5 Ways Services Firms Can Drive Technology Change

Cloud technology can make systems faster, more nimble, and more responsive. If done right, it’s a golden opportunity for a digital transformation that delivers a bolder, more successful future.

In a recent Workday study “Closing the Acceleration Gap: Toward Sustainable Digital Transformation,” 57% of professional services leaders say there’s a growing gap between where their business is and where it needs to be to compete. And only 23% say their digital strategy allows them to keep pace or exceed the demands of the business.

Despite this gap, some firms may try to do things the same way and move existing processes and technology approaches to the cloud. While this could potentially speed up an integration in the short term, it ultimately may stifle a firm’s efficiency, agility, and growth in the long term.

Moving to the cloud is about envisioning a bolder future in which a new culture, melting of traditional silos, and streamlined operations will help firms transform.

Pausing to think about how processes can be improved and then getting them right will ultimately foster a more effective digital transformation. It’s an opportunity to tackle challenges or issues that have traditionally hampered the business and to harness the efficiencies and values that cloud technology can provide.

So how can professional services firms achieve this transformation nirvana? Below we’ll explain key considerations to make this change work. And we’ll also share what we’re hearing from professional services leaders about how they successfully moved to the cloud.

1. Embrace Change Management

For professional services firms, the biggest element of success is change management. But people often fear change—it’s uncomfortable, challenging, and brings uncertainty. They may not see the value of the change and how it will impact them. 

But over and over, the change-management aspect is bigger than the technology. Why? A successful digital transformation depends on the people, not necessarily on technology. Our customers have said—a few of them boldly—that these projects don’t fail because of technology, they fail because of people.

Firms have aggressive growth objectives, and they’re finding that technology is holding them back.

In our industry, many businesses are partner owned. They’re answering to a lot of different people, not only a corporate chain of command. Partners may have had the freedom to do things on their own, such as procure their preferred technology, in a way that profits their side of the business. 

Culturally, it’s a big change. It’s a new way of working. It’s critical to bring partners together and get them to buy in to the fact that ultimately the change will pay off and impact the greater good of the firm. Optimizing processes, standardizing where possible, and minimizing edge use cases unique to each partner’s business will be the rising tide that lifts all ships.

2. Engage Stakeholders Throughout the Entire Process

Bring in all the important stakeholders early in the project—not only during the middle or end when it’s often too late. In addition to learning a new technology, stakeholders are asking for a complete change in behavior. They need to know what’s expected of them, how they’ll use the technology, and why change is needed. Getting buy-in early and collecting their feedback about what they need from the system and process designs will ensure no surprises at go live.

The most complex business processes are the ones to get right. For professional services, there are a lot of unique services and businesses that a cloud solution must support. And typically, the COO is the person who owns the delivery of services. They’re a key influencer in the decision process around technologies, on the company’s philosophy, and ultimately in the transformation.

Also involve the CIO sooner rather than later to ensure they share the vision of moving to the cloud and the simplification that Workday delivers. That’s a key stakeholder to engage. 

Consider the length of a digital transformation. When managing a move to the cloud, the pace of change may ebb and flow—along with employees’ focus. To keep employees motivated and engaged while taking the necessary steps to transform the firm, ensure employees remain productive and excited about the positive impact of change, especially when the benefits are not fully experienced yet.

3. Align Front and Back Offices to Smooth Out Business Processes

The front office of the business is pivotal, even when moving back-office applications to the cloud. The use of business applications is more pervasive because everybody across the firm is logging time expenses, in addition to managing workers, leave, and everything else. 

Workday empowers the business to come together and make decisions about how the firm will operate. Everyone needs to work within one system. During evaluations, people will often say they’ve never worked that way before. The CFO, CHRO, and CIO must work together to create this vision, which is a benefit to the business.

4. Ensure Data Is Accessible Between the Field and Office

Firms need a solution that’s available anywhere, anytime to keep workers connected to the business in an industry that’s traditionally characterized by highly mobile workforces. With a single mobile app, workers in the field can access pivotal information on the go: project status, tasking, resource alignment, or any other timely information. 

The biggest challenge in this industry is still rudimentary—getting people to enter their time. Firms want to convert that time into billing and revenue. A consultant may completely forget that they talked to one of their clients for an hour. That’s a billable hour that’s probably lost forever and, over time, may result in significant revenue leakage.

Firms need a solution that’s available anywhere, anytime to keep workers connected.

From an expense perspective, a modern user interface accessible at any time is key. People no longer have to remember to save a receipt until they get around to entering expenses. Now, they can just snap a picture. The ability to digitally capture the receipt, attach it to a draft expense report, and submit it quickly is a huge benefit. 

Being connected to the system via mobile ensures the integrity of the data that’s flowing into the billing process. Having an entire rules engine monitoring any sort of transaction in one system ensures that employees enter valid data—and not a mess that has to be cleaned up later.

5. Find a Solution That Can Grow With Your Firm and Enable Organizational Agility

A lot of solutions were not originally designed for services-based businesses. So firms had to customize technology and roll out a bunch of point solutions to solve each challenge along the service supply chain. In many cases, firms have aggressive growth objectives, and they’re finding that technology is holding them back. That’s causing them to have to scale the overhead as the business grows. 

A key component of this growth is professional services automation (PSA), which enables firms to manage every part of their projects in a single system—from staffing and project management to billing and financial management. 

For example, a key missing component of profitability analysis for professional services businesses is project-level profitability. Once established in a connected PSA system, firms can track costs and revenue in real time. (Think about time, expenses, payroll, and contractor invoices that drive both revenue and cost calculations.) Such a system allows firms to bubble up project-level financial data into planning and increase real-time metrics visibility for each service line.

Moving to the Cloud

Moving to the cloud is about envisioning a bolder future in which a new culture, melting of traditional silos, and streamlined operations will help firms successfully transform.

Professional services firms will need to rethink and optimize business processes, operations, and culture to make the best use of this powerful technology.

Unified applications will bring together human resources, finances, and project delivery into one system. And with reporting and business intelligence also built into the system of record, professional services firms will have a modern technology architecture that provides unparalleled dimensional insight and actionability in real time.

To learn more about how Workday helps professional services firms drive digital transformation, visit our website.

This updated article was first published in July 2022.

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