The 2017 Digital Toolbox For Small And Midsize Professional Services Firms

Catherine Lynch

Part 4 of the “Digitally Transforming Industries” series

Looking ahead into 2017, The International Monetary Fund announced an economic forecast characterized by “a subdued outlook subject to sizable uncertainty and downside risks.” Whether such speculation will bear out next year, only time will tell. But no matter what happens, one thing is true: Worldwide revenue growth of the professional services industry typically follows the fluctuations of the global economy.

Although small and midsize businesses in this industry may not experience the same issues as their multinational rivals face, they are still affected indirectly as their clients try to survive amid economic uncertainty. Engagement delays, conservative investments in contracted third parties, and longer delays in days receivables outstanding can prove disastrous to a firm’s bottom line.

Digital technology is softening these economic dynamics for many professional services firms by automating business processes, uncovering opportunity trends, and balancing talent availability. According to a recently released IDC industry brief, sponsored by SAP, titled, “Professional Services: Small and Midsize Firms Are Turning to Technology to Advance their Business Goals,” 45.5% of professional services companies with fewer than 1,000 employees are investing in technology to grow revenue while over one-third are leveraging it to improve efficiency and manage costs.

small and midsize professional services firms look to technology to make a difference

3 digital reasons why professional services firms can succeed amid economic uncertainty

Business leaders instinctively cut costs whenever there’s a hint of lackluster growth in the global economy – and one budget line item that is commonly slashed is IT. However, continuing to invest in technology initiatives can help small and midsize professional services firms succeed no matter the economic mood.

Here are three affordable and accessible digital technologies that small and midsize professional services businesses should consider as they prepare for anything 2017 will bring:

1. Mobile time and expense management

By innovating a process with the ease of mobile apps and automated reporting, consultants no longer have an excuse to wait until the weekend to log their time and submit expense reimbursement requests. They can capture all of this information immediately on their iPad with a couple of taps and a camera function. Just as quickly, the entry is verified, authorized, and approved by the employee’s manager. And the faster time and expenses are validated, the faster the client can be billed with a thorough invoice.

This streamlined process also gives business leaders insight and control over time and expense compliance and costs. For example, complete visibility into travel spend can help the organization make smart policy decisions and better manage costs.

2. Analytics dashboards and visualizations

Small and midsize professional services firms lose profit for every minute an expert or consultant is not working on a client engagement. Unfortunately, this also means that employees don’t have the time to focus on the strategic needs of the firm, which can sometimes require analysis of many lines of data in a spreadsheet to uncover opportunities or to detect emerging risks.

With interactive, mobile-ready data visualizations and dashboards that encompass every aspect of the business, decision makers can determine revenue performance across multiple projects, opportunities for new service offerings, and client profitability. More important, managers can get the insight they need to reach out to the right partners in their contingent network and ramp-up engagements quickly with the skills they need.

3. Social collaboration 

Growing professional services firms rarely have all of their client-facing employees available in one place. No matter where they go, these experts inevitably take a wealth of lessons learned and best practices along with them.

Social collaboration tools bring together everyone and everything that consultants need to solve problems quickly and drive outcomes for the client and the business. With the ease of a desktop or mobile device, the workforce can tap into a knowledge base of experts across engagement teams to identify the right resources, best practices, and insights in the moment of need.

Laying the digital foundation for long-term growth

The combined power of mobile, analytics, and collaboration technologies is widely realized across every industry. Yet, the more compelling news is how these megatrends are changing the operations of small and midsize professional services firms. Capitalizing on these innovations empowers firms to not only increase their focus on the client’s needs, but also remove internal barriers to long-term growth and proactively cushion the impact of an increasingly uncertain economy.

To learn how your business can better prepare for the digital economy, check out IDC’s Industry Brief, “Professional Services: Small and Midsize Firms Are Turning to Technology to Advance their Business Goals.” Be sure to check every Tuesday for new installments to our blog series “Digitally Transforming Industries” to explore the various leadership roles in today’s growing small and midsize companies.

Catherine Lynch

About Catherine Lynch

Catherine Lynch is senior director of Industry Marketing, Professional Services, at SAP. She is a content marketing specialist with a particular focus on the professional services and media industries globally. Catherine has wide international experience working with enterprise application vendors in global roles, creating thought leadership, and is a social media practitioner.