After experiencing several problems with a generic cloud management solution, a heritage consulting company with distributed operations moved to Synergy cloud for their project management requirements.

Extent Heritage specialises in providing heritage assessment and management services across Australia and the Asia Pacific. Starting off as a small company and subsequently merging with another heritage company to become Extent Heritage, the organisation operates offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and has a multidisciplinary team of more than 50 employees. Extent’s practitioners mainly offer expertise in the areas of archaeology and architecture.

Heritage consulting practices typically have to deal with considerable fieldwork involving environmental heritage assessment and management.

Sharing her observations on the challenges inherent in overseeing the vast and varied spread of Extent’s work, Joanne Craig, the company’s financial manager commented that the substantial fieldwork meant there were a lot of details to manage, requiring documentation across a lot of projects, with different disciplines. While their archaeologists and heritage advisors wanted to be in the field or write reports, they didn’t want to be tied down with doing project management admin and timesheets, she explained.

Joanne, who has been with the firm for more than 10 years, said that it became increasingly difficult – with a growing team – to maintain an understanding of so many projects and how they were performing (both in timelines and financial performance). 

Before moving to a generic cloud management solution, Extent was using Synergy desktop practice management software to great effect.

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

When Extent moved off Synergy desktop software to the new cloud software, Synergy cloud was still in development and hadn’t reached its full, rich capability of project management, project accounting and project collaboration functionalities that it has today.

However, the Extent directors were keen to take their software off premises, to where their projects happen so that their employees could access it anywhere from the field without the problem of accessing the office server. Since the firm’s work happened across a large geography, many of the employees wanted to work on different projects at different locations to gain experience. For instance, a Melbourne-based employee might want to do some work over in Perth or 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,” Joanne explained.

“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.”

It wasn’t just the lack of user-friendliness in the previous cloud management software that caused a problem for Extent Heritage. The structure and security set-up of the system was too complex, resulting in incorrect entry of data.

“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.

“What I like about Synergy is that it’s really strict about what you can and can’t do, and that’s really important.”

The previous cloud-based management software was not industry-specific, which became problematic for Extent. This software didn’t address the project-based nature of a heritage advisory business.

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

Extent’s expectations of a cloud-based solution was one 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.

“Synergy cloud is definitely designed to help manage heritage and archaeological projects. Even the juniors can see that and understand it. For project organisations 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

The previous cloud software couldn’t manage multiple offices, and that was a problem for Extent, given that it has two companies, multiple offices, and various teams.

“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.” 

With Extent on board with Synergy cloud, they are able to track every area of operation and their performance across multiple projects and specialisations. All the information can be captured and managers can confidently run a report and have a look themselves.

After less than a year on the generic cloud management solution, Extent Heritage migrated to Synergy cloud at the beginning of 2020.

“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. 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.”