The professional services industry has traditionally fostered a culture of working long hours and driving staff hard, with projects often being completed at the convenience of the customer and to tight deadlines.

But times are changing. The European Commission's Working Time Directive limits an individual to working 48 hours a week. So far, the Directive has not had a major impact on professional services firms in the UK, but it takes just one employee to support the Directive to upset the whole apple cart.

Insurance companies now have to face up to the biggest test of their existence to date - continuing to deliver above their client's expectations in order to ensure that their service offering remains indispensable, without simply turning a blind eye to EU legislation and over-working staff to the point of irreversible burn-out.

In order to keep employees just as satisfied as their clients, service organisations have to automate core business processes to improve project management, administration and scheduling of resources.

It's not about working longer or harder, it's about working smarter, which means matching the right skills to the right projects and utilising deployment of staff across the company - something which many companies are unable to achieve because they are over-reliant on manual processes.

It is only by having accurate data about people skills, attributes and availability in one snapshot that service organisations are able to take swift action to address inefficiencies in workloads, boosting not only productivity of projects and profit margins, but critically improving staff morale and,therefore, staff retention.

Those firms that pursue this strategy will win that elusive competitive edge currently being fought over by the entire global professional services industry.

Len Palmer
Managing director