Forecasting in Uncertainty. This last two weeks has changed our worlds entirely. Many of us are working from home, struggling with billing hours, dealing with clients, financial strain and even lay offs. This is not a time to push sales, but it is also not a time to panic. While stress may be causing you to to wonder about the future of your business, our forecasting product remains here to help. We want to give you our onePlan/proCube product for three months, to help you weather the storm.

The impact of this situation can be modeled out. As the premier Business Intelligence company for Professional Services organizations, we are happy to use our products and expertise to assist you during this uncertain time.

ADDING expenses right now is not an option for your firm. 9DOTS will create the necessary models to help you. Changes like this are unpredictable. Protect yourself and your firm with timely, fluid and accurate forecasts to maintain forward motion with confidence. With 9Dots Forecasting, you have the features and capabilities you need to produce dynamic forecasts to run your business.

This is literally what we do: forecasting in uncertainty. We can help you during this time, and help you make sure you are prepared if something like this ever happens again. We want to help you the best way that we know how: solving problems with our solutions.

Please contact us here and don’t worry about expenses for three months.

Find & Stop Revenue Leaks. The operating budget of an Architecture and Engineering firm is dynamic & ever-changing with many interconnected pieces. In the past, these pieces were very difficult to estimate. Firms used patterns from years prior or a ridiculous amount of spreadsheet to make decisions. But day to day, new challenges arise. Business owners may miss opportunities to stop revenue leaks that dilute profits.

NOW, there are advanced, integrated, easy-to-use softwares for architecture and engineering firms that help you budget for success. Start with working on making these five changes. But an industry-specific software will allow you to estimate drivers of the entire budget and keep utilization rates, overhead expenses, billing rates and more in check.

AE Firms, You Can Plug Revenue Leaks!

  1. Lower Overhead Expense: Of course there are known, and obvious, overhead expenses like employee benefits, rent, office equipment, etc. Categorize costs: fixed, medium term fixed, and variable. Work on variable costs first, then medium term. It is critical that overhead rate is calculated correctly in order to accurately determine AE profitability. Often, tons of spreadsheets and numbers can make it very hard to be sure overhead is accurate.
  1. Improve utilization: When you obsess about changeability, you can be making detrimental mistakes. You could burn out employees (see#5), force them to work on projects with low fees & bad terms instead of focusing on efficient use of hours charged. “Managing utilization by reviewing last week’s charges is like driving a car by looking out the rear view mirror. Manage utilization proactively.” Use a workable tool for resource planning & workload leveling.
  1. Improve Billing Rate & Don’t Undervalue yourself: There are over 70,000 AE Firms in the US alone. Remember that someone will always be there to take the job at the lowest price. Set your pricing based on what is best for your firm. Don’t compete with every low price. Improve negotiations & improve project management. Know what you are worth, and take a look at the projects you have been profitable on.
  1. Improve project management: Each of these fixes affect the other. Improving project management can also improve your billing rate. One way to improve project management is to PMs to participate in fee negotiations. Minimize the # of projects each PM is asked to manage. Get regular evaluations from clients. Establish project review process. Teach project management skills/training. Studies show that the most profitable firms have more capable project managers.
  1. Employee Engagement has an impact on profitability: In 2020, turnover at jobs are higher. Stats show that boomers are beginning to retire, and millennials are looking for jobs that they love and changing jobs quickly. Think about the culture you want to cultivate in order to keep your employees around and part of a team. Motivations drive the culture, and in turn the profit, of your business.

It IS possible to find & stop those revenue leaks. This list may seem daunting, but work through it as a checklist. Coupled with a tool for resource planing and budgeting & forecasting like 9DOTS’s onePlan, you can be on the road to a very strong, confident organization and profitable business with no revenue leaks.

4 Quick Budgeting Tips.  Don’t worry. Budgeting season isn’t here yet, you still have time. But we all know what it is like when we push things off thinking time will slow down. It never does, does it?! That’s why 9DOTS is going to ease you in. Today we are starting with some quick budgeting & forecasting tips for businesses from thought leaders & CEOs. For some more detailed Rolling Forecasting Benefits, this is a great, short animated video. 

