Microsoft Dynamics AX in the Advertising & Marketing Services Industries
We’ve been working with several providers of marketing services lately, so we thought we’d dedicate a blog to discussing how our Microsoft Dynamics AX solution fits as a software platform for advertising or marketing agencies.
There have been several case studies produced by Microsoft with Omnicom Group, a large holding company of advertising and marketing agencies, as well as a few of its subsidiaries. Most of these subsidiaries are mid-sized ad agencies, and Omnicom has standardized on Dynamics AX for new rollouts within their agencies. However SAG has recently worked with the following types of marketing services providers to do a deep dive of how Dynamics AX works for their business:
- A public relations and marketing communications agency
- A digital marketing services provider
- A marketing research firm
While each of these marketing agencies has slightly different requirements based on the types of services they provide to their clients, they’re all project-driven organizations, so our ProjAX (now known as Projects+) solution for the Microsoft Dynamics AX Professional Services industry platform is a natural fit for each of them.
Some of the common requirements we’ve seen across these agencies include the following:
- Job setup flexibility – One common theme across these agencies was the need to address a variety of job types and styles. Some jobs are long-term engagements that can last for a year or more, some are quick turn jobs that are completed in less than a week. Some jobs are performed on a fixed fee basis and some on a time and materials basis. Some jobs are provided under a retainer or other billing schedule arrangement, and others are done on a traditional billing model. To address this variability within their jobs, these agencies then need a high degree of flexibility in their job setup tools. Microsoft Dynamics AX offers a lot of flexibility in managing jobs of all different types and styles. Dynamics AX supports all major types of jobs, including T&M, fixed fee, cost plus, NTE and several variations of these. Dynamics AX also supports the use of retainers and custom billing schedules, which can easily be set up to help automate the downstream billing process. Finally, Dynamics AX offers several tools for quickly getting your new jobs set up in the system, including the ability to copy previous similar jobs, using a pre-defined job template, or converting the job from a quotation that was done in the system.
Easy to use timesheet system – Capturing time against jobs is the lifeblood of a marketing agency, so they require an easy to use timesheet system for capturing and approving employee time. In addition, since many of these agencies have a mix of PCs and Macs for their creative teams, the timesheet system needs to support Macs as well. As we all know, the timesheet system is the primary interface for the majority of an agency’s employees, so it needs to be intuitive, fast, and easy to use. Dynamics AX offers two primary timesheet entry tools. The first is a web-based timesheet system delivered through the Enterprise Portal built on Microsoft SharePoint technology. This web-based system allows any employee with a web browser to log in and enter their time through a browser interface. As long as we utilize a supported cross-platform browser like Firefox, then both PCs and Macs can access the timesheet system without issue. The second option is to use a plug-in for Outlook called TImeAX. For heavy Outlook users, TimeAX allows employees to view their job assignments in Outlook and enter their time against jobs while sitting in Outlook. This can be used in offline mode as well, allowing employees to enter time while disconnected from their office and then synchronize their timesheet when they reconnect.
- Strong client billing tools – Another common theme across these agencies is the need for flexible billing processes. This is largely driven by the variability in job types and billing schedules referenced above. The billing system needs to support this variability without having to do a lot of manual work in Word or other external tools. In addition, as a service provider, many of these agencies have the need to use customer-specific invoice formats or to modify services descriptions on the fly for their clients based on specific client requests. Dynamics AX has a powerful billing system that can address all of these requirements. The system can support standard T&M invoices where approved and posted labor transactions and expenses are queued up for you to select which transactions to put on an invoice. It also supports milestone based invoices generated from a pre-defined billing schedule. Billing on retainers is supported as well. Dynamics AX supports an unlimited number of invoice formats, which can be selected at the time of invoicing depending on the client, the type of job it is, or the nature of the services to be billed. Invoices can also be modified on the fly using an invoice editor that allows you to change the format and descriptions on the invoices as you go along.