The same digital disruption that is driving innovation in a wide range of manufacturing industries is also impacting professional services and field services companies.
Service firms that embrace the technologies that integrate operations, drive efficiency, and boost business intelligence are poised to differentiate themselves in competitive marketplaces. By delivering better services faster and more accurately, such companies are likely to gain market share and provide space for innovative approaches to their clients.
As an Acumatica partner, we’ve seen firsthand how technology is transforming the way professional services operations and field services management function. Here is a closer look at achieving agility for service providers in the digital age.
Defining digital disruption
In recent years, a rapidly evolving set of new technologies has created exciting new opportunities. Traditional players in myriad industries have used these new tools to rethink business models, business processes, and the way work is done. New players (think Zoom and Uber) have become a disruptive presence in certain sectors, quickly creating new ways of doing business, sending many competitors scrambling to keep up and forcing others out of the marketplace altogether.
These technologies include cloud computing, which allows companies to hold data and applications in virtual spaces, freeing up operational costs and space, allowing for rapid scalability, and providing better spaces to innovate. The Internet of Things, the collection of connected objects that can collect, store, and transmit data, has given rise to smart homes, smart cars, smart factories, and smart cities.
Data analytics programs allow companies to capture, store, analyze, display, and use vast amounts of data in ways heretofore impossible. Virtual reality and 3D printing provide companies and their customers with new solutions and insights.
These technologies, deployed individually or collectively, are a powerful force when unleashed.
Changing nature of information
Today, everyone has more access to more information easily. That makes it much easier for experts in fields from accounting to law to financial advising to consulting to demonstrate their expertise via blog posts, websites, and webinars that show clients and would-be clients the level of knowledge inherent in the professionals’ companies.
Field service management operatives enjoy the same advantage and can highlight their competitive advantages through helpful content and thought leadership.
Yet that abundance of knowledge – and customers’ access to it – mean that professional services companies and field management services need to be ever-ready to deliver more than insights and opinions. They need to deliver it faster, more efficiently, across more platforms, and with a deeper dive into subjects, questions, and solutions.
That is where digital disruption and Cloud ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) come into play.
Professional and field services paradigm shifts
Professional services has long been seen as a growth industry, providing ample opportunities for those with specialized knowledge to use that expertise to assist others in strengthening, growing, or changing their businesses.
The issue of digital innovation in professional services boils down to supply and demand. On the demand side, the access to information and expertise makes many industries far more transparent to consumers. When they engage with professional services teams, they have higher expectations about the level of service they will receive, the speed at which solutions will be deployed, and the quality and depth of the information received.
Similar shifts are also apparent in field services management. Companies who deploy techs into the field need greater transparency into the work performed to better manage payroll hours, inventory, and quality of work performed.
On the supply side, new technologies are creating new service delivery options. With automation, machine learning, and Cloud ERP accessibility, companies can create a new supply of digitally accessible and deliverable services that either complement or replace the physical solutions of yesterday.
Four transformations for professional services
The digital transformation is manifesting itself in four thematic spaces.
1. Transforming business models
Using digital, professional services companies can rethink entire business models. The services provided, value propositions, customer targets, and price points can all be reimagined. With digital, companies can develop new services and delivery models that provide for new partnerships, new markets, and increased revenue.
Field services management companies can provide data-rich services and products, along with insights and tools, that when delivered digitally, provide fast and innovative solutions to clients.
Digital collection tools like Cloud ERP make for ubiquitous amounts of data. When collected and analyzed, these data can pinpoint trends and other insights for which clients are hungering. Digital platforms enable better communication with clients, create partnerships, and offer subscription-based services that commoditize collected information and insights.
In fields such as consulting and law where a limited supply of resources (talent) is hired out at an hourly rate, new models may emerge where digital delivery provides real-time solutions.
2. Intelligent automation
Companies can now leverage digital automation tools and analytics, such as those found in Cloud ERP, to augment the way employees think about questions, research and formulate solutions, and understand complex problems. These tools allow for collective deeper thinking that differentiates companies and delivers value to customers.
Automation takes complex jobs and breaks them down into discrete tasks. This modular approach to work can be applied to professional services and field services management companies alike. What was once a complex assignment can be broken into component parts – research, data analysis, document assembly, contracts, project management – and farmed out to subcontractors, machines, or lower-level employees, allowing senior-level professionals to focus on more complex issues.