4 Tips to Implement Today

  1. Be Positive: Easier said than done, we know. But this was a tip on many thought leader’s lists. It is not the most tangible tip, but an important one to start this short, but impactful list. If you spend half of the year dreading budgeting season, stressing over spreadsheets and numbers, despising even going into work, shift your mindset. We know you aren’t going to suddenly love budgeting season. But if you put these following tips into place, everything will seem a bit simpler & you may not dread it too much. 
  1. Keep it Simple: Thought leaders at TrueSky say making your processes too complicated will overwhelm users, “If input leaders feel they are presented with too much data, the budgeting process quickly becomes overwhelming. Considering using a system: does everyone need to see every bit of data? Likely not. By limiting what data users have access to, help make sure they are only focusing on budgeting in the areas they need. This simplifies the process for all, in turn saving the amount of time spent on budgeting. 
  1. Know Your Organization: What kind of budget is best for your company? Think about your organization. Identify areas of improvement. Steve Jordan from Wipfli stresses understanding the risks of your organization and it’s industry, “There are different types of budgets. Some organizations have different financial performance measures. For example, if you operate in an industry that is significantly seasonal in nature, you will likely need to break down an annual budget to a quarterly or monthly approach. Regardless of which way to budget, everyone in your organization needs to be on the same page when it comes to goals.” 
  1. Utilize the Right Tools: EXCEL is OKAY: 89% of users use Excel for Budgeting, Planning & Forecasting. Keep the reliability of the work you do every single day. But recognize it’s limitationsIn tip #4, we talked about finding comfort in using Excel. It is okay to use the tools you are familiar with, especially when it is one that stands the the test of time like Excel spreadsheets. But how long does it take to chop down a tree with a dull blade? Excel is an excellent axe, with a dull blade. Sharpen it. Enhance it with a streamlined budgeting & forecasting software. Your budgeting season will be smoother & data collection simpler.  

Finally, if you start implementing these tips today, step one, “Be Positive” will start to feel a little bit easier. After that, the rest will all fall into place. If you are looking for a new budgeting solution, an improved plan, or interested in more information: check out this download on our budgeting & forecasting software. Or Contact Us, 9DOTS, using this form .

AE Firm Dashboards. See the smoke, stop the fire. Dashboards and smoke detectors have much more in common than you think!  I’m not joking. Before the smoke detector, the common man knew almost nothing about fire prevention. Today, the use of a smoke detector has completely improved your quality of life & safety. Check out these facts: 

  • 3 out of 5 home fire deaths are caused in homes without working smoke detectors
  • The risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with a working smoke detector

How does this help my AE Firm? 

You own a house. In that house are multiple smoke detectors, decorating the ceilings awaiting the rare instance of a home fire. Waiting, in fact, to detect the smoke before the fire, so that you and your family get out safe. It wouldn’t be too beneficial if your house were in the middle of burning to the ground, and then your alarm goes off saying “just so you know, I’m on fire!”. Pretty sure at that point, you’d already know. 

Most leaders in your company don’t know IT jargon. Nor can they spend loads of time looking at spreadsheets! When a CEO or leader of a department looks at information about progress, there is often a thought similar to, “What can I do to make us more profitable?” It isn’t beneficial to only know the good you’ve done. Seeing the red in your charts, or metrics that show competition is surpassing you, or that you are losing money, is more beneficial than anything. 

And that is why a Dashboard is a CEO’s smoke detector. One of the reasons to implement data visualization is demand from executive leadership for self-service analysis in real time, 
        “Data visualization becomes a critical enabler for disseminating insights to senior leaders who may not have the technical ability, or frankly the time, to customize reports or analyze data in Excel” (Gleansight Benchmark Report 2015). You can use dashboards to detect the smoke in your organization! See what your firm is at right now. No waiting for time, expenses, hours to be processed or posted. Data is not pulled from calculated tables from last night. Dashboards offer drill down, trend analysis, predictive forecasting. Get answers to questions right away, before a fire starts. 

