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Whitepaper: Driving performance with technology for professional services firms

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This report looks at the new opportunities that technology can bring to professional services firms and contrasts with the challenges presented by disruptive technology. It considers the best ways to be agile enough to take advantage of new trends and not to be left behind by emerging technology, while also exploring the typical challenges professional services firms have with existing technology and processes.

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Whitepaper: Driving performance with technology for professional services firms

  1. 1. CREATING VALUE AND DRIVING PERFORMANCE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRMS WHITEPAPER This report looks at the new opportunities that technology can bring to professional services firms and contrasts with the challenges presented by disruptive technology. It considers the best ways to be agile enough to take advantage of new trends and not to be left behind by emerging technology, while also exploring the typical challenges professional services firms have with existing technology and processes.
  2. 2. ++ Handling of compliance matters is a good example of how professional services firms can take advantage of modern technology. Professional services firms deal with application forms and instead of relying on systems that don’t integrate, a workflow system based on a tool like Microsoft’s Sharepoint portal can be a secure and efficient alternative. Information can be ingested into an online application form which can then be segregated into components so the right people get access to the right components. 2 LEGACY PROCESSES LIMIT CLIENT OPPORTUNITIES Like other vertical industries, professional services have unique requirements for information processing and customer engagement. A significant challenge lies in professional services firms’ sales processes and how they go to market to generate new business. Justin Bailey, Cloud Solutions Consultant at Nexon, says many firms don’t have formal sales processes or modern CRM platforms to drive new business, which they are actively trying to turn around. “A further challenge is getting that data from customers and presenting it to your staff,” Bailey says. The challenges professional services firms have are common across most verticals, particularly around mobility and compliance. “Most firms have consulting practices so mobility is important and that wraps back into compliance, which they need for their own due diligence,” Bailey says. The outlook for professional services firms’ core business and intellectual property remains strong, with the most probable technology disruption coming from point solutions like online accounting applications. “There aren’t many disruptions for this vertical market, or the core intellectual property, but there is disruption in the services offered to customers. For example, with accounting; rather than giving a client a report on financial statements, today’s applications can instead give them more live information and trends on what a customer is doing,” Bailey says. “This is a more valuable outcome and the firms that take advantage of these technology components are well positioned.” Smaller firms doing tax returns, however, could be disrupted by GRASPING THE TECHNOLOGY ADVANTAGE With opportunities to improve processes combined with the imminent march of Cloud-based point solutions, Australia’s professional services leaders cannot ignore the role new technology can play in keeping their business relevant and agile. New developments in the Cloud space like Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft’s Office 365, CRM Online and Business Intelligence offerings allow professional services firms to move beyond siloed applications to platforms that enable customised workflows across information systems. IN-HOUSE OR OUTSOURCE? OUTSOURCING SETS FOCUS ON INNOVATION ++ Which parts of the business are professional services firms keeping in-house and which are being outsourced? A lot depends on the type of application. Not many core functions are being outsourced, but Bailey and Russell are seeing more IT outsourcing in areas like support, infrastructure services and application hosting and development. Professional services firms can be trapped in a cycle of only keeping the lights on, but services can be taken outside the firm as investments to improve project management or create more intellectual property. the wave of online accounting applications now available. Nexon Unified Communications Business Lead, David Russell, says the chances of the professional services industry being “Ubered” like the taxi industry is very unlikely, but that doesn’t mean firms won’t get left behind by more agile competitors which can take advantage of new markets. “There are many ways to access different technologies, so firms can jump into new verticals and geographies with a lot less risk,” Russell says. “The success of this is increased if the company is agile and can create solutions quickly.” ++ Nexon’s documents management systems have some four million documents and the data resides there for the lifetime of the client engagement and then a further seven years for compliance reasons. One client project involved Nexon moving documents from an existing legacy appication to the Cloud and retaining the metadata information. Other benefits include stronger search capabilities and a lower system management overhead. COMPLIANCE: AN IDEAL CLOUD USE CASE FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
