How will professional services change in the wake of COVID-19?
The events of 2020 have forced a huge change in the way all organizations conduct their business. For professional services companies – which trade heavily on human relationships and expertise – this means not only a wholesale shift to virtual working, but a re-examination of the fundamentals of the way these companies manage and conduct their work. Manav Singh – our General Manager, Global Head of PSA suite – recently explored the implications of this new reality in a podcast interview with Enterprise Times.
Enterprise Times asked me to appear on their podcast earlier this year in order to discuss the new reality facing professional service industries.
Among the most important topics we discussed were the issues that COVID has created and the way that they’ve reshaped priorities for professional service leaders. I’ve seen two of these discussed widely this year – customer engagement and cash management.
The focus here is understandable. Businesses of all kinds have suddenly rediscovered that cash is king in the last few months – and are rapidly developing more aggressive approaches to cash management and forecasting. Professional services organizations – which operate on tight margins as standard – must also actively seek out new ways to bring cash into the business.
Customer engagement is one of the primary avenues for this. And it’s a dire necessity in a marketplace where nobody is keen to spend large amounts for fear of what unpredictable events (from second waves to further economic shocks to collapses in consumer demand) may be around the corner.
But what I don’t see discussed with nearly the same frequency or importance is the fundamental inefficiencies of the ways in which many professional service companies have worked up to this point. These are difficult subjects to discuss in ordinary times – and the operational practices underlying them would be very difficult to change during periods of “business as usual.”
But thanks to COVID’s acceleration of trends towards digitization and virtualization, the professional services have been presented with a unique opportunity to evolve their working practices. Firstly by simplifying and standardizing processes across every aspect of practice management – from the way clients are onboarded through to invoicing and cash collection. And secondly by innovating their business models themselves – leveraging the power of technologies that create a level of inter-departmental transparency previously unseen and which automate most of the burden of administration to create a business centered on a new type of “connected adviser.”
The first steps in professional service evolution: transparency and employee experience
Transparency represents the key focus for professional service leaders in evolving their business models. I explain this in full detail in my interview, but in brief – transparency within the organization means better lines of communication and data sharing. If every department has visibility of the data held by other departments, the company can make much better informed decisions about how consultants allocate their time, reducing waste and preventing under- or over-servicing of particular projects. This will also ultimately make upselling and cross-selling different services to clients an easier and more logical process, and will enable more accurate billing and invoicing.
This transparency also serves as a foundational element of the next step in the evolutionary process – creating a great employee experience. In professional services, the knowledge and skills of your people are your most valuable resource. And if your people feel they can’t deploy their talents effectively, they won’t stick around. With more and more work being conducted remotely (and without the camaraderie and easy problem solving facilitated by office environments), companies will require seamless virtual environments and administrative systems to remain competitive.
Obviously, technology will be key to realizing both of these foundational pillars of transformation. Within Unit4, I’ve already seen for myself how the process unfolds, and how we’ve been quick to virtualize our operations and adopt new technologies and practices that have now just helped the company to “weather the storm”, but which have left us in a much more durable and competitive position for the future. And it’s my belief that we can help our customers achieve this kind of success as well.
How can Unit4 help a company like yours to evolve in response to changing conditions?
To discover how our expertise and our products can help your business to take the first steps in evolving your model and transforming your operations, click below to listen to the webinar. As well as everything I’ve just discussed above, you’ll also get my opinion on just what professional service leaders can do to take their first steps. I also have some pointers for the leaders of tomorrow – current frontline consultants – on how they personally can embrace the opportunity presented by the pandemic in order to evolve both their own working approach and that of the businesses they serve.