Chris Muscroft, technology services director at Highlander – one of the UK’s leading IT service providers – on how Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software can help tackle staff shortages.

Highlander has a long history of providing the region’s organisations with technology support, from on-premise infrastructures to delivering digital transformation projects and migrating services to the cloud.

However, over the last few years we have been building our software practice, providing in-house development skills for businesses across many sectors, with software solutions that empower organisations to automate and streamline their processes.

The enablement of customer service portals and e-commerce platforms has further driven the need for intelligent software for those organisations focused on growth, both organic and through acquisition. Highlander have partnered with Oracle NetSuite to meet these needs.

One common challenge

Businesses across the UK, in almost every sector, are facing a common problem. They just can’t get the staff. A perfect storm of Brexit, COVID-19 fallout and training shortfalls means there’s less talent to go around – and any high-quality personnel available is commanding a premium. When business is on the up, the last thing you want are recruitment challenges holding back growth, or employees getting itchy feet due to high workload. So, in a difficult labour market, what alternatives do you have? More isn’t always better – so assessing the quality and productivity of the team you already have is a good place to start.

Making resource go further

An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system such as NetSuite has multiple benefits to businesses – including helping them overcome the headache of staff shortages by better utilising what they have. Below I’ll outline some of the specific areas where NetSuite can lift some of the pressures on your team, and help you squeeze the most value from every hour.

Automation – your new recruit

When running separate applications for accounting, project management and resource planning, there’s work to do to join these things up. Rationalising invoices against timesheets requires human input – which also means human time and, possibly, human error. Intelligent software brings all these things into a single, automated platform, slashing the time spent on manual processes.

Automation also plays a big part in forward planning and simplifying diary management. As soon as a purchase order is raised for a job, the system can allocate the resource needed, at the next available opportunity. That’s a lot of planning time off your hands.

Visibility not guesswork

If your view of your resource is somewhat unclear, then how do you know if you’re using it effectively? Only with a joined-up system can you have true visibility of your workforce allocation. With automated workflows and resource scheduling, we build and develop different forms of visual representation to help you get a clearer picture – whether that’s schedule planning or a geographical view, for example, seeing a network of engineers positioned on a map. Despite best intentions, priorities and project scope can change frequently – a crystal clear view of your resource spread provides the flexibility to make informed decisions and alterations quickly, with the least impact to other projects. And because our systems are cloud-based, it can all be updated in real-time, wherever your workers are located.

Visibility isn’t just about live tracking and responding – but also making intelligent decisions about how to manage utilisation in the future. Linking the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, NetSuite can help with trend analysis based on past projects, specific types of contract or seasonal peaks and troughs. Without this clarity, allocating resource to new projects is ‘best guess’, opening the door to inefficiencies.

Analyse productivity blackspots

How are your people performing? We have developed an analytics feature which allows you to keep track of project performance through real-time dashboards. With staff easily able to add time, in the office or on the go, project managers can instantly see if work is on track. Alerts can be set up to monitor when time creeps beyond what is expected – flagging any issues with productivity or enabling re-quotation before too much time (and money) is lost.

Align resource with the bottom line

At the heart of NetSuite is its finance application. Ordering, billing, and revenue management are directly integrated with project management and resource planning – allowing granular accuracy of costs per project. Because billing is automated, invoices aren’t missed.

Plus, it’s easy to spot if more work has been carried out than originally quoted for, ensuring that the business is properly paid and reducing resource wastage or overspend.  Forecasting is improved through automation of resource allocation, allowing you to make long-term decisions about your workforce.

Ultimately, all this means that businesses can make more informed decisions about whether to recruit or identify opportunities to drive efficiencies within existing structures.

Unfortunately, the staffing crisis looks set to stay for some time, so powering productivity within your organisation has never been more important. Empowerment of your resources and real-time business intelligence is key to managing your growth.