The outlook for accountants and financial planners is strong. Download the NAB 2024 Accounting & Financial Planning Report to discover the key trends and opportunities, or watch the webinar recording below.
Digital technology is transforming the professional services sector. Two experts in the field share their insights and experience to help you improve how you do business.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, how professional services firms interact with clients is evolving – fast.
In this new world, old school business processes are being superseded by digital solutions that enable firms to deliver more efficient, responsive and cost-effective services.
So, what are the trends, tools and technologies your professional services firm needs to be thinking about to keep pace with the competition, meet client expectations and ward off the threat posed by upstart disruptors?
Two experts with a wealth of experience implementing and managing digital infrastructure for professional services firms of all stripes and sizes are Kelly Wright, director of the legal solutions firm Verlata Consulting, and Craig Somerville, executive general manager at Atturra Managed Services.
Here, they share their insights in five areas benefiting from the latest digital advances.
Performing data analysis on information that’s been collated from multiple cloud-based apps is offering firms unprecedented insight into their operations, according to Wright
“Using a tool like Microsoft Power BI, for example, you can evaluate your clients from a fee-generation perspective, to see which are your most profitable accounts and where your business development activities should be focused,” she says.
“Being able to manipulate and mould that raw data into a format that provides you with useful business intelligence is really powerful. It can give partners a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in the practice.”
Some firms are also starting to use the data they extract to build portals that allow clients to log in, view the files they have with the firm and monitor the progression of their projects or matters.
There are benefits here for both parties, Wright says. Clients can ‘self-serve’, rather than calling or emailing, when they want information or updates, while practitioners don’t have to devote as much time to keeping clients in the loop.
A better client experience can also be created by automating aspects of professional services practice, such as the client intake process, Wright says.
In many law firms, this is still a very manual affair: new clients will complete forms by hand, to then be typed into the practice management system by the receptionist and a file created.
For the firm, emailing or texting clients a link to an online form that they can fill out at their leisure and submit directly into the practice management system is far more efficient and reduces the risk of errors being introduced.
It’s better for clients too, Wright says. “People are usually stressed when they’re engaging with a lawyer, and using technology to streamline the intake process can make it easier for them.”
For firms that operate on a time-based billing model, time is literally money. Implementing time-capture technology – cloud-based tools that integrate with the applications practitioners use to work on projects or matters – can allow them to capture up to 20 per cent more of it, according to Wright.
“The amount of time professionals spend recording the time they spend on jobs has been an issue historically – manually entering it on a time sheet can be really slow,” she says.
“Having something that captures that time for you, and all you need to do is verify it before you charge it to the client, is a real game changer. It pays for itself and you can also get some really good insights into what your team are working on.”
While cloud computing is nothing new – it’s been over a decade since the term entered common use – it’s becoming increasingly entrenched in the professional services space.
For good reason, Somerville says – the advantages are legion. It’s a scalable model that eliminates upfront software hosting and licensing costs in favour of pay-as-you-go pricing. And it enables firms to run a multitude of specialised apps that can be integrated with one another quickly and economically, using what’s known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) – connector technology that allows applications to ‘talk’ to one another and share data.
It also provides the flexibility that’s become so critical in the remote working era.
“All employees need is the internet and their laptop and, whether they’re on site with a client, in court or working from home, the data they need is at their fingertips,” Somerville says.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) has become the hottest tech topic, as businesses and organisations of all stripes ponder the threat it poses to revenue streams and the opportunities that harnessing it may create.
How best to harness AI is a question professional services firms won’t necessarily need to answer themselves, Somerville believes – with software vendors and ICT service providers working double speed to incorporate AI into their offerings, firms that use best-of-breed vertical market applications will find it introduced to their operations by default.
“AI is being deployed at the back end in many facets of the technology our customers are using and consuming,” he says. “You wouldn’t necessarily describe it as an AI strategy; it’s just what’s happening and will continue to happen.”
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