How Can Technology Grow My Professional Services Business?
While technology affects everyone, technology has a big effect on professional services firms. In our decade-plus experience managing technology, we’ve found that productivity is at the core of technology's impact on professional services. Companies in the professional services arena tend to be very dependent on people. Whether the company bills clients for employee hours or not, time is money for this industry! Your technology can either be a hurdle for your people or an enabler to create more value.
How can professional services companies improve productivity with technology?
To improve employee productivity, professional services companies should adopt cloud-based collaboration and communications tools, mobility solutions, and workflow automation. These technologies can have the largest impact on your team’s productivity in a professional services firm, and they’re not very costly or difficult to adopt.Collaboration & Communication: Make it easy for your employees to work together and with external stakeholders. Remove the barriers to communications so it's fast, relevant and seamless.
- Mobility: Allow employees to remain productive regardless of where life and work takes them.
- Workflow Automation: Free up your people so they can focus tasks that add the most value.
In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into each and offer specific ideas.
How can collaboration & communication tools help grow my professional services business?
According to a study from Queens University, 75% of employers rank teamwork and collaboration as “very important.” The percentages are no doubt even greater in Professional Services. In these businesses, the work almost always relies on more than one person working together. Several or many of your employees may need to team up to produce an outcome. Your employees may need to work with your clients, suppliers, or other stakeholders. Most likely, you need both internal and external collaboration to succeed.
Collaboration and communication take up a lot of employees’ time. Adobe's annual email usage study found that people on average spend more than 3 hours per day on their work email. According to a McKinsey report, knowledge workers spend an average of 14% of their workweek communicating and collaborating internally.
These studies tell us that collaboration and communication are time-consuming and a major opportunity key to improve productivity. There are many solutions designed to streamline collaboration and communication. These tools improve teamwork by making it easier and faster to communicate and share information. Employees waste a lot of time trying to find and reach coworkers and information. Making people and information more accessible accelerates business processes, increasing productivity.
Making your organization easy to communicate with makes you easier to work with helps you retain clients, which is critical to growth. Faster internal communication and information exchange also improves your customer service by reducing time-wasting mistakes. According to Salesforce.com, 86% of employees and executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
Effective collaboration and communication also help you grow by retaining employees. Organizations that communicate effectively are 4. 5x more likely to keep the best employees. If you want to grow as a professional services firm, retaining key people will help you grow with fewer hiccups.
Here are some recommended collaboration and communications tools for professional services firms:
- Chat: Chat provides real-time inter-company communications and reduces email clutter. It’s a more ideal setting for quick communications, ongoing dialogues, etc.. Microsoft Teams or Google Chat offer great chat functionality, combined with a host of other communication and collaboration capabilities.
- Email: Functional, reliable email accessible anytime, anywhere, from any device is key to productivity since so many employees spend hours a day on email. Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s Gmail both offer business-grade email platforms you can depend on.
- Voice: As pervasive as email communications are, they haven’t supplanted the need to connect over phone calls. Some communications are best delivered in a real-time conversation and some discussions are horribly inefficient to conduct over chat or email. As a result, voice-based communications won’t be going away anytime soon. Also, a robust voice calling solution makes it easy for internal and external stakeholders to connect over calls, keep employees connected regardless of location, and accelerate the flow of information across the organization. VoIP, cloud phone systems, or unified communications platforms offer a host of productivity-enhancing features that make it easy to connect over calls or conferencing and, keep employees connected regardless of location.
- Conferencing: Sometimes a meeting of the minds is necessary to solve problems as a team. In other roles, you may frequently need to host discussions and presentations with external stakeholders. Conferencing solutions improve your ability to easily host professional audio, web or video conferences. Avenues to enhance your conferencing capabilities include: 3rd party web conferencing solutions, unified communications systems with integrated conferencing, Office 365 or G Suite for audio, web and video conferencing.
- Online Storage and Sharing: Making documents and other files easy to find, easy to manipulate, and easy to share or collaborate on can eliminate a lot of wasted time and mistakes. Microsoft OneDrive, Office Suite Online, SharePoint, Google Docs and Google Drive, Dropbox, etc., all offer great online storage and collaboration capabilities.