  3. 3. 3 WHEN PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FIRMS ADOPT A SUITE OF MANAGED SERVICES, IT ALLOWS THEM TO BE MORE CUSTOMER-CENTRIC. THEY CAN INTERACT WITH CUSTOMERS AND COLLEAGUES WHEREVER THEY NEED TO BE. David Russell Unified Communications Business Lead, Nexon The more technology-rich the solution, the less of a technology sell it is, Russell adds. “You have to engage tightly with the business and understand what people do day-to-day across every area of the business. Explore the ‘day in the life’ of each person in the business as people can have ‘eureka’ moments when technology enables them to do something more effectively. Taking a tablet instead of a giant folder into a meeting, the ability to collaborate by phone or instant messaging and not having to go to a dedicated videoconferencing room are all good examples of this change.” TAKING THE LEAD WITH CLOUD AND INNOVATION There is a good opportunity for professional services firms to deliver their core infrastructure requirements through a managed Cloud provider with a view to long-term cost savings and becoming a more dynamic, innovative organisation. “Professional services firms need partners to help understand what is possible in the Cloud and provide advice on the best way to adopt it,” Russell says. “We have Cloud expertise in applications, from CRM to telephony, video conferencing and document sharing.” ++ At some point organisations will have to move to a modern solution that is Cloud and mobile- enabled, but diving directly into an on-demand service can be risky. A prudent approach is to work with a partner that deals with risk mitigation and project management and has a lot of experience with Cloud migrations. Partners can engage with business owners and consider how the services can be customised to suit individual business needs and ensure they understand how the change will work. CHOOSE A PARTNER FOR A SMOOTH CLOUD JOURNEY “Integrating applications together is a better solution than simply using individual tools,” Bailey says. “Professional services firms can work with good partners in the Cloud space to deliver improvements in workflow and change their business.” In addition to on-demand Cloud services, other emerging technologies such as mobility and collaboration tools can significantly improve the operations of professional services firms. Nexon is currently working with a legal firm in Melbourne where the lawyers are experiencing the benefits of mobility as they can work anywhere and collaborate with colleagues, police and other government departments, according to David Russell. “Legal practitioners often have many client meetings each day and leveraging mobile and Cloud technologies allows them to optimise these interactions,” Russell says. NEW TECHNOLOGY CHANGES CLIENT SERVICE CAPABILITY Professional services firms that have practised for a long time can experience cultural barriers involved with new technology adoption. However, with the right motivation, organisational change can result in many new ways of doing business. Firms should always be wary of “change for the sake of change”, Bailey says, but when applications and workflows show real value, the adoption increases, which changes organisational culture. According to Russell, helping firms understand how technology can benefit staff help to increase buy-in from senior partners. “For example, the definition of unified communications (UC) changes with the type of user, but you need a collaboration platform that bridges the use cases of younger and mature workers,” he says.
  4. 4. PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MORE AWARE OF PaaS POSSIBILITIES ++ Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS, is a hosted development environment that allows organisations to quickly prototype new applications without having to manage the required infrastructure, databases and application development environments. PaaS allows organisations to develop and test new applications that can integrate a multitude of third-party Cloud services, like Office365. PaaS is a path to a more innovative way of doing business, but it is an ongoing education process. 4 Russell says IT staff are more relevant than ever as they become service contract specialists and DevOps professionals to help deliver better service to the organisation. “A firm should look at all pieces of its infrastructure and services and ask if it can be moved to the Cloud,” he says. The Cloud can bring wholesale change to how professional services firms approach IT, including the introduction of many hybrid environments where hosted infrastructure like SharePoint applications are connected to online services like Office 365. Bailey says some professional services firms have development teams that are bigger than their IT teams to build highly customised CRM platforms, particularly on top of the Microsoft Cloud stack. “Custom applications written in Microsoft’s Azure PaaS are all about working with customer workflows, which is often not something out of the box,” Bailey says. Combining Office 365, Azure for laaS and PaaS, plus the Microsoft partner infrastructure, can make sure the hybrid platform works the way the firm needs. Going Cloud is not just about the applications, and solid infrastructure is required to deliver them with guaranteed service levels. “Professional Services firms looking at moving critical business applications to the Cloud need to do their homework on the types of Cloud service providers available,” Bailey says. “It is imperative for them to partner with Cloud service providers who are using best of breed technologies like Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) within their infrastructure to ensure they get the resiliency and reliability they require.” “With firms now signing up to Cloud first policies, legacy applications are not necessarily a barrier to moving to the Cloud as they can be hosted on partner infrastructure,” Bailey says. Many accounting firms that have a strong partner structure within the business are tasked with sales and business development work. These types of professional services firms stand to gain the most when adopting a Cloud-based CRM application. Bailey is also seeing a desire from firms to look at Business Intelligence components, which is still nascent. “Many companies are trying to focus on spending more time on CRM and Business Intelligence,” Bailey says. “Accounting firms will start helping clients transition to new platforms in the Cloud, which is a large task.“ THE VALUE OF A CLOUD ARCHITECTURE IS EASY TO ARTICULATE, BUT FIRMS STILL NEED TO ENGAGE WITH A CLOUD INTEGRATOR TO MAXIMISE THE RETURN TO THE BUSINESS. David Russell Unified Communications Business Lead, Nexon Russell says this is a good indication of why Cloud is becoming more relevant. “It is simpler to look at Business Intelligence when you have a Cloud platform, rather than undertaking a massive project around infrastructure and software. You can take smaller steps with Cloud apps,” he says. Another way professional services firms can become more innovative is with social collaboration. Russell says the social enterprise is interesting and there is a lot of take up from a collaboration standpoint for working on documents across geographies. Firms dealing with end-users more frequently are especially interested in social interactions. To find out more about Nexon, email us at sales@nexon.com.au or visit www.nexonabc.com.au

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