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Accelerating the digital transformation of professional services post-Covid: what next?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

The Covid-19 lockdown has been a tough test of professional services firms’ agility. As gaps in capability - especially provision for remote working and dynamic collaboration - have surfaced, so the urgency around digital transformation has intensified. Professional services organizations have become bolder in their ambitions, too - and are now looking purposefully at ripping out bespoke content management systems in favor of a simplified, consolidated, cloud-based platform strategy.

The ‘new normal’ for professional services

There are other strong reasons to invest in change. Almost all professional services organizations have accepted that ways of working, and indeed entire operating models, will never be the same again. KPMG talks about the growing importance of the ‘flexible contingent workforce’ in future advisory engagements, for instance, envisaging a future in which at least 20 percent of talent - including specialist expertise - is sourced on demand.

Professionals themselves have new expectations, too. Many are now looking for greater flexibility to work from home regularly, or even the freedom to work remotely and relocate away from cities. So the ability to engage with employers in new ways will be an important gateway to talent in future.

But what does all of this mean in practice? Here, Alan McMillen, CEO at Repstor offers an 8-step action plan for consolidating content management to support more diverse and dynamic working models – without costing the earth, or disrupting professionals’ momentum.

1: Assess how current content access and collaboration limitations are holding your people back.

Many organizations in this position are likely to have relied on email to pass documents back and forth outside of the workplace, encouraging duplication of content, introducing security and governance risks, and reducing efficiency.

Review current pain points and trace them back to their source. Firms that continue to rely on their own physical servers and on-premise data centers to store and manage everything, for instance, are likely to have experienced the biggest issues gaining access to the latest files and client information during lockdown.

2: Remember one of the biggest takeaways of Covid: that even big firms can effect change quickly when they need to.

We saw this first-hand during the lockdown. Large professional services firms - which ordinarily might take nine months to conduct risk assessments, vet vendors and consider options from every angle before choosing and implementing a solution– were suddenly strikingly agile. When necessity called for it, they were able to make and enact decisions within days – even with due diligence.

Many had started down the road to deploying Microsoft 365 and were planning or had started Microsoft Teams pilots on a small scale, but the need to get something in place to meet demand turned these pilots into full roll outs, with tens of thousands and in some cases  more than 100,000 users deployed in weeks.

3. Whatever the plan, make it in the cloud.

In 2020, it makes no sense to persist with proprietary storage area networks (SANs), physical servers and on-premise backup scenarios, when the latest and best IT capabilities are all readily available in the cloud - and managed around the clock by dedicated experts.

Anyone that remembers the fallout of the WannaCry ‘ransomware’ attack on the NHS in 2018 will appreciate the potential repercussions of failing to keep protection up to date. Microsoft has bet its future on the cloud, and is launching all of its advanced capabilities there, all supported by the latest security, which speaks volumes about the future of IT.

4. Allow for data migration.

Any platform migration needs planning, so many firms favor a hybrid approach – where they embrace a new platform for new activities, but continue to leverage existing systems for a time.

However, many firms are turning to a ‘big bang’ approach to platform consolidation and replacing legacy technology that has held them back during lockdown. This is now seen as a ‘must do’, to ensure they can operate efficiently – rather than sinking investment into trying to make multiple on-premise systems available and able to work together for remote workers. For many, the platform that makes most sense is Microsoft 365 including Teams. For many professional services firms, Teams is already part of the landscape and they saw it demonstrate impressive resilience as well as consistent performance despite exceptionally high demand during the peak of the Covid-19 lockdown.

It’s not just about the data. End users must be able to access and work with their content productively. Ensuring the content is effectively consolidated, organized and associated with projects and available to the right users is all key in actually delivering on productivity and quality that will provide additional ROI.

5. Give thought to change management.

Although a hybrid/gradual approach to migration allows professionals to adapt to the change, harnessing a familiar platform like Microsoft 365 minimizes the need for formal change management and new staff training. Because everything is channeled seamlessly through already-familiar interfaces like Outlook and Teams, knowledge workers don’t have to change the way they behave to have more intuitive access to the content and connections they need.

6. Let go of the past.

Professional services firms have found that it is possible to halve the costs of specialist content management systems by consolidating project activity and related documents and correspondence on a mainstream platform already used extensively from department to department, sector to sector, around the world. So the case for leaving costly legacy investments in the past is strong.

7. Prioritize the mobile experience.

For too long, professionals using specialist document management applications have lacked a decent mobile experience, hampering their ability to work flexibly from anywhere.

Post-lockdown, secure remote and mobile access to core business applications and content has become a core expectation. Look for a solution that supports offline access to content, too, so professionals aren’t interrupted in their work if they lose their internet connection. That way, whether they’re working from home, early for a client meeting or following up on the train afterwards, they can continue to check, read and annotate documents via their mobiles.

8. Look ahead.

Digital transformation isn’t just about what firms want to achieve now. It’s also important to consider future potential, especially as technology is advancing all the time. Beyond the cost and resilience benefits of consolidating document management and client engagement management in the cloud, firms might also look to automate more processes.

The Power Automate functionality in Microsoft 365, for example, is extremely powerful for streamlining and automating workflow. Firms can start by tying applications together so that data can flow more fluidly between them without manual intervention.

As firms square up to the new normal, which might include reduced teams, operational analytics are likely to rise in importance as managers try to pinpoint bottlenecks or opportunities to boost margins. Microsoft PowerBI, linked to the right data sources, can unlock powerful operational insights that can help professional services firms better focus resources and manage costs.

Finally, advanced intelligence as embodied in Microsoft Cortex offers potential for automated knowledge management and instant information discovery across entire global organizations. For an advisory firm, this could help teams locate examples of relevant previous project delivery, and leverage successful work in future engagements – accelerating outcomes and improving the client experience.

So, there’s a lot to look forward to, however uncertain the future might seem.

Alan McMillen, CEO, Repstor