Stalis explain how business growth needs more advanced management tools

Stalis Ltd is a Healthcare information domain specialist with more than 25 years’ experience in delivering information management solutions to the NHS. It specialises in data extraction, quality assurance, integration, transformation and reporting in all aspects of healthcare and has earned a reputation for delivering on-time, value for money solutions. In a unique approach, Stalis works in close partnership with its customers to implement a solution that is designed to meet and exceed their aspirations and vision.

The majority of projects it undertakes are data migration from legacy systems into an organisation’s new system; it also provides business intelligence solutions and consultancy services. Stalis’ customes are primarily Acute Trusts and, more recently, community-based services such as Mental Health.

Delivering projects on time, within budget and to a high standard is crucial to its business success. Stalis uses project and resource management software from Asta Development to manage its staff working across multiple projects, programmes and project portfolios and the efficient allocation of resources, particularly staff, which is essential to this business.

Business growth requires more advanced management tools

In 2006, as part of an ongoing quality review of operations, Stalis recognised that it needed a more robust and consistent method of monitoring and managing projects and resources and controlling costs, especially as it was on the cusp of substantial business expansion. Its existing methodology of using standard spreadsheets was no longer going to be able to support the growing needs of the company while maintaining and improving profitability.

As well as a rapid rise in the number of projects it was undertaking, Stalis would also be expanding the types of project it was taking on, moving from fewer developments of bespoke solutions to more product-oriented implementations. This would mean implementing some third-party solutions requiring Stalis to manage external resources while expanding the number of its own staff with a corresponding expansion in skill profiles.

Ali McGuckin, Client Services Director with Stalis Ltd, is responsible for operations, including project delivery to time and to budget, and ultimately is responsible for the implementation of Asta software.

“We had been using inhouse spreadsheets, mainly for expenses, there was no management of projects so it was hard to tell how much time people were really spending on project tasks. We were taking on more projects and, with the acquisition of investors and a new financial system, it became clear we needed to manage projects better, report in a more structured and diligent manner and provide more accurate and up-to-date time analysis. This was particularly key for monthly board reporting and internal operations management. We drew up a business case and presented it to the Board, the ultimate decision makers.”
Ali McGuckin, Client Services Director, Stalis Ltd

Asta Development chosen over the competition

Ali and the team wrote a specification of their needs, and then looked at five companies’ products. “We dismissed two companies straightaway as they did not match up to our scoring system. We had further demonstrations from the remaining companies and chose Asta’s software. Not only did it fulfill our needs but we liked the people and their approach, we felt that they were more on our wavelength and understood our needs.”

“This all happened at the outset of the biggest project we had ever taken on, so it was crucial we got it right. Asta Development made some changes to the software for us to match our needs exactly. We were on a budget, so couldn’t invest in the amount of training we would have liked, but because the software is highly configurable, we were able to configure it as we went along — it grew with us as our experience grew. We reconfigured it again after 18 months to fit our needs even better – after all, busnessses change and the way we develop software has changed.”

In fact, Stalis’ business has continued to change and grow, so much so that reporting has become even more important to the organisation than ever before. Stalis is now evaluating a new product from Asta Development, the new Dashboard Reporting Tool. This is a powerful and fast solution for generating accurate management reports on any combination of project data. With access provided via the web, everyone involved can easily view consolidated information.

Asta software is employed throughout a project’s lifecycle

Stalis employs Asta Development’s planning and resource management software right from the outset of a project’s life. It is used from tender stage, to give the initial outline plan, to the proposal stage for the Trusts, providing a timeline and key activities, through to contract win and allocation of resources and then on an ongoing basis.

“ We have to be quite nimble on resource allocation,” explains Ali. “With a small team it’s important to use resources wisely, people have to be spread around. Fortunately Asta’s software makes this a painless task, we can look at work in progress, and by way of a simple bar chart we can see exactly which individual resources are over- or under-used and it helps us realign resource where it is most needed.”

At any time, the team is working on two to three projects, although this may not sound many, they are large, complex projects and often long-term. Asta software not only helps with the allocation and management of resource and time, but gives a clear indication of forecast requirements.

“Everyone updates their time sheets and these are appplied to the projects on a weekly basis,” explains Ali. “Everyone uses the software, even our contractors. Once we’ve analysed the need and the resouces available we can see what is left against what needs to be done. The software also helps us to predict based on sales forecasts for the year. If we predict we will achieve a certain amount of sales in a year, the software lets us look at the resource required to service those projects and tells us what the head count will be if those sales are to be met. So it helps us know what we can realistically achieve.”

Asta Development software is relied upon to produce accurate and timely reporting

Asta’s software is also used to generate monthly reports to the Board on all the month’s activities. These “resource effort reports” cover project work, product development and non-project work. The reports give consistent, accurate, up-to-date and reliable management reporting information and they are also able to specify how money is spent, track revenue, differentiate between time spent on chargeable as opposed to non-chargeable work, show more accurate forward planning including what if scenarios and show project performance (sales estimate versus actual).

Said Ali, “We used to use spreadsheets as our reporting tool, but it was time-consuming and completely inaccurate. The software lets us report project activity by customer and by activity type, it lets us report on financial costing in terms of planned versus actual and ultimately gives us stricter cost control leading to cost reduction and improved profitability of individual projects. And we know that all of this will be up to date and accurate.”

Asta Development’s value goes deeper than project management

“Having visibility of all projects and resources and making sure we are on budget against what we estimated is, of course, of paramount importance to us,” said Ali. “But when it comes to having to explain why something took longer or cost more, we know that the software contains the answer. We consult it to find out where something slipped or overran. We can pinpoint the certain areas where the problem occurred, for example, we might find out that someone new who was not up to speed was working on the project – so it helps us keep track and provides an audit trail.”

Asta’s software provides other, less expected benefits too, outside of project management. Because time recording is integrated with expenses and linked to a project, the finance department knows which project-related expenses to cost back to the customer. It helps with invoicing because they know what to invoice to which customer.

“For us,” said Ali, “the software links costs, people and projects together, everyone knows exactly what they are being charged for, it’s clear to the Trust and it’s clear to us. But more fundamentally, Asta’s software has changed the way we record our time, and this is what project work heavily relies on.”

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