Building an (even more) intelligent professional services firm

  • Posted on April 17, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
intelligent professional services

Doesn’t transforming a professional services firm into an intelligent enterprise, on the surface, seem redundant?  Isn’t a professional services firm inherently an enterprise comprised of some of the world’s most intelligent subject matter experts?  Maybe so, but once the most current cadre of intelligent technologies are adopted, they can turn a professional services firm’s talent into digitally-enhanced super experts, and the firm itself into a far more efficient and responsive economic engine. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud and mobile technologies and security technologies like blockchain are opening an interesting set of growth doors for professional firms.
Becoming an intelligent enterprise, for a professional services firm, seems to require three main elements: 
1. Adopting analytics-based agility and responsiveness to the marketplace
2. Innovative digital offerings that provide scalability
3. Intelligent augmentation of a professional’s capability and capacity.

Business process agility
"When you're finished changing, you're finished," Benjamin Franklin once said.  An agile intelligent enterprise is one that is able to nimbly redefine its core business model in order to capitalize on the opportunities that come along with changing market conditions and increased complexity.  This requires professional services firm leaders to have fully transparent, on-demand access to financial, operational and customer engagement metrics so they can pivot with a people-first perspective on their clients and their colleagues.

Dynamics 365 is Microsoft’s end-to-end modern integrated platform in the cloud enabling leaders across the organization to have real time access to one source of the truth.  Dynamics 365 comes with integration of ERP, CRM and Business Intelligence modules built-in.  That gives professional services executives the ability to make smarter decisions faster by mining and assessing data that blends both financial and clients-specific facts letting them, for instance, better understand which clients and projects are most worthwhile.  The shift to outcome-based delivery has increased the need for better data about how projects are delivered.  For firms that want to shift from a project-based approach to their business to an account-focused one, this type of integration and single-source of enterprise intelligence hasn’t been previously available.

Easier access to data through more powerful embedded business analytics tools like Microsoft’s Power BI (part of the Dynamics 365 integrated system) can connect to hundreds of data sources, turn data into insights, drive ad hoc analysis, produce beautiful reports, then publish securely across the professional services enterprise for online and mobile consumption.  Power BI, when linked to an integrated ERP and CRM solution, equips professional firms to anticipate change, adapt their strategies and offerings and respond to client needs and competitor challenges rather than merely react to disruptive surprises.

Insight and innovation
Combining applied intelligence from rich data with the brainpower of expert professionals is how an Intelligent Enterprise in professional services activates innovation with purpose.  The SPI 2017 Services Industry Maturity Benchmark stated, “Being able to visualize changes and trends by client, employee, service line and market brings into focus problems and facilitates investment in the most-promising growth avenues.”  

Increasingly, those growth avenues include initiatives that significantly enhance customer experience and retention while lowering costs. In one recent example, a digital claims bot provides next-level insurance experiences around individual auto insurance claims.  It combines sophisticated cloud-based technology in novel ways that can significantly raise the bar on human-like, personalized interactions with policy-holders, agents and brokers, and internal resources, at the same time improving efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

Digital realization 
Digital realization in an intelligent enterprise comes, in part, through intelligent talent management and talent augmentation and this is especially true for people-based professional services firms.  Intelligent enterprises are tapping technology to orchestrate the multi-pronged interaction of people, process and projects.  

Professional Services companies have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the power of artificial intelligence to augment people’s ability to “do,” “think,” “learn” and “feel.” By automating routine tasks, technology is freeing people to focus on solving higher-order problems, according a January 2017 white paper, “Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI): Professional Services Industry,” by World Economic Forum in collaboration with our parent company, Accenture.  By investing in smart digital infrastructure to encourage productivity and creativity, professional firms not only become more responsive but also more attractive to incoming generations of talent. Technologies like AI and machine learning, crowd sourcing and robotic process automation are extending the capacity of a professional firm’s talent base.

One recent intelligent enterprise transformation was of a large architecture and engineering services firm.  The goal of the project was to connect core business processes into an integrated solution thereby increasing professional’s productivity, improving data quality and enabling improved project performance and client insights.  Avanade worked with this client to build a modern integrated IT platform based on Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM and Microsoft collaboration tools that automate the project lifecycle, including sales, contracting and project management and accounting.  

Professional services firms are filled with highly intelligent experts.  That doesn’t mean they are yet intelligent enterprises.  Those firms that are intelligent enough to exploit the current trove of technology are becoming agile, innovative and operationally intelligent enough to outpace their professional services competitors and redefine how they deliver value to clients.

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