For any and all questions about taking the first step, or about the whole transition towards data-driven practices for your firm, Expede's team are here to help
As a provider of professional services, you’ve no doubt noticed the changes which have occurred in the sector over recent years. Clients are not only more risk-averse, but are also smarter and more savvy; they are often ahead of the curve in terms of their technology and practices. These types of clients know exactly what they want, and will want it at a cheap, guaranteed price in the shortest time frame.
These changes are at the core of what it means to be operating in the Deep Value Economy. And without adapting, professional services firms are at risk of becoming a mere commodity, rather than an integral part of a client’s business.
So how does your firm, who is used to providing services in more traditional ways, adapt your business practices to thrive in this new environment? The answer can seem complex and often-insurmountable. However, while you don’t need a complete fix right away, there are several key areas you need to concentrate on to commence the change. The starting point for any successful journey is understanding what you’re trying to achieve, and where you want to be at the end; only then can you work out how to get there from where you are now. A successful roadmap to transform your professional services firm into a Deep Value Firm is no different: by figuring out where you need to be, you can better understand what your firm needs to do to get there.
Through the following series of blogs, we outline four key areas your firm needs to concentrate on. These are:
The templates contained in these blogs can be used to help you better understand the difference between your current practises, and those you can implement to gain greater value in this new environment. By understanding what it is you wish to achieve in the four key areas above, you can identify inefficiencies which can be easily-rectified, as well as start thinking about how you can fill any gaps which may become evident.
Next, we’ll be going through each of the four identified areas to concentrate on. We’ll be listing what it is your firm should look to achieve, then outline questions you need to ask yourself, as well as techniques and processes you can use to get there.
When talking about information, there are four key questions you need to ask of your firm:
Answering these simple questions can be a lot more complex than it first appears, and the roadmap below dives into further questions which extrapolate these themes further; however, by answering these questions, you will be able to achieve a high level of intelligent information management.
The end result of intelligent information management is:
Intelligent information management enables your firm to create long-term, sustainable value propositions by gaining insight beyond the immediate scope of work and developing an overarching profile of the client.
Most professional services firms fall into the trap of merely collecting information relevant to the immediate scope of work, without thinking about how such information could be a longer-term asset. Instead, you need to take a more holistic approach to how you collect, store and utilise client data, ensuring it produces the greatest value for you and your clients.
Every single piece of data you collect on your client can be an asset, enabling you to provide greater value in a more efficient manner; by utilising this data, and organising it in a meaningful way, you’ll be able to complete your work to a higher degree of quality and client satisfaction.
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself, which fall under six categories:
What is your high-level approach when it comes to both internal and client information? Do you even have a strategy? How do you store your information, and what do you do with it after you’ve completed your current engagement? Most importantly, what do you want the information you have to do for you, both now and into the future?
If you can’t answer all of these questions, then chances are you need an information strategy. This strategy needs to link to your firm’s overall strategic plan, and needs both a vision and a demonstrable business outcome or impact.
The first step is to identify what your firm is trying to accomplish through the use of information. This is the vision of the strategy, and will set the tone and direction to which all other components of the strategy should be tied. A good vision statement should be:
In order to be effective, your information strategy must be tied to a demonstrable business outcome through an impact statement. The impacts of your information strategy are the benefits – both direct and indirect – which will be realised by executing it effectively. These are the quantifiable metrics such as client satisfaction, higher quality, increased efficiency and lower costs which will get buy-in from staff and leadership within your firm.
Conduct a quick audit across a number of engagements to understand how you are currently managing information. Is it structured or disorganised? Is it stored on individual computers, replicated or stored on email? Answering these questions will help you understand how well your current approach meets your strategy.
Once you have determined how and where information is stored, you then need to ask whether the information actually contributed to the desired outcomes of the work undertaken. Questions you need to ask include:
Once these questions have been answered, you can then conduct an assessment to determine what type of information is and isn’t useful, which will then feed into future projects as part of your overall information strategy. Such an assessment should also uncover old and ‘orphaned’ data which no longer provides any value and can be retired.
