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Keys to Revenue Accounting and Compliance for Professional Services Companies

Thu, May 23, 2024 @ 01:28 PM / by David Fellers

Previous episodes in this Insights Series have explored the challenges created by new Digital Solutions Economy paradigms for billing, fulfillment, invoicing, revenue accounting, and compliance across a wide range of industries. In this new Insights post, we take a look at the management, revenue accounting, and compliance issues for Professional Services companies.

ProfessionalServices

Overview

Professional services companies are characterized by their reliance on highly skilled professionals, intellectual capital, and a strong focus on client services and project-based work. Examples include management consulting, accounting & auditing, legal services, IT and technology consulting, software integrators, engineering & architecture, marketing & advertising, financial advisory & investment firms, real estate & property management, and R&D consultancies.

Running a professional services business involves several critical financial management and accounting considerations to ensure profitability, sustainability, and growth. Some of the key factors include:

  • Consultant Utilization Rates - Utilization rate is the percentage of time consultants spend on billable work versus the total available working hours. High utilization rates are crucial for maximizing revenue. However, overworking consultants can lead to burnout, so a balance must be maintained. Companies need to monitor and manage utilization rates through scheduling, forecasting demand, and aligning resources accordingly.
  • Billing Methods - different billing approaches include:
    • Hourly Billing: Charging clients based on the number of hours worked. This method provides flexibility but can lead to revenue fluctuations.
    • Fixed-Fee Projects: Charging a set fee for a project regardless of the time spent. This provides revenue predictability but requires accurate scoping to avoid underestimating costs.
    • Retainer Fees: Clients pay a regular fee for ongoing services, offering stable revenue streams.
    • Value-Based Pricing: Charging based on the value delivered to the client according to milestones rather than time spent, potentially increasing profitability.
  • Cash Flow Management - Timely and accurate invoicing is critical, with integrated systems to ensure invoices are sent out promptly and follow up on overdue payments. Also, expense management systems are key to control operational cash flow and maintaining cash reserves is important to mitigate risks with fluctuating revenues.
  • Profitability - Detailed tracking of all direct and indirect costs along with regular reviews of pricing strategies and margins to ensure they reflect value provided and market conditions. Also, diversification of services offered can help mitigate risk and strengthen revenue streams.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Reporting - Ensure adherence to relevant financial regulations and standards, including revenue recognition, disclosure reporting, tax laws and industry-specific requirements.

For professional services firms that resell products, such as software licenses, as part of their value-added offerings, additional financial management and accounting considerations come into play. 

  • Entitlement Management - Tracking and managing software licenses to ensure they are accounted for accurately. Also, monitoring renewals and upgrades is key to forecast future sales.
  • Pricing Strategies - Considering alternatives such as Cost-Plus Pricing where a mark-up is added to the software, versus Value-Based Pricing where price and margins are based on the value it provides to the client.
  • Pass-Through Cash Flow - Balancing payment terms to the vendor to align with client payment schedules  and accurately accounting for deferred revenues if clients pay upfront for subscriptions delivered over a period of time.
  • Revenue Recognition Issues - Determining appropriate methods for recognizing software subscriptions versus one-time purchases as perpetual licenses. Accurately allocating revenue for multi-element bundles with consulting services.

The widespread movement toward everything-as-a-service (XaaS) is also becoming a key consideration for professional services firms as they look to enhance recurring revenues with greater predictability while also deepening their ongoing client engagement relationships.

Choosing Software Solutions for Professional Services Management

In working with a range of mid to large size companies, the Bramasol team has seen good success at leveraging SAP solutions such as Billing & Revenue Innovation Management (BRIM) in conjunction with SAP Revenue Accounting and Reporting (RAR) to help companies gain improved visibility and management over their end-to-end operational processes, customer empowerment, and compliance mandates. By using SAP BRIM, professional services companies can automate and streamline their billing and revenue processes, reducing manual effort and improving accuracy, while also providing insights into client behavior patterns and revenue trends.

The combination of BRIM and RAR can seamlessly integrate front-end, back-end and RevRec compliance processes for professional services requirements such as:

  • Streamlining Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) processes
  • Enabling flexible billing and invoicing, including recurring subscription billing
  • Meshing expenses and revenues within a unified system
  • Providing insights into utilization rates, client behaviors, and profitability
  • Accounting for bundled services and products
  • Recognizing deferred revenue and unearned revenue
  • Complying with reporting and disclosure requirements

From a rapid implementation standpoint, the agnostic flexibility of both BRIM and RAR enable professional services companies to quickly integrate with legacy customer-facing processes while providing comprehensive quote-to-cash-to-compliance back-end systems. The Bramasol team has developed a range of modeling methodologies for helping companies navigate the extensive set of capabilities in the BRIM portfolio in order to rapidly tailor and test working models of the specific modules needed to support their needs.

Looking forward, the path to SAP S/4HANA provides a solid roadmap for seamless meshing of all these specific line-of-business capabilities within a high-performance, in-memory architecture that assures both scalability and future-proof extensibility.  Also, the ability to leverage comprehensive agnostic analytics tools such as SAP Analytics Cloud will be key to enabling agile decision-making that takes into account timely data from all parts of the enterprise.

In addition, SAP's emphasis on cloud deployments (both Public and Private Cloud), along with implementation accelerators such as RISE and GROW with SAP make it easy to migrate BRIM and RevRec based processes into cost-effective, highly scalable cloud environments.  

Summary

By embracing advanced Digital Solutions Economy capabilities, professional services companies can not only enhance their competitive standing by gaining more flexibility and scalability; they also can improve their revenue predictability, and increase loyalty from clients.  The bottom line is not only better management of internal finance, accounting and compliance processes; but also improved agility to track with market needs and deepen client relationships.

Topics: S/4 HANA Cloud, CEO perspective, DSE, RISE with SAP, DSE-industry

David Fellers

David Fellers

Dave is CEO of Bramasol. After joining the company in 2007 as VP of Professional Services, he became CEO in 2011 and has led the company through record-setting growth and revenues highlighted by a successful re-focusing on serving the Office of the CFO. By building a deep and broad consulting practice that leverages our Comply, Optimize, Transformâ„¢ disciplines and a track record of co-innovation with SAP, Dave has positioned Bramasol as the go-to partner for clients that are looking to move into the Digital Solutions Economy and/or to leverage the Digital Transformation of finance using SAP S/4HANA.

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