Featured Firm Interviews

SAGE Interview

SAGE Engineers, Inc. (SAGE) is a prime example of how a purpose-built ERP can bring rapid improvements to an organization.

According to SAGE’s Operations Manager, Tom Sell, his organization had been using a combination of off-the-shelf accounting software, custom-built databases and spreadsheets to handle project management and understand staff utilization. “All these solutions were good in their time,” he explains, “however we were getting to a level of size and volume that they were no longer efficient.”

There were several specific pain points with the old system. For one thing, ongoing work was required to keep the databases and spreadsheet macros up to date. “As we grew, we made changes to our billing categories, rates and position titles,” says Sell, who has been with SAGE for over 14 years. “Each time we did so, we needed to modify the macros in order to accurately correlate them, and we also had to make sure we maintained backwards compatibility with our old billing rates still used for ongoing projects.”

A more fundamental problem was that the firm had an inexact sense of standard business metrics and upcoming staffing needs. “Prior to our new project management and staff utilization solutions,” says Sell, “it was hard to understand the data behind our business metrics and the sustainability of our current workload and know when to pull the trigger when it came to taking on additional staff.”

Looking for alternatives

Several years ago, SAGE staff began modifying the in-house database to also support business development functions. “We were expanding it to manage not only project demographics, client addresses, and contact information,” Sell recalls, “but also communication with clients. We wanted to make sure that whenever a project manager walked into a client or prospect meeting, they would be aware of any other conversations or activities SAGE had underway with them.”

Sell and his colleagues also began looking at QuickBooks plug-ins and other software for more manageable and robust solutions, a process that ultimately led the firm to find Full Sail Partners. Initially, Full Sail Partners helped SAGE implement Vision, specifically for its accounting, CRM, and project management functions, and soon added project planning and resource management capabilities to SAGE’s integrated applications.

“The transition to the fully functional Vision ERP has been fairly easy”, according to Sell, “despite a period of dramatic growth. We’ve nearly doubled in size in the first 15 months since we put the Vision ERP in place, and that’s partially due to our ability to better recognize staffing needs and get people on board at the right time. In other ways, we can continue our familiar processes — like meeting every week to forecast workloads and do any load balancing that may be called for. Using the new system is as simple as filling in a spreadsheet, which is basically how we used to do it. So it’s not really a change in process, just a more collaborative tool.”

Bottom line improvements

The front and back office parts of the organization are benefiting from greater real-time visibility into each other’s information. “We no longer need to assign generic resources or positions for a given project,” Sell observes. “At any time we can see exactly what people’s workloads are and line up realistic staffing to address the schedule that the client wants. And it’s not just project managers being able to see their own project plans; we make the visibility available to everyone from entry level employees to senior associates.”

“We now have a more robust solution that gives us a lot more tools without reinventing the wheel,” Sell ads. “It allows us to ensure consistency across the organization, and provides an easy way to monitor its use and keep it in line with our business philosophy. Hands down, everyone is happy.”

SAGE finalized their resource planning implementation at the beginning of 2012.  When they evaluated 2011 operational numbers compared to 2012, they found a moderate to significant improvement across several areas of the firm metrics.  The firm was able to decrease overhead expenses (14%), average days receivable (41%), and employee turnover (62.5%).  Whereas the industry averages were only 6% (overhead), 13% (AR), and 14% (employee turnover).  The firm’s utilization and net multiplier each increased more than 20%.  Whereas the industry averages were 3% and -1%, respectively. 

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