How can mobility help grow my professional services business?
Technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time. Work emails follow most people home and their social media follows them into the office. As work becomes more pervasive across time and location, expectations are changing.
There's an unspoken bargain between employers and employees now. Employees accept the encroachment of work upon traditional personal time and space. But employees rightfully expect something in exchange for their accommodation. They expect greater flexibility over when and where they get their job done.
Fortunately, the same technological advances that caused 'work creep,' enable work flexibility. In the past decade, technology-enabled what we now refer to as mobility.
What is mobility?
Mobility means enabling employees to work from anywhere, at any time, from any device.
Mobility is especially relevant to professional services companies where knowledge workers are heavily employed. Their value is in their analytic abilities, knowledge and experiences, and communication skills. Their work is information and communications based. Since information and communications can flow freely in the digital age, they expect even less restrictions on their work than others would. They want the ability to work whenever, wherever, and however it best suits them.
Work flexibility has become a top priority for employees and employers. Flexible work is now the norm, according to 74% of respondents to an IWG survey. 80% of workers in the study said they would choose a job with a flexible work option over one without. 83% of employers have adopted flexible work policies in the past decade.
Growing a professional services firm successfully requires consistent execution. Who better to help bring the execution to fruition than your most talented employees? Also, it’s hard to turn over a part of the workforce, or any key person, without the business skipping a beat. If you want to grow smoothly as a professional services firm, you know you will need to attract and keep talent.
The workforce talent is demanding flexibility and your competition is adopting or already offers it. Keeping up on this front is a necessity if you intend to attract and keep great people as part of your growth plan.
Flexibility is more than just about talent acquisition and retention though. If the talent component isn’t enough, the great news is that flexibility also boosts productivity! A Vodafone survey found that 83% of companies say flexible work policies improve productivity! Also, the highest-paid employees report the biggest improvement in productivity which enhances the benefits to the employer!
Attracting and keeping talent and improving their productivity will obviously make it easier to grow your professional services business. To provide flexibility, you must empower employees with mobility. Mobility solutions provide easy access to data, applications, and communications needed to get the job done anytime from anywhere.
What mobility solutions can you put in place for your professional services business?
- Mobile collaboration & communication: Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite provide excellent, mobile-friendly communications and collaboration options for email, chat, voice, web/video conferencing, online document generation and sharing, etc.. Cloud-based VoIP phone systems or unified communications systems can also arm mobile employees with robust, mobile communications capabilities. These solutions can support teleworking, chat conversations, allow phone system capabilities from a computer or mobile device, and can include audio, web, and video conferencing. Ensuring mobile employees have the same phone system access and capabilities from anywhere provides more seamless interactions that improve employee and customer experiences.
- Web-based or mobile line of business applications: Web-based software can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and from any device, if you have internet. Mobile applications can further enhance the working experience on those types of devices. A lot of productivity is driven using these applications, so ensuring employees can use these applications efficiently anywhere anytime is key to unlocking productivity.
- Cloud storage: Cloud storage makes files and information easily accessible from anywhere, anytime, on any device. Remote employees may be able to access resources on your local office network, but it’s much easier and a better experience when the things they need are easily accessible from anywhere in the cloud.
- Mobile computing devices: Laptops or mobile devices facilitate access from anywhere to the mobile-friendly resources above. If you’re making investments in these other mobile tools, you should also make sure these employees have adequate computing devices to accommodate their flexible work.
How can workflow automation help grow my professional services business?
Think about all the various functions or departments in your business. Now think about all the processes within each. Where do most of those processes primarily take place? In a professional services firm, the answer is typically within a software application. If it's not in an application yet, you're probably using some other tech (email, spreadsheet, etc).
Today, most business functions are relying on the backbone of technology. But in many organizations, technology is still not being leveraged to its full potential.
This leads to the opportunity for workflow automation. Workflow automation refers to the execution and automation of processes where tasks, data or files are routed between people or systems based on rules. Workflow automation can do a few things:
- Allow information to automatically transfer between systems and people.
- Connect processes seamlessly across business functions.
- Automate activities and communications.
