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When your company runs projects that generate millions of dollars and has to report financial results to Wall Street, you can't manage operations in your email and Excel. You need more sophisticated tools.
But prior to 2011, Lexmark International, Inc. did just that -- it ran projects by sending email messages and spreadsheets back and forth between stakeholders -- until it adopted FinancialForce.com software. Lexmark provides software and hardware services for enterprise content management (ECM), business process management, printer and scanning services and more.
When it brought on FinancialForce, Lexmark had about 50 employees. But by 2011, the professional services division had blossomed to a couple of hundred staff, and today it has some 750 employees. Today, it manages about 2,000 projects. It couldn’t handle that kind of volume with the old tools.
Sending email messages back and forth and managing projects in Excel needed to be replaced with consolidated project management and analytics software. Lexmark managers needed to plan project time lines, forecast profits, schedule staffing, and invoice and bill clients. These kinds of tasks can strain the limits of traditional tools like Outlook and Excel.
"When you're figuring out resourcing on a project and everyone sits in the same room, it's not that hard to go back and forth," said Patrick Loetel, senior analyst of finance at Lexmark. "But now we have a handful of offices in the U.S. and many internationally," he continued. "You're sending hundreds of emails with spreadsheets going back and forth. We were spending more time doing that than managing projects," Loetel said.
Patrick LoetelSenior Analyst of Finance, Lexmark International, Inc.
Lexmark's issues exemplify a trend among other companies as well. In a survey by online project management software recommendation site Software Advice, 41% of survey respondents said that poor communication regarding task management was a top threat to project success. And while 41% said that email was a preferred way to manage a project, 23% said that long threads could also undercut communication.
With FinancialForce, Lexmark is more able to handle that global exchange of information and resource planning. Lexmark, for example, is conducting a project with a Fortune 500 company that requires German consultants' expertise, even though the project is also under way in North America. Scheduling German staff members' availability, billing their time, and planning project time lines is infinitely easier with FinancialForce.
Lexmark can get a better handle on the resources needed, costs and projected profits needed to complete a project successfully. As a result, Lexmark has gone from about $3 million in projects to $20 million a quarter in projects.
Loetel noted that it's much easier to manage projects, but also to see early-warning signs that costs will balloon. "You might have a project on the top level and there's nothing wrong with it [budget-wise]," said Loetel. "But if you’re on component A, B, C, you've gone over by a decent amount. [With FinancialForce], we have the ability to know that upfront and can plan for it as a business. If you need more money from a customer, you can have those conversations early and come by the best strategy."
Change can be too easy
But there are things on the wish list for FinancialForce, though. One is the old problem of too much customization. While FinancialForce enables a lot of customization, that can also hamper consistency across systems. Loetel said that changes can have ripple effects on other applications, like Salesforce and Outlook, and then require developers to make manual changes elsewhere.
"It's a fine line you have to walk," Loetel said. "We can engineer the system to do whatever we want, but you don't want to engineer yourself into a corner." Loetel said that Lexmark would like to strike a better balance between customization and configuration.
At the end of the day, though, Loetel said that as a public company, the company can stay on track with project costs, schedules and resources.
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