
Perks is a prominent, privately owned mid-tier accounting and wealth advisory firm which has experienced rapid growth since its establishment in 1981. This has seen the expansion of their service lines across numerous areas; including, accounting, bookkeeping, banking and finance, private wealth, insurance, audit and business advisory.
While rapid growth has seen Perks evolve into a leading multidisciplinary financial services firm, it also presented challenges in ensuring their IT systems, processes and data insights kept pace. Not only was the firm faced with the difficulty of being restricted by the limitations of their legacy IT systems, but with the expansion into different service lines, the firm was finding it increasingly difficult to consolidate their client data into a single source of truth.
“We were working off some pretty clunky practice management software with an old document management system attached to it. It was not a flexible solution and didn’t account for how client communications had evolved, as well as the workflows that went along with it. The firm was also working in a Citrix environment, which was adding another layer of inefficiency to our operations,” Perks CEO James Black explained.
“Effectively, all the business processes we had built over time were based around working with our existing software and its limitations. Subsequently these were inefficient processes, but we couldn’t change them because the software wasn’t allowing us to.”
Underpinning the need to transform the firm’s IT systems was the fact that they were also managing the ongoing costs associated with running the necessary infrastructure for their IT systems behind the scenes. The firm’s data was spread across 37 servers that demanded hefty ongoing support and upgrade costs as they were fast approaching their end of life.
“Aside from the obvious concerns around process and a costly infrastructure that could breakdown at any moment, we were also acutely aware that our systems contained all this great data, but we couldn’t unlock the cross-functional data insights we needed to most effectively and efficiently manage our business and our clients,” shared James.
“What we needed was an integrated solution that would deliver clearer financial reporting and data insights and enable us to run more sophisticated, real-time modelling scenarios across the various service pillars and our client base.”
Perks knew it needed to make a move because we were being stifled by our own IT systems and carrying the burden of legacy processes. At the heart of it, we wanted to move ahead of the limitations of available industry software and deliver better efficiencies across the business and ultimately to our client base.
Fortunately, the firm didn’t have far to look to find a partner that was ideally suited to assist in delivering this transformational change for the business.
One of the firm’s in-house specialist divisions is Perks Cloud Solutions, a team of experts that has been delivering business management and financial software solutions for its clients since 2015. The Perks Cloud Solutions team have helped countless businesses realise increased visibility and understanding of their operations, significant efficiency gains and ultimately, cost savings.
“In partnership with James, the CEO, we identified that it would be critical to begin stakeholder management within the firm early on, to ensure we got maximum buy-in and contribution from all areas of the business. It was going to be a significant and transformational change in the way the business operated moving forward and successful implementation would only happen through strong stakeholder engagement,” Perks Cloud Solutions Director, Nick Grieve said.
“James established a Steering Committee with six of the Perks leadership team, so that a project group beyond James and the Cloud Solutions team were brought on the journey early in the piece. This ensured that, as a client, Perks was able to provide insight right throughout the process of discovery and execution.”
While the functionality of the firm’s legacy practice management and document management system was decent, it was lacking in efficiency. It didn’t centralise nor manage the breadth of documents the firm’s various divisions used with clients, nor the variety of client communications that happened across sometimes multiple teams. As a result of an inflexible system, staff interaction with the legacy system was minimal.
A thorough system selection process landed the firm with Xero Practice Manager (XPM) as their new practice management system and FYI Docs for document management. This solution met the needs of a flexible repository that could also support data segmentation and provide a secure cloud-based environment that was not beholden to physical hardware.
“The cost savings and peace of mind that we realised once we moved off of physical servers was immediate. It allowed our firm to pivot quickly during various COVID-19 operating restrictions and also maintain the same levels of efficiency for teams that worked remotely,” shared James.
Now that the issue of the defunct legacy system and costly physical servers had been addressed, the Perks Cloud Solutions team’s next step was to implement an insights and reporting architecture that was tailored to the firm’s needs, setting a new bar for best practice for a multidisciplinary financial services firm.
