Importance of innovation at professional service organizations

April 5, 2018

By Natalie B. Hoffmann, CPA.CITP,

When the public hears the word innovation, they often think of tech giants, manufacturers and health care professionals who make the news for their latest devices, groundbreaking products or revolutionary remedies. Often, these innovations impact our buying and consumption habits or change the way we think about disease or health. It is not often that professional service organizations make headlines for innovation. While the latest customer relationship management (CRM) platform is exciting within the industry, the general public typically only experiences the end results. However, the professional services industry is innovating and transforming the way they do business in big ways in order to adapt to the mobile experience their clients expect to receive.

Professional service organizations, such as certified public accountants (CPAs), human capital management (HCM) firms, finance professionals and more, have taken the latest technological advances, which allow people to work from anywhere at any time, and essentially ran with them. Innovative firms are embracing the mobile workforce in ways not previously imagined for their industry, allowing them to cross borders and engage with a whole new market of clients and prospects. Now, companies can conduct general compliance work globally without ever needing to meet with their clients in person. This has created an extremely competitive marketplace within the various sectors of the professional service industry, and it is this competition and innovation, together, which are key drivers of economic growth.

Economic and workforce impact

Innovation happens because an individual or a company is seeking ways to make work easier, move faster and make better use of their resources to outpace and outperform their competition and provide a better overall customer experience. When it comes to economic growth, maximizing resources and time is the key to being able to grow and produce more.

Furthermore, innovation is key when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent, and technology is just one part of the overall innovation picture we see taking shape at companies. Not only is compliance work competitive, but the marketplace for talent has transformed into a hot commodity which further drives economic growth. New generations are bringing with them some significant cultural shifts as they enter the workforce with a new set of expectations for what work should be. Organizations that haven’t adapted to the changing expectations of their workforce will struggle in today’s competitive talent landscape. Adapting and being culturally innovative is just as necessary for professional service firms today as the technological side.

There are stark differences between what each generation expects from their work experience including the ability to be flexible with where and how they work. Younger generations expect mobility and flexibility, and some older generations are embracing it as well as they see the shift in their client base toward a mobile experience. The industry’s top talent wants to be where the action is and the innovation is happening, regardless of with which generation they identify. They expect a flexible environment and, thanks to the technology, they are able to find it in firms that have embraced it.

User experience and adding value

When it comes to the user experience, a visible example of innovation in professional organizations is evidenced in how these businesses communicate with their client base. Organizations have developed platforms which are accessible from anywhere at any time with one database. The development of one database is key as, previously, data was housed in various disparate systems which did not talk to one another and required significant manual application on the part of the user. Employees at professional service firms may have had to research several platforms or file cabinets, then combine the data to achieve the desired result to find one answer for a client. Questions spanning from tax to bookkeeping to payroll and HR all had answers dispersed across these various systems. Innovative technology has brought it all together in one place.

Additionally, these platforms are becoming more user-friendly with an interface that is easy to navigate, fun to use, and gets the job done. This is helping companies operate better internally with higher employee satisfaction, as well as externally as clients are able to interact with their provider more regularly developing a stronger connection with the services their provider offers. Apps like FaceTime and Skype give a personal touch, even if a provider is not in the same region or time zone as their customer.

With the cloud, the client does not necessarily have to rely on their provider for all the answers; they can find them on their own. However, when they do have a big question or decision to make, they can turn to their provider to help build evidence and scenarios around the data they may not have considered, and for additional reassurance. By working from one, often cloud-based platform, businesses can give better, more informed answers in a shorter amount of time to their clients. Furthermore, the visuals that can be generated and shared from this technology can give a contextual representation of the data clients are seeing, so they can feel confident in their decision-making. The ability to provide quicker, more accurate answers helps instill greater trust and strengthens the bond between the parties. The provider becomes a natural and more regular resource for guidance, adding significant value to the relationship.

What’s next

The next phase of innovation for professional service organizations is here, and it’s in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). Think about IBM’s Watson technology; AI will be able to take a scenario and determine what its next steps should be to achieve the desired outcome, and then perform those tasks. Currently, while many processes are automated, no business is operating 100 percent on automation. There is still a lot of manual direction provided by humans to applications and platforms to obtain the desired result. Eventually, AI will take a lot of the human tasks and thinking out of the equation and provide a truly automatic experience.

Overall, professional service organizations are embracing technological and cultural innovation to provide a better workplace and user experience, driving economic growth. While they may not make headlines, the impact of the innovation in these industries is shaping the way we think about and conduct business.

Originally published on, September, 2017.

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