AE Firm Dashboards

Facts Directly Related to Dashboard Ownership 

  • Better decision making – Simplistic views and revenue streams provide immediate insight to pivot your corporations quickly
  • Revenue Growth – By being able to visualize your stream by relevant segment (i.e. Region, department, product, sku, etc..) changes can be made to enhance further growth in faster growing areas.
  • Improved Operational Efficiency – The knowledge to know where and why we are losing profitability can be known before it’s too late.
  • Enhanced Customer Service – Value added services through visualization for your customer base. This allows your customer to make better decisions with you as their vendor!

Buying a smoke detector is a no brainer. Everyone has one. They are a proven tool for detecting issues before they occur. Why wouldn’t you buy a dashboard for your AE firm? Every leader and department can benefit. 

Are you missing that AE Firm Dashboards/smoke detector? Contact us here or download this brochure for some more detail.  

Better Software. Better Service. Better Together.

Today is an exciting day as 9DOTS Management Corp becomes a partner with Clearview Software. Clearview’s “Better Software” paired with 9DOTS’ better service is an out of the box solution that truly makes us as a team, better together.

We now have the opportunity to attack the market place. And not just as a solution provider with BI/CPM tools. But also with a partner that offers one platform for all your needs in the AEC industry. With their expertise AND their software, Clearview is a modern application built from the ground up that is solely focused on streamlining the AEC business and helping their clients improve their bottom line. 9DOTS mindset has been similar in our service. 9DOTS mindset has always been to provide solutions that focus on you the customers. We care about the client, and we believe you can have equal performance in your software as you do the value that comes from it.

Thinking Outside of the Box

In true 9DOTS fashion, we are problem solvers.  Like the 9 Dots Puzzle, we looked for an outside of the box solution to that problem. By partnering with Clearview we went out of the box to become a team of better software, better solutions, & better service. And we are thrilled to add you, the AEC firm, into the mix. It’s time to step away from old software that has been cobbled together. Break out of the box with a single integrated platform that can handle everything your firm needs and wants.

Finally, Check out the video below for a chat with our CEO & our mission with Clearview. We look forward to extending our service offerings, our solutions & software offerings throughout 2020 and beyond!

Budgeting Season Best Practices. Fall is finally here! Cooler weather, beautiful leaves changing. And while fall may be one of our favorite seasons of the year, budgeting season is absolutely not. Your company employees will spend late hours, and long nights, to sort out the budget. How does it normally go for your professional services organization? Does it run smoothly? Or do you feel like your drowning in spread sheets with mind numbing lists of numbers and reports? Do you feel limited using Excel? We understand the limitations of spreadsheets and manual data collection, and that these can often drive you insane. Here are our Budgeting Season Best Practices :

Use The BEST Tools: There have been a few detailed blog posts on our love for Excel. We recognize how awesome it is, and how it has stood the test of time, being used by almost every single business in the world for some type of data collection & reporting. But we also recognize, at times like these, (Budgeting Season), Excel has limitations. There are tools that you can use, that will not completely eliminate Excel, but will instead enhance it. Your budgeting season will be smoother, data collection simpler, and time and resources used CORRECTLY during the fall months. These tools, like our onePlan, offer flexibility, control, are faster & save you TIME.

Expand those tools, by PLANNING: Static budgets are a thing of the past. We realize now that our businesses are always changing. Why plan with old numbers and details? With a continuous planning model, data is constantly updated for you. Answering questions you have quickly and re-forecast based on market change. Use your old numbers to answer the questions through the future. You will be able to course correct half-way through the year, and have an even more accurate budget by budgeting season next year.

Budgeting Season Best Practices

Hopefully this is the last time we have to write about “Survival Tips.” Because it shouldn’t feel like surviving. Budgeting season should feel like just a regular part of your year. Finally, it can be fast, easy, simple and streamlined. Adopting new practices and tools is how you stay competitive in your field. And it is essential to better performance. If budgeting is your pain, let’s heal it! You can reduce your budgeting cycle by WEEKS of time. Bragging about how efficient you are next year will be a lot more satisfying than complaining about the tedious budgeting season.

