Multiple software apps vs one integrated management system: which is best for your agency?

 |  By: Steve Vincent In: Agency management

Agency office

Running a successful agency is no mean feat. And one of the key challenges is managing information. Estimates, quotes, costs, schedules, timesheets, financials, KPIs - keeping everything up to date can be a full-time job, before you even start thinking about how to use the information.

There are hundreds if not thousands of software apps out there for agency management, encompassing everything from marketing and new business to project management and finances. Gantt charts, Kanbans, scheduling systems, timesheeting - you name it, there’s an app for it.

And some of these are great. In fact, they’re best in class for specific functionality.

But as your agency and teams start to grow, having multiple systems can start to cause a headache.

Look back to when there were just a few people in your team. You probably all got by fine using a few apps, spreadsheets, post-it notes and a whiteboard, while information in your heads was pretty easy to just pass on verbally.

Then you grow, with 10, 12 people in your team. And that’s when you start losing visibility and control. You’ve got 12 heads full of information, for starters. Twelve people all trying to input data into multiple systems. Grow even more and your problems grow, too.

Now, juggling data across multiple systems actually starts to slow down your day-to-day operations. The exact opposite of why you use them.

Things start to get fragmented, as you all log info onto multiple systems that aren’t talking to each other. You can try manually inputting data, but this starts to get time consuming and there’s too much room for error. Plus, this can mean data isn’t always up to date in every system. You’re on the hamster wheel, constantly playing catch up.

Pulling data from multiple systems is another time thief, along with double checking all the figures. You end up with several versions of the truth, but no clear facts.

Security issues can start to creep in - remembering to remove a member if they leave, for example.

And integrating disparate systems can be painful. Unless the data is the same in all the systems, this won’t always work. Add in an update to a system and it can break the link.

This is when your head starts to spin. Simply trying to manage your agency day to day has become a mammoth task.

So why do agencies stick with multiple systems?

Lots of reasons.

For a start, not everyone likes change. And there are times you might need a specific system for a function - such as Hubspot for marketing automation, or Jirra for agile development. But if you’re just trying to keep people happy with the status quo, you’re asking for trouble. And likely missing out on the opportunity to save time and money, gain valuable insights and improve your performance.

Agencies often fall into the trap of trying to replace like for like. But if it was working properly, you wouldn’t be replacing it. Look at a single system as a whole new animal, rather than a straightforward replacement.

This is also a clear management decision, not one to be taken by committee. It’s not about what looks the prettiest, but about getting the right reporting capabilities and functionality to move you forward, a system that is scalable and can grow alongside you.

One system to power productivity

Bringing your operations together into a single management system can help you work more productively and efficiently.

  • Integrated processes. One system can take you through a project end-to-end, from quoting to booking to timesheets to billing. All the information and project details are in one place, accessible to everyone working on the job.
  • Greater visibility. You’re looking at one single source instead of reconciling from multiple - so you’re getting a true view of the data. This data can show you things like time spent on a job versus amount estimated, so you can see if things have overrun, and why. In turn, this allows you to plan your resourcing for future jobs.
  • Live data reporting. Access what’s happening now. You’ve got one set of processes and one system, making it easier for your team to get it right.

The numbers speak for themselves…

We’ve done some number crunching and the results are pretty staggering. In a 15-person agency, with each person spending an hour a month inputting data into multiple systems, the loss would be £1,125 per month (at an average hourly per person rate of £75). So a 30-person agency could be losing £2,250 per month… pretty alarming figures.

Add to this the cost of project managers logging in and adding data into multiple systems. At four to five hours a month for seven people, that’s 28-35 hours lost. Every month. Which is essentially a full-time role. If you were to charge this to a client at £75 per hour, this would add up to £2100-£2625.

Then there’s admin time spent manually entry data from multiple systems for reporting. Clients say this can be four days a month. Plus the time cross checking and analysing the data, which can be two or three days a month. This is an admin cost of £600 per month. and management cost of £1000 per month. Enough to make your head spin.

Add it all together and alarm bells ring. Work it out over a year and it’s hands-over-your-eyes time.

Multiple systems can undoubtedly have their place in agency life, especially those which offer very specific functions. But with growth comes complexity, and you can start heading into overwhelm simply trying to keep on top of things. This is when you start losing control… and losing profits.

Bringing your operations together into one system can help you regain control and visibility, give you access to accurate data, and ultimately make sure you’re working productively and profitably.