Mastering Disruption: Can Professional Services Companies Harness Technological Change?

Posted by neil-davidson on January 30, 2019

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New technologies have swept the world over the last decade, revolutionising our working lives – and for professional services firms the impact has been profound.

While the full impact of bleeding-edge technologies remains to be seen, internet-enabled services are already upending traditional business models in the sector, for good and for bad. On the one hand, they have created smarter ways to work, driving efficiency and improving margins. On the other, new platforms have entered the market, posing a direct competitive threat and putting pressure on prices.


 

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Keeping An Edge


mastering disruption

All in all this has been great for consumers but challenging for some businesses – and as our survey, 'Insight to Action – The future of the professional services industry' shows, on the whole the professional services industry has been slow to adapt. Some 60 percent of decision-makers say that maintaining an innovation portfolio will be a top business-development priority in five years, and yet 81 percent of company bosses still consider their business unprepared for the risk of disruptive technologies.

Worse still, almost a fifth say they won’t be investing in emerging technologies at all.

That is a mistake at a time when competition is rising. Online services are allowing clients to manage tasks that were once outsourced to professional services firms much more easily and cheaply. Take freelancer portals such as Upwork and PeoplePerHour, which connect millions of professionals globally, in some cases eliminating the need for professional services companies to act as middlemen.

Meanwhile big data is transforming the audit function at the major accounting firms, while the evolution of mobile working technology has created a seismic shift in the wider sector, enabling stakeholders to gain instant access to project information on the go. Those who do not embrace such innovations risk falling behind.

 

"1 in 5 say they won’t be investing in emerging technologies at all. That is a mistake at a time when competition is rising."

 

 

Reducing Complexity

To tackle their digital deficits, professional services firms must take a holistic approach. First they must get the basics right before worrying about the future, which means putting the right systems in place to ensure core functions run seamlessly across the whole company. Reducing complexity while encouraging company-wide adoption is key.

Once a strong technological foundation is in place, a professional services firm can look to the future. Innovations such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data point to more change ahead for the industry, and yet only 16% of chief executives expect their firms to invest in at least one type of emerging technology over the next five years.

The risk is companies set themselves up for a fall, and as our report sets out, they must remain updated to stay ahead of the game. New technology will require new skillsets, and existing workers may need to be reskilled or replaced while new roles are created. The industry will also need to be able to differentiate between hype and reality as a plethora of new platforms come onto the market.

While the pace of change is exciting, firms must not be lured into making unsuitable systems choices – and those who have invested time in developing a digital strategy will avoid this mistake. The end goal must always be to increase profitable growth while reducing inefficiency.

 

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