How Professional Services Firms Can Unlock New Business Value With Digital Technologies

Jonathan Rhodes

The professional services industry is experiencing substantial disruption from changing business models, with outcome- and performance-based services replacing traditional effort-based engagements. We’re also seeing increased competition from agile new market entrants using digital technologies and alternative business structures based upon talent networks.

All of this is at a time of rising costs, as well as uncertainty around Brexit affecting the UK and Europe, means that the pressure is on professional services firms to do more with less. The firms responding well to this challenge are the ones turning to digital technologies to ensure they are providing innovative and profitable services to their clients.

In the era of the intelligent enterprise, it’s clear that digital technologies are an opportunity for professional services firms to work smarter and market leaders are advancing at pace, including the likes of Deloitte and EY. But many firms are not taking full advantage of this opportunity, and in a landscape defined by competition, regulation, and economics, it’s not a question of whether or not professional services firms should be using digital technologies to unlock new business value. That much is non-negotiable. Rather, it’s a question of where and how they do it – and how quickly.

The transition to an Intelligent Enterprise

One of the legacy problems with professional services firms is that they’re often very manual and transaction-heavy – both in terms of back-office support and front office administration. There can also be something of a disconnect between the front and back office, making them inefficient as organizations. Digital technologies provide firms with the ability to make the transition from being disconnected, manual, and transaction-heavy to being integrated, automated, efficient, and collaborative.

Back office services automation is increasingly important, helping firms to eliminate paper-driven processes, and at the same time, significantly reducing costs and improving service levels. Professional services firms have much to gain by taking this approach, bogged down as they so often are with inefficient processes such as accounts payable, travel expenses, time sheets, billing, and cash allocation.

Digital labor is cheaper, faster and more scalable than labor arbitrage, but unlocking business value is not just about automating low-value manual processes in order to reduce operating costs. The flexibility and scalability offered by digital transformation are also key to driving value in the front office and revenue generation.

A typical front office challenge is bidding for projects and ensuring that the winning bid is accurate, reliable and profitable at the outset. The traditional bid process is often manual and inefficient and is particularly ripe for automation that supports and augments rather than replaces front office professionals. BAM partnered with SAP on such an approach that automatically looks for similarities between matching incoming tenders to past bids. Through machine learning, it is possible to quickly find relevant tenders to help with new responses, which saves time on the bid process, enhances the quality of responses, and creates a better chance of winning business.

Embracing digital transformation allows firms to address the disconnect between the front office and back office. It allows them to eliminate silos with processes designed to run efficiently end-to-end, as well as gain insight into information from across the organization. This provides firms with a unified view of the key drivers for the firm including pipeline, backlog, historic and forecast utilization, revenue and margins. This extends beyond the delivery of key information to stakeholders at the point of decision. Previously unseen insights can be unearthed by machine learning and the easy modeling of complex scenarios with powerful predictive capabilities can be critical to understanding how to identify future revenue opportunities.

Of course, in order to allow firms to fully unlock business value through digital technologies, it is paramount that these technologies deliver a user experience that not only allows easy adoption but goes beyond that typically available with enterprise systems. In professional services, mobile access is taken as a given and the next generation of user experience brings the reality of digital assistants proactively supporting professionals and automating activities like advising when to bill or identifying where margins are at risk in the form of a daily brief.

Advances in computing power mean that computers can understand speech better than human beings and accurately interpret the result, learning from their mistakes rather than requiring explicit instructions. As a result, conversational interactions via voice and chatbots will become as commonplace in the enterprise as the home.

Creating the foundations for innovation and driving efficiency

Professional services firms need to innovate constantly across their value chain to drive profitable growth and be agile in order to support how customers want to acquire, use, and pay for their solutions and services. The end goal is an efficient, highly automated back office running in the background all the time and an agile front office where professionals are freed up to collaborate and innovate, supported by real-time insights.

For businesses looking to unlock value through digital technologies in their own organizations, creating the foundations for innovation and driving efficiency should be the ultimate aim. But adoption of technologies like AI, machine learning, and advanced analytics will only work if they’re implemented in a scalable and integrated way – and, crucially, if the business can easily adopt them.

By utilizing technology effectively, many global organizations are already reaping the rewards of ongoing innovation while streamlining their business processes, driving revenue and profits, and delivering a better service to their end customers. After all, partnering with experts is a sure-fire way to ensure that the transition from an inefficient to an intelligent enterprise runs smoothly.

Jonathan Rhodes

About Jonathan Rhodes

Jonathan Rhodes is the Global VP and Head Professional Services in the SAP Industry Business Unit and has helped clients deliver value through SAP solutions for over 20 years. He has been instrumental in the development of the professional services industry solution and best practice processes.