Using a combination of humans and machines allows companies to choose which tasks are better suited for each. Humans (for now) will likely take and keep the lead on relationship building, instincts, communication, presentation, and cultivation, while machines may be able to take on more work that relies on memory, cognition, and insight identification.
3. More agility
Collecting, storing, reporting, and using vast amounts of information faster allows professional services companies to anticipate and react faster than competitors. Agile cultures and workforces allow these companies to deploy resources and solutions in hours or days, not weeks or months as necessitated by non-digital models.
Flexible workforces allow companies to crowdsource or use expert specialists to complete certain tasks, especially those that were niche skills without a lot of demand to merit full-time work.
An agile workforce also provides companies the opportunity to create a corporate culture that welcomes, embraces, and uses agility as a competitive advantage. Agility can create teams more adept at collaboration, distributed decision-making, and rapid delivery of client solutions.
4. Talent strengthening
Some bemoan the advent of digital tools as a reduction in the value of employee insights, experience, and intellect. On the contrary, digital tools like Cloud ERP can strengthen the impact and efficacy of your employees, who can spend more time on more critical and profitable work. It will still take humans to interpret and respond to what the data reveals.
Digital tools allow professional services companies and field service companies to make better hiring decisions. Automation of some entry-level jobs will likely shift the needs of hiring toward more skilled employees and those who are nimble, trainable, and adaptable to technological change.
Differences by industry
A recent World Economic Forum/Accenture analysis showed that not all professional services sectors are created equal in the area of digital disruption. Some areas are more suited to, ready for, and impacted by digital innovation than others.
Accounting and Audit are seen as the industries most susceptible to disruption, with the growth of computerization and automation, which can provide for 24/7 on-demand service delivery in some areas of the sector.
Consulting. Consulting firms and the work that they do vary widely, both generally and within sectors of the field. Technology and media consulting appear likely to be most exposed, while more specialized consulting work is less likely to be disrupted.
Executive Search. Machine learning, digital platforms, and the desire to build platforms that engage passive and active candidates and build employer identity make executive search less prone to innovation. However, technologies that can do more than find keywords in digital stacks of thousands of submitted resumes have an opportunity to be highly disruptive and change the way recruiting is done.
Law. While regulation and legal protections have often shielded Big Law from disruption, there is the potential to lower the reliance on lower-skilled legal roles such as paralegals and legal secretaries. Data science (Big Data) is already being deployed in some sectors to provide new value-add services to law clients.
Field services management. The need for digital transformation in field services has never been more evident, as companies are searching for ways to replace inefficient spreadsheets, clipboards, and paper forms. Failing to evolve could result in not delivering the same level of personalization, convenience, and service that customers are used to receiving in other areas of daily life.
What does digital disruption mean for professional and field services? Exceptional opportunities, but also some uncertainty.
Leaders of these companies will need to ask some important questions as technologies like Cloud ERP continue to evolve and new ones emerge:
- Are we ready to adopt technologies that may disrupt our business models?
- Are our organization and its people at all levels ready for disruption at all levels?
- What is our collective risk tolerance?
- What long-term measures are we using to measure risk tolerance and embrace innovation?
- What technologies do we need to leverage digital opportunities?
For professional services and field services management companies eager to consider new paths, an important first step is to bring together disparate systems and technologies within the organization. Cloud ERP modules enable companies to integrate multiple functions (sales, marketing, customer service, finances, human resources) and data. An ERP solution like Acumatica allows companies to gain deeper insights and enables better collaboration internally, with clients, and with partners.
Customer resource management (CRM) tools like Microsoft Dynamics help manage relationships with clients at a holistic level. Finance departments, senior partners, and customer service teams can share information and provide a seamless, integrated approach to managing clients. Finally, business intelligence suites help capture insights about customers, industries, and competitors that can be used to make better decisions.
As a leading Acumatica partner, NexTec Group helps service-focused companies gain a competitive advantage by advising on the tools necessary to use digital innovation. Our consultants have deep insights into the vendors, products, features, and the work of our clients, helping to recommend and select technical solutions that drive growth.
See how NexTec Group can help drive disruptive innovation in your organization. Discover streamlined business management with Acumatica.