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Is intelligent people planning an oxymoron?

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AI planning

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The battle to get the right people working on the right client at the right time. Is anyone winning?

Let’s face it: traditional resource planning is a time suck.  It involves hours poring over spreadsheets, weighing up competing requests for staff, and trying to ensure that each team has all the necessary skills to carry out an engagement that passes the quality test. 

And in today’s environment, the pressure to pass that test has never been greater.

This people planning dance is an operational nightmare. But could it be a strategic differentiator? 

But we’ve always done it this way

Traditional resource allocation has served accounting firms relatively well over the years. Inevitably, this system can lead to some “resources” (read: your talented fee-earning professionals) being under-utilised while others are stretched to breaking point. All with little flexibility, and risks to those all-important margins.

Ironically, this already time-consuming process can lead to even more lost time if the result isn’t an optimal balance.

Alarmingly, this is how accounting firms of all sizes continue to resource their engagements.  

Often, requests will be for particular people, rather than particular skill sets. This can hamper getting the right skills mix in a client team, waste valuable resources, and fail to deliver the right level of service for the client. Not to mention the impact on engagement quality.

And of course, there are other concerns. The business world often doesn’t neatly fit into a fixed planning timeframe. New clients will come on board, while others may leave, creating increased demand for certain resources and reducing requirements for others. What’s more, people don’t fit neatly into a fixed timescale – key personnel will leave, while others will join, rarely at the same time.

What it all boils down to is this: when any one of these things happen, the people planning process needs to be carefully unpicked with minimum disruption, the pack needs to be reshuffled, and dealt out again. Frankly, it’s all a bit of a faff. 

Can AI make the process more intelligent?

How can firms use artificial intelligence to solve these head-scratching resourcing conundrums? 

Well, for starters, AI has the power to “learn” from previous engagement scenarios, and offer solutions to resourcing changes in line with business strategy. That means that rather than manually reworking the plan every time you hit a small or significant road bump, automated software can quickly calculate the best possible response, rather than causing hair to be torn out over clashes. 

An automated system that assigns work based on clear criteria can also provide a boost to transparency in a firm. An open process can create a real meritocracy and greater visibility for everyone, allowing a firm-wide view of appropriate skills, matching demand across offices, and removing that blinkered approach of picking the ‘usual suspects’.

Making use of AI for resource planning is not an all or nothing concept. AI can be used on a “sliding scale”, providing the level of assistance appropriate to the needs of the firm, and, importantly, their clients. So rather than going full speed ahead when faced with this new technology, firms can dip their toes in the water with “AI-assisted scheduling”, before they’re ready for full automation, keeping firms firmly in control. 

No two firms are the same, and objectives and strategies can vary greatly. How high is too high for your utilisation? Do you need slack to react to unexpected demands? Better data from better planning will lead to better outcomes.

Introducing AI to resourcing planning might sound like a big leap. But leading firms see resource planning as a key lever for delivering on strategic objectives.

Implementing AI planning can dramatically accelerate resource agility. When people’s talents are being optimally employed, profitability, client satisfaction, and staff happiness are the strategic results.

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