There's More to Professional Services
than What Meets the Name

(Originally published as a Customer Service column in the
June 1999 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

The services industry is changing more rapidly than ever. What constituted "basic" service only a short number of years ago could barely be "given" away today. What the market had accepted as "value-added" services at the beginning of the decade is more likely to be perceived as merely "basic" support today - and what differentiated one services provider from another just a few years ago, is now simply a commodity.

Historically, when a services provider came up with a new idea for a services offering, a new way to package an existing offering, or a new way to deliver the service to customers, it would take the rest of its competitors months, if not years, to introduce their own, "branded" version of the new or repackaged offering. However, in today's highly competitive and fast changing market, a lead time of only weeks or months is about all the market leader can count on before the market followers are able to play "catch up" - or even worse, "leapfrog".

The new services "window of opportunity" remains open less and less all the time, and the passageway through it opens only ever so slightly. Only those services organizations that are able to identify the most attractive opportunities as they occur, are prepared to move as quickly as the market requires, and are running "lean and mean" enough to push through that window before it closes, will find themselves positioned well enough to remain at the vanguard of the services revolution as it moves into the next millennium.

This has certainly been the case with respect to the evolution of professional services, which have proliferated in the services industry over the past several years. However, by looking more closely at how a services provider classifies and defines its portfolio of services, customers can probably tell a great deal about just how "professional" the vendor's services really are.

For example, many OEMs and traditional third party maintainers typically define their "basic" services as nothing more than equipment break/fix maintenance and repair; software support; telephone technical support; preventive maintenance; "moves, adds and changes"; and, possibly, online Web site support. While they may give each of these services special "branded" names such as "Business-Critical On-Site Repair", "Professional Software Support" or "Enterprisewide Telephone Hotline", these "branded" offerings tend to be nothing more than glorified names for the traditional break/fix on-site repair or telephone hotline services that they have been offering for years. Perhaps they have added a few "bells and whistles" to their historical offerings but, in many cases, they are just re-packaged versions of last year's services.

In attempting to find a services provider today that offers its customers a "true" array of "professional services", it is often necessary to look beneath the pages of the glossy marketing collateral or the flashy Web site, and determine what exactly differentiates one services provider from another. The true test of whether the vendor's "professional services" will meet the total needs of the customer are typically revealed in the way in which it "focuses" its services offerings.

If the vendor's services offerings appear to be merely a "collection" of services, no matter how large, representing nothing more than a "menu" of services from which the customer may choose, it may not be offering a full measure of professional services. Professional services must "transcend" these offering-centric services by tying together the appropriate services into a fully integrated package. For example, vendors that offer true professional services typically include such offerings as design and engineering, consulting, and start-up services in additional to their basic hardware/software/support offerings. Other pre-services offerings may include IT assessment, detailed project planning, and procurement and deployment services.

Post-services offerings may include asset management, security management, data storage and warehousing, business continuity services and an array of Internet/intranet, e-commerce and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integration services. In otherwords, while some services vendors may provide their customers with all of the hardware break/fix, software support and telephone/Web-based help desk support they require, those that offer true professional services also provide a full complement of pre-services offerings to assist their customers in getting started, as well as post-services offerings to facilitate their ability to maximize the use of their systems, equipment, software, and human resources in carrying out their business-critical applications.

While break/fix services essentially support systems and equipment, and telephone/Web-based services support software products and the people who use them; professional services support the entire enterprise - from before the systems, equipment and software are even installed; to beyond their basic uses; into full enterprisewide business applications. Just as customer service has been transformed from merely handling customer complaints to servicing the customer, professional services have transformed the most complete vendors from those that have historically only fixed the equipment to those that can now support the entire enterprise.

However, more changes are also likely to be in store as we pass yet another chronological services milestone. Well before the residual effects of Year 2K are forgotten, there is a better than even chance that professional services, the way they are defined today, will change again - perhaps dramatically. There are many who believe that it will just be a matter of time before the mega-large systems integrators move further into the sales automation, ERP integration and Customer Interaction Software (CIS) and related applications areas to complement their already impressive portfolio of systems integration offerings.

Some large OEMs and a few large TPMs may also find their way into this increasingly consolidated market as well. In this type of environment, the entire definition of professional services may broaden as a result of the massive core competencies (either home-grown or acquired) that will be exhibited by these seemingly "all-powerful" services entities of the next generation. The proliferation of Web-based and other electronic technologies will also likely lead to the further transformation of the professional services arena.

What might have worked in the past for a fairly complacent services provider that simply wanted to position itself more as a professional services vendor along with the market leaders, will not work for much longer. Even more prophetic is the realization that it may not be the most aggressive professional services providers of today that will be the market leaders of tomorrow - or the new millennium. The definition of "professional services" will continue to change over time, but one thing will never change - "professional services" will always suggest a focus on supporting the total enterprise, including all of its pre- and post-services requirements.


William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.


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