“XPM is a system that our Cloud Solutions team was very familiar with, having already implemented it in a number of our clients’ businesses to great effect. While it’s is easy to use and highly efficient, we also know that that the core functionality of XPM often doesn’t meet all the varied needs of a complex business,” Nick explained.
“What we found was, based on the firm’s actual and future needs, there were shortcomings of the XPM system in the reporting space, so we came up with a solution that involved an architecture of both Adaptive Insights to pool their data from their various divisions and Microsoft Power BI to create a visual interface via dashboards for operational metrics.”
Effectively, the raw data lives in the various systems used by each of the different divisions – the newly transitioned XPM for Accounting, Xplan for Private Wealth and BrokerEngine for Finance. From there, Adaptive Insights acts as the firm’s data warehouse engine, collecting the insights they need from XPM/ Xplan/ BrokerEngine and unifying it into a single source of financial truth. With this singular view of the data, Adaptive Insights can generate all the firm’s consolidated financial reporting, as well as things like automated board reports.
“What we did then was to setup Adaptive Insights to work hand-in-hand with Power BI so Perks could translate that data into a single view dashboard that their management team could access at any time,” said Nick.
“With Power BI being such a customisable solution, we were really able to tailor that dashboard-style reporting to needs of the firm’s Directors, providing them with more operational insights into team and business performance at every level as well as in depth client analytics that they couldn’t get previously.”
“It’s effectively a KPI dashboard for each of our Directors and, for a lot of them, it’s the first thing they log-in to each day and tells them exactly where they’re up to with their clients and what areas may require their attention,” he said.
Importantly, James said that despite the challenges posed by a topsy-turvy 2020, the go-live was relatively seamless, which he attributed to the amount of prep-work that was done in the lead up and strong post-launch training support.
“Our firm made the project decision in March 2020 and decided we would dive straight in, despite a lot of unknowns around COVID. With the support of the Cloud Solutions team, we ended up going live on July 1, a real turnaround record considering the number of moving pieces in play” he said.
The firm worked with Cloud Solutions to plan out a huge training surge, firstly for the Committee and various project teams and also for the wider firm. Knowing that implementation takes repetition and time, they also planned for repeat trainings in their project schedule.
“From our perspective, I think it has been a really successful implementation and that was the result of all the stakeholder management and planning that started 12 months prior. Importantly, partnering with the experts in our Cloud Solutions team ensured we created a solution designed specifically for our needs.”
And the benefits for the business have been significant.
“As I touched on before, we were hamstrung in our processes by the software we were using, so through implementing this change in software, we’ve been able to move to much more efficient business processes,” James explained.
“We’ve actually simplified everything, and this required a big change in mindset across the whole organisation, but everyone is supportive and has been given the training and support necessary to transition their workflows. From a day-to-day perspective, the XPM software is easier to use, it’s facilitated quicker month-end, quicker billing, quicker turnaround times of doing jobs, billing runs and then all the reporting at the end of it.
“The integration of Adaptive Insights has given us a robust data warehouse to slice and dice the information from our various service lines and allows us to spend more time analysing the findings, rather than consolidating the numbers manually. When you add the live access Power BI dashboards on top of this, we now have a way to gauge the health of our business daily, based on our own KPIs. This puts us in a position to work with agile insights and data like never before.
“With what our Cloud Solutions team has developed, we think we’ve got the most efficient and best practice whole of business management solution for a multidisciplinary firm.
“We’re actually in conversation with other financial services firms already, helping them make a transition to the cloud, like Perks. There is a lot of ‘proof in the pudding,’ having tested and implemented these systems and capabilities for Perks with great success,” he said.
“Our track record in business management solutions is applicable across a variety of industries. The key is working with the client to unpack not just the current issues that they are facing, but also anticipate the future capabilities that they are looking for.”
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