[IMGCAP(1)]Choosing my new running shoes was easy. Why? Helpful online insight, way beyond catalog details of size and price, guided me to the best decision. It showed the colors available, side-by-side price comparisons and helpful reviews from others— the perfect combination of status, context and impact.

Of course, decisions made across your firm are far more important than my need to stay fit. With firms increasingly concerned about fee pressure, decisions must consistently lead to expected margin. So your firm’s information must go beyond mere “facts” by supporting smart decisions behind business capture, delivery and payment.

But many firms’ data is no better than an old catalog—just facts. You’ve probably moved beyond spreadsheets to business development, project management and financial software. But for mere facts to become decision-making insight, these disconnected information silos can’t generate the kind of insight that decision-makers need.

• Status: Current, accurate knowledge of the present. I needed to know my shoes were in-stock. Your people need to know who’s available, how much work is complete, or what’s been paid or is still outstanding.

• Context: Knowledge relative and relevant to other information. I knew who else purchased the sneakers and how they liked them. Your people also need to know what’s been done, who did it and the results.

• Impact: In other words, the downstream effect. For me, that would be when I’d receive my order. For your firm, your people must foresee how their choices impact capacity, job progress, or key performance indicators like utilization or realization.

Information silos have well-documented shortcomings in generating an accurate status from inconsistent data, establishing relevant context across application boundaries, or prognosticating future impact through disconnected processes. Just like I could spin those running shoes into any view I wanted, your data must present a deep, 360-degree view if it’s going to guide people to the right decisions. And the best way is to put it all together.

When information and processes are completely connected, consider the insight your firm could provide in making three crucial engagement decisions.

1. Capture: Should I take on this business? Decision-makers with status, context, and impact must correctly decide between yes or no if the firm is to make a profit on the extra work. They must know the firm’s experience in the proposed work, find available resources who understand the client’s industry, learn the typical scope of work like this, and recognize the client’s habit of accepting work and paying promptly. The relationships between client and firm, work and past results, or people and capacity can provide the insight that decision-makers need. Imagine the decision-making guidance that such a connected environment places at their fingertips.

2. Delivery: Should I agree to this change? Managers facing pressing decisions like a change-order also need speed and accuracy, along with status, context and impact. If obtaining information such as the original scope, resource availability or credit standing means combing through reports, firing off emails (and awaiting answers) or traversing numerous systems, will this information be leveraged? Not likely. Informed decision-making would be easier if the information were current and trusted, quickly accessible and easily understood.

3. Payment: Should I discount this bill? Unless your policy is “under no circumstances,” even the back office needs status, context and impact when facing crucial billing decisions. Yet that often means time-consuming partner-biller communication that cuts into the partners’ billable capacity (impacting revenue), increases administrative expense (eating into margin), and extends payment cycles (disrupting cash flow)—so you need collaboration too. To bring easy yet meaningful communication to those involved, connect collaborative decision-making into a shared workflow.

Your smart, capable people want to make the best decisions that bring your firm the best results. Why stick them with ill-fitting data? Connect your information into meaningful insight, and outfit your firm for even better results.

Drew West is the director of marketing for Deltek, a provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms and government contractors. With headquarters in Herndon, Va., the company has more than 1,600 employees worldwide.