During the COVID-19 pandemic, professional services firms—like many other industries—are faced with disruption to their existing business models. In order to overcome these disruptions, firms have had to pivot client work to a fully remote service delivery model.
I recently chatted with Thomas Schroeder III, vice president and global practice leader – financials at Alight Solutions, a professional services firm specializing in benefits, payroll, and cloud financial solutions, and also a Workday customer and partner. We discussed how his company is using innovative tools and processes to support this new way of work, and how other firms can do the same. You can read excerpts from our conversation below.
What are some of the challenges firms in your industry are facing due to the pandemic?
Some of the major challenges for firms may include delays to project launches and disruption to projects already in flight. In many cases, our clients’ businesses have been impacted by the recent crisis, and their CFOs and finance teams are paying particularly close attention to cash flow. As such, it’s a priority for professional services firms to demonstrate not only value, but our ability to continue to deliver on a project.
Project delays and disruptions tend to lower overall consultant utilization, so firms must model financial, workforce, and risk mitigation strategies. These may include implementing changes such as reducing headcount in the short term or seeking alternative use of resources.
Companies need the ability to identify employees with crossover skills and reallocate talent to areas of the business that are less impacted or still growing. When firms have access to real-time data and are able to put it in the hands of stakeholders across the business, they are in a better position to quickly respond when changes occur.
How have current events changed the way professional services firms are delivering services to their clients?
For most firms, the most immediate change is the need to deliver services 100% remotely. This is a challenge for organizations that have traditionally performed services through client visits and in-person meetings. Those that were already using some remote delivery have made the full transition with less disruption.
In today’s current environment, professional services firms need to be flexible and agile in their deployment strategies and are relying on cloud technology more than ever. At times, this means doing more with less. On the plus side, by removing travel costs out of projects (due to far less travel during the pandemic), there is more time allocated towards engagement and execution.
What are best practices Alight is using to maintain project continuity?
Alight continues to use proactive project management, close client engagement, and cloud project tools to keep projects moving forward. We also maintain close client collaboration by providing access to the tools needed for project delivery.
Client and consultant engagement is something that needs to be evaluated at the workstream level. It is more difficult to engage someone in a virtual meeting for eight hours as opposed to an in-person workshop. As such, we have implemented creative solutions to keep everyone focused and actively participating in design workshops, tenant walkthrough, and testing execution while still allowing time for other personal tasks such as checking in on their children or walking the dog. We need to account for the new normal.
Recognizing that many companies are prioritizing investments, we are also able to structure projects so they can continue to have immediate impact and ROI for clients, and enable them to streamline or automate manual processes such as ACH (automated clearing house) payments and invoice processing.
Fundamental to every engagement, we also develop a deep, holistic understanding of our client’s business processes and architect a path forward that takes into consideration financial constraints, quick delivery timeframes, and the need for rapid business impact.
How are you applying these best practices to internal projects?
At Alight Solutions, we recently accomplished our final deployment of Workday Professional Services Automation (PSA) to support our global enterprise and employees. It has been a tremendous journey and marks a huge achievement. We were able to retire our old system and complete deployment of Workday with a 100% remote team.
As Alight CFO Katie Rooney said, “What’s really telling, especially today, is that we accomplished it in a virtual environment. Alight’s CDS team partnered with finance and other business areas to get this go-live across the finish line as planned, even though so much of this work was accomplished remotely.”
In these days of remote working, it's important that your staff has clear direction on what needs to be accomplished and when, as well as access to the technology needed to accomplish their tasks. Also, don’t forget to schedule things like virtual coffee breaks and happy hours, as team cohesion and opportunities to engage are important for maintaining morale and productivity.
How can professional services firms adjust their revenue models to quickly adapt during this time of uncertainty? How does this change planning?
Many professional services firms are getting creative with their revenue models and flexible with billing terms. They are primarily striving to reduce risk and pressure on cash flow for their clients, while enabling them to fund strategic internal projects. We see companies reducing rates and adjusting payment terms out to 90 days and beyond. Some companies are guaranteeing returns on client project investments. When you have a close relationship with your client and insight into their financial health, you can customize terms to help move projects forward.
Of course, professional services firms are also realizing they need real agility in planning, including expense, workforce, and capacity planning. They also need the ability to quickly run scenarios and report in real time to management in order to enable proactive data-driven decisions. Organizations that still use spreadsheet-based planning processes are encountering severe challenges as their reforecasts are likely obsolete before they are executed.
Continuous planning helps firms be nimble and set new revenue attainment initiatives. For example, by monitoring consultant utilization and sales pipeline in each segment of the business, they can reallocate marketing and sales efforts to shore up those areas of the business that are lagging.
As an organization that has deployed Workday Adaptive Planning, we are able to do continuous planning, model a variety of scenarios and provide self-service reports. Since the system is completely in the cloud, our remote finance team is able to securely access the solution from anywhere. It’s times like these that cloud financial solutions shine more than ever.