Workflow automation can reduce manual labor that's often repetitive and tedious. This frees up your people to focus on tasks they’re better suited for, like analytical thinking, non-repetitive tasks, and interpersonal communications. This type of work is also more interesting, engaging, and rewarding for the employees, which improves job satisfaction. Moreover, the analytical or communications driven tasks tend to create more value for companies so the more time your team can spend on those activities, the better it is for your company’s productivity! Manual transfer of information and processes can lead to a lot of errors. Reducing manual info transfer efforts reduces the likelihood of human errors, which also saves a lot of time.
To illustrate workflow automation’s impact, let's look at a common small or mid-size professional services firm:
- Pre-Automation: Marketing has tools to create content, launch email campaigns, and manage an online presence. The sales team has a CRM to manage the sales lifecycle. Once marketing has a lead, it’s handed off to sales to input into the CRM and to do their thing. The firm wins the new client! The project or service info is manually entered into some service or project management system. Processes to implement and support the firm’s services are executed. In a separate process, accounting sets the client up in an accounting system. The work is performed and time is tracked in another system. Then an invoice is generated and sent. Payment collection is managed manually through time-consuming & frustrating efforts.
Stop and think about how many times info in one system manually transitioned to another. On top of that, think of all the human effort in each process. This scenario also leaves room for information loss or process deviations. There's a heightened risk of errors from poor information transfer or from process deviations. Those errors will chew up more of people’s time to resolve.
This scenario is not efficient and scales poorly, but unfortunately is the normal operating protocol for many businesses. Compare that to the alternative below where the same firm leverages workflow automation.
- Post-Automation: Marketing uses the CRM to manage all marketing activities, and it doubles as the sales CRM. Prospect data from marketing efforts is captured in the CRM. Automated workflows continue nurturing prospects with a content drip. Workflows also create tasks for sales once the prospect shows enough interest to trigger a relevant sales action. The sales team leverages automated email and task sequences to augment their follow up. As sales obtains more information on the prospect, it's all captured in the same CRM. Sales wins the deal!
An integration allows the automatic transfer of the client’s info from the CRM to the service and accounting systems. The account and the service setup are partially automated. The firm performs the services and captures the time within the service management system. The time or services billing transfers automatically to invoicing and bills according to the scope of the agreement with the client. The firms' system generates an invoice with a few clicks, and the software emails it to the client. Self-service payment directions are provided with the invoice. Automatic collection workflows frequently remind clients to make payments. Once received, payment info is synced to the accounting and service systems for transparency and accessibility.
- This second scenario with automation frees people to focus on high-value tasks and ensures information integrity. It creates faster information transfer with assured integrity and automates some task execution to improve productivity and customer service. It's also efficient to scale without overburdening people and processes as quickly as the first scenario.
Even at that 30,000 ft. level of view, you can sense the huge difference between these two scenarios. Now visualize this high-level process playing out hundreds or thousands of times over a year in the context of each example. The amount of time saved with automation becomes jaw-dropping.
If you're aiming to grow your professional services firm, which scenario do you want to be in?
What are some action items to achieve greater workflow automation?
- Consolidate line of business applications if possible. Can you combine marketing and sales to one CRM? Can your service and project management systems capture time and generate invoices directly or via integrations? Keep an open mind. This may require changes to your processes. It may also require adopting new systems. Integrating multiple functions or processes into a single system negates information transfer. It also opens the door to more workflow automation possibilities.
- Use workflow rules in your software to standardize and automate repetitive, tedious, time-consuming tasks. Focus on the processes that don't need human's analytical and communication skills. Also, look at processes that are the most uniform in their execution.
- Integrate separate software systems to transfer information and carry processes across systems efficiently.
- For processes that still need human execution, use templates and workflow rules. If used properly, this will encourage standardization and uniform adherence to your processes.
Learn more about technologies to grow your professional services business
Framework is an award winning IT managed services provider with over a decade of experience managing professional service businesses’ tech and tech strategy. Based on our experience, we’re confident that collaboration and communications tools, mobility, and workflow automation can make a huge impact on your people’s productivity! And it goes without saying productivity unleashes growth!