You May Hate Excel. When a company or business needs to organize their data quickly, where do they usually turn? Typically, it is Microsoft Excel. Even WE here at 9DOTS love to use Excel. We understand the comfort and popularity. Almost all of our clients are extremely familiar with it & use it every single day. But these businesses grow, and they acquire more and more data (and more and more spreadsheets). The data becomes seemingly impossible to consolidate, and solving problems or getting answers can take days. Here are 4 reasons you may hate excel:

1. INEFFICIENCY

Inefficiency. 9DOTS has clients that used to take 6 & 7 business days to display KPIs and get answers. With a Business Intelligence tool, you combat this issue and get updates in REAL TIME. One big, consolidated spreadsheet, no more time wasted. If you find yourself focused on connecting, preparing, analyzing and distributing data, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from symptoms of inefficiency. Optimize your process with an automated solution!

2. INSTABILITY

Instability. Because excel has a maximum number of data entries it can hold, it can be hard to see all your data at once. By 2020 annual data production will see an increase of 4,300 percent. You don’t want to worry about Errors in your files or slow processes. When partnered with a BI (business intelligence), clients can be sure their data can all be stored in one convenient spots.

3. SCALABILITY

Scalability. You may need to take Excel reports away from just viewing it on your desktop. You will share reports with others. partners, customers, stakeholders, clients & more. But this process just doesn’t look or feel professional. With a BI solution, there is only one version of the same document being shared. Multiple people to work on the same spreadsheet and give live updates to each other by using one shared dashboard. It looks better AND has actual security.

4. INDIFFERENCE

Indifference. The fact is, users WANT TO use dashboards and reports that are visually appealing. It may seem ridiculous at first thought: to think you would dread opening a report. But there is away to make reports more interesting to look at, easy to read and easy to use. Excel just comes up short in this regard with no way to fix it.

Overall, 9DOTS loves excel! Here are only four reasons you may hate excel. But we also recognize that we can enhance excel, the tool you are familiar with, to create a scalable, visually appealing, easy to use, report. With MORE and more data, and more growth, Excel can’t keep up. We want to help your business grow. Contact us if these problems seem familiar to you. We want to hear about it. 

Contents expanded from a video from our partner, Dundas BI 

Metrics Driven Law Firm. Let’s think about  “Moneyball.” “Moneyball” has forever changed the thought process, not just in Major League Baseball, but now everywhere in Corporate America. Moneyball used analytical, evidence-based, approach to assembling a competitive baseball team despite Oakland’s small budget. Corporate America is, and should be the same. If you want to drive your law firm with metrics based data, here are 6 KPI’s your law firm should be measuring.

With data being so accessible and price competition at the forefront of law firms, the question to be asked right now is are you growing or stagnating? Yes, the almighty measure of this is still Net Profit. But understanding these key metrics can change that net profit dramatically:

The List of Six KPIs:

  1. What is the cost of servicing a client? Knowing your firms overhead and where it is allocated is key to understanding the cost (Salary cost, Direct Cost)
  2. Profitability by Firm, Practice Area, Partner, Client and Billing Staff. If we don’t measure this how will we know where our best growth is or could be?
  3. Client Development/Marketing as a % of Total Revenue. We need to know how we gain clients and we need to understand if we are spending money in the right areas with our marketing $$
  4. Tech spend as a % of Total Revenue. We can use the tools that are out there to get better. We need to understand the gaps and fill them with technology. This will make us more efficient and reduce overhead.
  5. Realization. This speaks directly to process. This is all in your control. How much are you working vs billing? Do you write-down before you bill? Do you write-off after you bill? Are you collecting it all? And what does A/R look like?
  6. Budgeting/Benchmarks. What gets measured gets improved. We need to understand our history and measure against it to grow. We also need to compare ourselves to other firms with intelligence our markets provide us.

These six might be high-level items, but they are critical to growth vs stagnation. In short, use your data. Be the next Moneyball! Data is YOUR intellectual property, your analytical, evidence based property that will improve your business. Your metrics driven law firm should be following these KPIs. And at 9DOTS, we even, help you to tell you what metrics will be the absolute best for your bottom line. As a result, the analytics that can be derived from your data is astounding. “Moneyball” helps you make actionable decisions quicker and gets your firm agile and ahead of the curve. Get more information on data visualization for law firms here.

Finally, contact us here if you are interested in learning more about how we can solve your problems.