PAC on professional services: sustainability and innovation | Unit4
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PAC on professional services: sustainability and innovation

from  July 25, 2022 | 4 min read

In this blog – the last in our series on PAC’s 2022 benchmark for professional services firms - we’ll be looking at the report’s findings in the areas of sustainability and innovations: how firms can harness innovation and deliver on their decarbonization ambitions – and how the industry as a whole is fairing in achieving these ambitions.

Key takeaways for sustainability and innovation:

  1. Sustainability is seen as a top priority at the highest levels in European professional services firms – with many seeing it as a commercial opportunity as well as key to attracting both investment and talent.
  2. Firms are making good progress with decarbonization, and looking toward a future where sustainability initiatives are a core part of strategy and a vehicle for delivering meaningful change.
  3. Technology will play an important role in enabling decarbonization – from discouraging unnecessary travel by providing compelling virtual meeting environments to the collection and analysis of emissions data.
  4. Most businesses acknowledge they’ll have to work hard to implement platforms that can harness organizational data flow to break down silos and support these ambitions. This will need to be a key focus at board level in order to allow firms to meet their growth ambitions.

Decarbonization is critical to the future of professional services…

80% of business leaders agree that decarbonization will be critical to the survival of their organization. In particular, the UK (88%) and Belgium (91%) feel sustainability to be an existential issue.

And what’s more, there are clear signs that this is a commitment that goes far beyond lip service – with firms taking real action to back up their words. PwC expects business trips to remain at about a third of their pre-COVID levels going forward. KPMG and Deloitte have even introduced online tools to show consultants the carbon impact of their planned trips, and some firms have banned employees from flying altogether when train links are available.

At a time when recruiting and retaining people is a top priority for many – and harder than ever before – companies are being forced to use more than just pay and benefits to attract talent. And sustainability strategies are increasingly seen as a component of future recruiting strategies. 84% of leaders seeing it as critical to attracting the best talent, and with good reason. People are increasingly looking to work for companies whose values reflect their own – and this is especially true as older workers retire and younger generations begin to occupy positions of leadership.

… but it’s more of an opportunity than an obligation

85% of firms think sustainability initiatives and commitments will open up new revenue opportunities. And in fact, many are already starting to realize top-line gains. Many are creating new business lines specifically to advise and provide services to other companies looking to manage their own journey to net-zero. A promising development as the more that sustainability is viewed as an opportunity, the faster the pace at which organizations will move.

Professional services firms are generally highly ambitious in their targets for achieving net zero. All but 14% of organizations have already made a net zero commitment, with 66% aiming to reach their goal by 2030.

But ambition isn’t everything – firms will need to invest heavily in technology to get there

Firms will need to do a lot to hit these targets. And for many, technology investments that help collate and centralize emissions data across all their activities – from facilities to travel to data centers – will be a key component of their success. After all, understanding your starting point and being able to track progress for regulators and stakeholders are vital in the success of any project.

Tech is as much a barrier to achieving net zero goals as it is an enabler. 70% of participants in the PAC survey said that dependence on legacy systems and applications is frustrating their ability to innovate – and that rises to 88% of firms in the UK.

Indeed, two of the three biggest barriers to innovation mentioned in the study are technology issues. A failure to integrate key applications is cited by 71% of participants as a serious stumbling block – as is a dependence on legacy apps. Furthermore, 62% highlight a lack of insight into critical performance data as a blocker, meaning half of the six most critical challenges are directly related to technology.

Working with highly fragmented systems isn’t just a barrier to achieving sustainability goals – it’s a barrier to achieving all innovation goals your firm might want to set.

What’s the answer?

The increasing maturity of standardized, cloud-based enterprise application platforms is cited as a potential solution to the problem. The ability to quickly deploy new systems without the need for lengthy integration or transformation projects now makes it possible to enact change quickly and painlessly – of especial importance in an environment where a lack of capacity is cited prominently as a barrier to innovation and growth.

New skillsets and capabilities are also increasingly being explored and acquired across the service sector. With data and analytics specialists being employed in ever larger numbers – particularly with a view to leveraging AI and ML technology. This approach is helping to alleviate capacity burdens by enhancing automation, and tackling repetitive administrative tasks.

Just under half (48%) of European professional services firms believe that AI/ML has the potential to transform their operations. In fact, many have already identified key areas of their businesses which this technology has the potential to transform. One of the most mature use cases here comes in the form of virtual assistants, which now support people across the professional services sector. But most important to the future will be the application of these technologies in automating the manual tasks that stand in the way of delivering client and customer value.

Ready to learn more?

To read the full report and understand the complete picture of the professional services sector as we move into 2022, check out the PAC Research Study, Professional Services in Europe: A Benchmark for 2022.

To learn more about how Unit4’s products can transform your operations and help you to capitalize on the promise in 2022 and beyond, check out our dedicated professional services industry page or click here to book a demo of our products.

You can also learn more about our own environmental and CSR initiatives here – including how we’ve already made our cloud infrastructure carbon neutral, and what we’re doing to help create a cleaner and more sustainable way of doing business for all of our customers.

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