Stemming from the above information audit, you will have a better understanding of how your firm groups related data. Questions to be asked include:
Understanding the information you receive from clients, and how much effort is required by your firm to organise it meaningfully, will unlock the ability to quickly sort data as it comes in. By documenting the effort required to process client information before it is grouped into records can add future value by reducing both rework and the potential for record duplication.
Associated with records is how you manage client information – do you process information you receive before you store it? If not, would this be of value to you? Do you store it by project, scope or department, and does this make it more convenient for you or your client? Don’t forget, every internal inefficiency is another cost the client must pay for, so you need to ensure you make your storage and recording of client information easier for them as well as you. Can you adjust your collection methods to suit the type of information the client provides, or can you work with the client to streamline the process?
Many firms spend up to 70% of their time replicating work already done, effectively reinventing the wheel during each engagement. Others go to the other extreme, charging high fees for pre-used templates – often charging the same client a number of times for the same basic product. This is a sure-fire way to become uncompetitive in the Deep Value Economy. Are you getting the most value out of information your firm has generated before, and is this reflected in your quotes for and execution of work? Do you rely on individual team members to remember previous work undertaken, or do you have a culture of knowledge-sharing?
Once all the above questions have been considered, you’ll need to take a look at the information system you’re using. Does it allow your firm to obtain all the information you need, or does it have shortfalls? Does it require a lot of manual input, increasing overheads? And if so, can it be easily-modified by either upgrading or applying new policies and procedures around information capture? Most importantly, does it allow your firm to easily access all the information you need, applying it to provide greater value?
By downloading Expede’s Information Management template, you’ll be able to see how it is currently applied in your firm, and how it either currently or potentially can add value to your client proposition.
Next, we’ll take a look at how you can use this information management approach to help drive top line performance, by concentrating on those pieces of work delivering the greatest value.
Put simply, top line performance is the level of output produced by your workforce. In the Deep Value Economy, where profit margins are squeezed and competition is ever-increasing, a higher level of output will enable your firm to generate greater revenue.
Professional services firms achieving high levels of top line performance:
By its very nature, a professional services firm’s work environment is made up of differing scopes for clients, making it hard to establish a standard approach. As a result, firms will often leave the methods of collecting and applying information to the individual project manager in charge of each piece of work, usually resulting in work duplication. Such cases present a significant opportunity to drive performance and move the firm away from undertaking monotonous, repetitive work to only expending effort on those activities providing high value.
To start increasing your firm’s top line performance, undertake the following steps:
In the course of an engagement, detail all the activities undertaken by your firm, coupled with the staff and resources associated with it. To do this, it is necessary to treat each client engagement as a separate project, rather than merely a continuation of previous work undertaken.
Once this has been established, determine which activities are of high value to the client, and whether they are unique to your capability (note that you cannot proceed to this determination stage before you’ve listed ALL activities). This list will then form an ‘Activity Strategy’, which will show you the activities your firm undertakes which add significant value.
You may find the low-value activities you identify during this process are the ones which provide your firm with the highest margins, yet are seen by the client as an unnecessary overhead. For example, a law firm charging ten cents for a photocopy would be hard pressed to sell this to their client as value-add – and they can guarantee there’s a firm out there only charging five or six cents a copy. Your firm should aim to automate, outsource or eliminate these low-value activities, instead focusing only on what the client sees as highly valuable.
During this process, it is also important to remember the difference between a ‘project strategy’ and an ‘activity strategy’. Project strategies are the broad concepts or approaches developed to help achieve the project or engagement objectives; activity strategies concentrate on ensuring all activities undertaken within a project strategy are of high value and help achieve the engagement goals.
Once an Activity Strategy has been developed, it will help feed into your Action Management plan.
It is important to consider how your firm approaches scope management; to do this, you need to adopt a project management approach and ask a few simple questions. Adopting a project management approach need not be complex, expensive or require special training; rather, utilising a few simple templates can mitigate distractions and have a significant impact on performance. Ask yourself the following:
By utilising a project management approach, you will quickly be able to define the scope, create a benchmark and then measure your progress against this. By measuring your progress in this way, you will be able to apply continuous improvement methodologies, increasing efficiency as you move forward.
