How moving to the cloud kept Contour Consulting Engineers focused on their foundationsMarch 12th, 2020
Contour’s crystal vision
Personalized attention and quality of service and deliverables. These are the pillars that Contour Consulting Engineers focus their professional energies on. Given the ‘still-on-the-tools’ status of all their directors and senior staff, there’s an impressive amount of professional energy to be focused. And not a lot of time for spreadsheets and book balancing.
When Crystal Cook started with Contour in 2018, the consulting practice had already been around for 13 years — the tradition of service-oriented client focus was well established. Dedication to the customer and the quality of engineering had left a deficit of time to devote to business management, and project financial management took a backseat to service delivery.
Crystal says, “There was an area of the finance side of things missing, and I guess the majority of our people lacked the understanding of the importance of that within the business — particularly our staff”.
The challenge of times passed
Contour have been using Synergy’s original desktop software for about 15 years (and of course, we adore them for their good taste). However, as Crystal says, “in saying that, really they’d been using it only for time-sheeting and invoicing.”
Crystal Cook was brought into the business, like a fabulous caped crusader, to create change within the business’s finance and project coordination/management processes for projects — and Contour’s use of Synergy was central to that change journey.
“When I first came on,” Crystal says, “I went ‘okay, I want to go through and do some data mining’ … but the data was all skewed, it just wasn’t correct.
“Our Synergy systems were very basic at that point — we were only invoicing once a month when I came on board. It would take the better part of a whole week to do that every month.”
Crystal found the only reason they were invoicing at monthly intervals, was time. Honestly, who has a week a month to spend solely on invoicing? None of the engineers we know!
“The directors didn’t have the time. The finance manager didn’t have the time. But what we were finding was, by the time you had four weeks roll on, the WIP (work in progress) on those projects had significantly increased,” Crystal says. “And realistically, the way we work is to use invoicing as a time to also analyze how the project is running financially — doing that once a month just wasn’t enough.”
Contour needed someone to come in and not only shift their accounting system from MYOB to Xero, but also to help them migrate to Synergy cloud. “We needed to champion what Synergy could do,” Crystal says. “They were aware of the features and the functions, but no one had said, ‘okay, then let’s implement this across the board’”. Crystal and her wing woman, Natalie, were the ladies for the job.
“We’ve now changed to fortnightly invoicing, and I firmly believe the cloud version of Synergy has given us the ability to decrease the time taken to invoice so much that we can invoice twice as often.”
On-premises to cloud — migration’s many benefits
“In the older version of Synergy, our system was very simply time-sheeting for the engineers, running the WIP reports and doing the invoicing,” Crystal says.
“Then, we’d re-enter those invoices into MYOB, which was extremely time consuming. The invoice would then be recreated from there in a Word document as well. We weren’t pushing it out of Synergy — so nothing was set up, no templates, nothing.”
Now, with Synergy cloud, Contour’s project coordinators raise invoices from wherever they are, and their project managers review and approve them. Goodbye double and triple entry. Hello happiness (and time-saving).
“Now it happens every second Wednesday,” says Crystal, “We went from analyzing our projects once a month to analyzing our projects twice a month.
“The Synergy ‘budget versus actual’ report has been a game-changer for us. It’s meant we utilize the tasks in Synergy. We have our stages and then within those stages, any resources that are on there have budgets attached to those stages. And anyone working on a project can see them. From wherever they’re working.
“On a weekly basis, those tasks are sent out to the resources on a Friday with their budget versus actual — so that they’re analyzing all of their tasks, budget against actual, and then they need to report back to the project coordinators who then report back to the project managers. Then, on a Monday, we send out stage budget versus actuals to the project managers so they can see how those stages are running.”
That stage-level review now happens on a weekly basis at Contour. Up-to-date visibility on project performance — dreamy!
“Now we’ve narrowed it down to every single week, our engineers are looking at how they’re tracking on their budget against their actual spending all the time.”
How Synergy changed their working lives
Crystal says the visibility on the performance of task, stage, and project levels of work is probably the area of most impressive improvement for the consulting engineers.
“It’s being able to say, ‘Okay, this is what we budgeted for you, you need to stick to it. And if it’s not done, then where do we go from there’ — it’s about really being able to harness what we wanted out of our KPIs for our staff,” she says.
“Now that we’re running the reports and we can see how clean the data is, it works beautifully.
“There’s transparency and we can actually see exactly what’s going on. And that goes for both the higher-level managers, and also the staff. I’m a big believer in having transparency and having buy-in from everyone so that we’re all working towards the one goal.”