Extent Heritage manages multiple offices and distributed field teams with Synergy software

In the field
“With all that fieldwork, you have a lot of detail to manage,” says Extent Heritage’s Joanne Craig, “A lot of documentation, across a lot of projects, and different disciplines… our staff just want to be in the field not tied down doing project management admin or timesheets.”

Extent Heritage is a team of heritage advisors that provide a single point of service for all heritage assessment and management requirements across Australia and the Asia Pacific. That means a multidisciplinary staff of more than 80 employees who are all about protecting and nurturing the history in our spaces and places. From structural to sacred sites.

For Extent Heritage, it also means offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, Australia.

We were lucky enough to talk with the eloquent and warm Joanne Craig, the company’s financial manager, about the challenges inherent in overseeing the vast and varied spread of Extent’s work.

Field(work) of (bad) dreams

As is generally the case with heritage consulting practices, there’s a lot of fieldwork involved in environmental heritage assessment and management. The expertise of Extent’s practitioners resides mainly in the areas of archeology and architecture.

“With all that fieldwork, you have a lot of detail to manage,” said Joanne, “A lot of documentation, across a lot of projects, with different disciplines… and with archeologists and heritage advisors they just want to be in the field or writing reports — they don’t want to be tied down with doing project management admin and timesheets.”

Joanne has been with the firm for more than 10 years.

“We started off as a smaller company, then we merged with another heritage company to become Extent Heritage. As we grew to 80-plus employees, it became increasingly difficult to maintain an understanding of so many projects and how they were performing (both in timelines and financial performance).

Initially, the firm used Synergy desktop practice management software, to great effect. “That was our first project management system” said Jo, “Admin really liked it and once we got the team on board with it, all the staff liked it. But they didn’t realize how much they liked it until we switched to another cloud-based management software. There was a lesson learned there!”

If you build it and they don’t come

At the time Extent moved off Synergy desktop software, Synergy cloud was still in its fledgling development days and hadn’t reached its full, rich capability of project management, project accounting and project collaboration functionality that it has today. The Extent directors were keen to take their software off premises, to where their projects happen.

“The directors wanted it in the cloud for people to access anywhere without the problem of accessing the office server. Because we have a lot of work across a large geography, a lot of teams want to work on different projects to get the experience. So, whilst they might be based in Melbourne, they might want to do some work over in Perth, or they might want to do a job that’s going on in Brisbane. The shift to the other cloud software was about managers being able to say who was available and who was busy on what, and where.

“The other system looked like it did all that. You could put people here, there, and everywhere, and you could manage people. But it was so complex that our staff didn’t want to use it — and so they didn’t.

“We were back to square one with no one adopting the system. Pretty soon everyone knew they might as well just pick up a phone and ask so-and-so who’s available. That was that.

“The information you could get out of it was reasonable, but you have to have people put the information in for that to add any value.”

No security, no structure, all nightmare

With the previous cloud management software, the problems didn’t really end at the lack of user-friendliness for Extent Heritage. Even if staff were convinced to attempt using it, the structure and security set up of the system meant their data was rarely entered correctly. The nightmare continued.

“What I like about Synergy is that it’s really strict about what you can and can’t do, and that’s really important. With this previous one, you could put a timesheet to a project anywhere within the project — even through a title! So, when you were generating an invoice, you couldn’t bill it easily. There was no discipline in the set up of it. Anyone could delete information. They could add time to a closed project. It was extremely frustrating.

The importance of industry

Extent’s previous cloud-based management software was not industry specific, and Joanne was clear about how problematic that fact was.

“They didn’t understand our industry at all. To me, it was more like a sales tool, something for a call center. The more you used it, the more you realized they just didn’t understand the operations of a project-centered field like ours.

Extent Heritage needed something that was simple enough for the staff on site to use easily, but also give them a clear indication of where their time was going and where they were blowing out. The project-based nature of a heritage advisory business was not being catered to with the generic solution.

“Synergy cloud is definitely designed to help manage heritage and archaeological projects. Even the juniors can see that and understand it. For project organizations it’s also important that things like timesheets are really easy to do. When you’ve got a lot of heritage advisors or people that don’t want to do timesheets, you’ve got to make it user friendly, let me tell you!

“You can’t project manage without staff submitting their timesheets. You really can’t. And to be able to capture it on a daily basis — it gives you that up-to-the-minute look at what’s going on, which is really beneficial.

“It’s like any project management — we have fieldwork, we have written work, and we have subcontractors, we have equipment, and so on. Some of these projects are small but others are very complex and require tracking and management of large sums of money. So, you really need to keep track of your project-specific costs and expenses and doing that as they progress.”

Multiple offices, many projects, one system

Another bad-dream-inducing reality of Extent’s previous cloud software was that it couldn’t manage multiple offices. In Joanne’s words, “it couldn’t handle it”.  With two companies, multiple offices, and various teams to run, that was a problem.

“Now we can connect to Xero, and we have the ability to report on the different offices, the projects, the disciplines — to really understand the business.

“Where are we doing really well? What areas of archaeology? Is it built heritage? Is it in cultural values assessment? Is it historical? Now we can capture all that, and because it’s so simple to generate, managers feel confident they can run a report and have a look themselves.”

Hitting it out of the park and landing on the Synergy cloud

After less than a year on the generic cloud management solution, Extent Heritage migrated to Synergy cloud at the beginning of 2020. Joanne says that the whole company has breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Because the previous cloud software was so messy, it could sometimes take me four or five days just to sit down and do the billing,” says Jo. “Whereas now, it’s maybe half a day, if that. And we’re talking a lot of invoices.

“We’re just not pulling our hair out anymore — everyone on the staff had such a difficult time with the previous software that they were very keen to change to Synergy.”

You might be asking, “is this heaven” for your projects and your staff? Going by Extent Heritage’s experience, “if you build it [with Synergy], they will come”. Get on the field and pitch for that home run too.

Happy, heritage days!

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