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Audit and Improvement Programme for Ascential Software Ltd


Ascential’s high growth due to excellent market standing, top quality software and service products, together with subsequent significant sales successes to major companies in Northern Europe, led to a focus issue, mainly around profit margins and staff utilization.


  1. To investigate the Managing Director’s concerns that the Professional Services Organisation was not being managed in a sustainable manner.
  2. To identify specific problems.
  3. To recommend areas for improvement and clarify priorities for action.
  4. To plan and initiate a number of quick win projects and key strategic changes to put the Professional Services Organisation back in line with the corporate business model.

“I have serious concerns that with such high revenues, billing rates and utilization levels, we are not making the margins we should. I suspect that I am not being given the full picture of the problems and issues we are facing. We have a highly skilled and very loyal team of Consultants that are supported by our partner network but I feel we may not have the right people doing the right type of work and this can ultimately lead to morale issues and then to reduced customer satisfaction.  That is not acceptable.”

Dave Woodcock – Managing Director


How are we doing?

An initial 5 day assessment (using XMA’s proven X-Audittm methodology) to interview senior business management and a selection of field consultants identified successful and failing areas of the operation, highlighted levels of risk to the business, and hence urgency and priorities for attention.

The delivered reports gave the Managing Director an instant synopsis of the overall situation as well as specific views from his team.  They showed a number of key issues, which had not been apparent before, and pointed to specific immediate actions as well as indicating more fundamental trends and gaps.

Having proven the urgent need for improvement a wider investigation was commissioned to gather a more detailed set of areas for action.

“The investigation has quickly uncovered areas of the business for improvement and the process XMA employed was well received by everyone involved.”

Dave Woodcock


“I really enjoyed the exercise.  It gave me a different perspective of the professional services business and the challenges involved.”

Sales Director


What do we need to fix?

Improvement activities were then developed and recommended to the client in areas such as:

  • Clear vision for the Professional Services Organisation
  • Project management techniques
  • People development & team morale
  • Services best practice & standards
  • Department operations management & control
  • Senior Management team ways of working
  • Financial Control
  • Customer management
  • Services Portfolio
  • Pre-sales activity & support

How do we start?

Change of this type has an impact across the business, and so the Managing Director and his senior team were initially guided through the creation of a vision statement for the Professional Services team.  Other improvements and ways of working were then shaped and staff coached to deliver them.  For example:

  • Current & pipeline customer project plans for business & resource planning
  • Service portfolio change plan to raise service levels & daily charge rates
  • Consultant skills matrices for better resource management & morale
  • Resumes for individual staff for internal use and pre-sales situations
  • Regular structured reporting & escalation for customer management & internal control
  • Integration of best practice & standards for improved efficiency & customer image
  • Interdepartmental reviews for better planning & cross functional support
  • Regular communications sessions for team building, knowledge sharing & morale

What next?

Having established a practical set of activities with ownership split amongst various management & operations staff, the Managing Director now has visibility of day to day operations in the Professional Services Organisation and uses the improvement project plans to ensure progressive change.

The newly recruited Professional Services Director inherited a department that was already in a mode of improvement and was able to quickly understand his team and tailor existing activities with his own style.

Other internal departments such as Pre-sales and International support and third party suppliers also implemented a number of the new methods, such as standardised skills matrices and resumes.

Every quarter the improvement programme is independently audited by XMA using the same technique as the initial audit.  This allows change to be measured over time, and underperforming change activity can then be identified and corrective actions put in place.

“We already have better control of our business, a greater understanding of the issues with customer projects and higher morale.  I have a concise action plan which I am confident will show significant benefits over the short and medium terms.

Just what I wanted, thank you.”  Dave Woodcock – Managing Director

 Alan Edwards says
“All Senior Management can benefit from a project similar to this one, especially during difficult trading times. It is essential to get the business and it’s people focused and working as efficiently as possible.”

Each stage of this assignment stood on its own merits, for example, even after an initial relatively inexpensive delve into the uncomfortable position held by senior management our client was able to take improvement actions straight away.

The subsequent project based activity, including start-up, coordination of analysis and re-design, and IT systems review, coupled with mentoring for senior management, gave Ascential the confidence to take control of their change programme with targeted projects and benefits across the business.

Client’s must always take ownership of change in order to ensure success, and the key to this is our relationship with, and the keen involvement of the senior management team. The XMA team are experts in listening, guiding, challenging, driving and are focused on delivery of benefits.

XMA have a well developed ‘toolkit’ of methodologies that have been tried and tested over many years. They enable our consultants to make thorough investigations and the resulting documentation provides a solid basis from which business improvements can be managed.