An Action Management plan enables you to concentrate on direct, high-value activities identified through the previous Activity Audit. They give your firm a framework for how you’ll complete work efficiently and in a sensible order. By utilising the Action Management plan template, you can ask the following questions:
If there is any form of inefficient communication, be it in accessing information or in keeping everyone aware of progress, then you are creating an unnecessary overhead which can potentially increase your costs. This, in turn, will affect your competitiveness. Even by simply applying a central action management plan template which lists all the required activities, rather than an email-based system, you will drive productivity gains.
By assessing the various systems used by your firm, you will be better able to understand which ones best drive desired outcome and deliver value to your clients. As the template shows, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
By downloading and using Expede’s Top Line Management template, you’ll be able to gain a better understanding of which systems deliver the best outcomes; this will enable you will reduce your cost base while increasing high-value output.
Rather than continuing to use systems which require your team to continually switch, by understanding your current systems state, you’ll be in a better position to find a more efficient way to ensure you have the right information and tool at your fingertips, no matter what stage of the engagement.
In the next chapter, we’ll discover how you can utilise this new understanding to develop deeper, high-value client collaboration, making your firm an invaluable asset.
Client collaboration is essential to you firm’s success; therefore, it is important to develop close, mutually-beneficial relationships with your client. Although collaboration with clients occurs at various degrees across firms, high-value collaboration can be realised once your firm harnesses information capabilities and data insights.
High-value collaboration has the following characteristics:
Deep collaboration goes beyond regular meetings or update emails, looking instead to realise deep value through ongoing value growth and active client engagement. Collaboration which is not only beneficial to your firm, but is also valued by your client, comes into its own once you start to apply knowledge from data driven insights. Only once a client believes you are working with them towards the best outcome, will they be willing to share the most important pieces of their information jigsaw.
The steps to achieve high-value client collaboration are as follows:
While meetings, phone calls and emails are effective forms of communication, they are not true collaboration. Undertake a clear and honest review of how you work with your clients, assessing what other types of interaction you currently have, both in and out of the budget and schedule. Use the template to ask yourself the following questions:
An understanding of how your team collaborates with your clients is an essential first step into undertaking a risk and benefit assessment; without this, there may be areas where risks and benefits fail to be identified, as communication and collaboration are ineffective. Effective collaboration will also help your team gain an understanding of the client’s perceived level of benefit from the current scope of work.
It is important to remember that, while a client may have done their best to define the scope of work, you need to determine whether it is fit for purpose.
To do this, use the template to ask yourself the following questions:
In any modern professional services firm engagement, information systems are an essential component of collaboration. A review of the current systems and processes in place can help drive better client collaboration. Use the template to ask yourself the following questions:
By downloading and using Expede’s Client Collaboration template, you’ll gain a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses within your firm which both help and hinder the development of high-value client collaboration. This understanding will enable you to tap into deeper value, through active client engagement and effective collaboration.
The final chapter in this Roadmap explores how you can utilise high-value client collaboration to become a data-driven company, using business intelligence and analytics to enable you to see deeper into both your own operations and those of your clients.
Data driven insights can only be derived once the key areas described in ‘Intelligent Information Management’, ‘Top Line Productivity’ and ‘Client Collaboration’ are firmly established. By understanding your own firm and how you do business first, you will be better positioned to delve deeper into a client’s data. In this way, you can utilise your strengths to generate unique insights, making your company a much more profitable – and highly-sought after – professional services firm.
However, the journey into generating deep data insights does not begin by simply selecting a business intelligence tool, or looking for data visualisation techniques; such tools are only as useful as the information they are fed. Rather, it starts by gathering the right information, in the context of what makes your firm and your service offer unique – the technology to assess and visualise this information can come later. With the right information in place, your firm will be able to:
As stated above, generating deep data insights does not begin by selecting analytics tools, no matter how good they appear – they will only be as helpful as the information they contain. The first and essential step to becoming a data driven firm is to ensure you are capturing the right information. It is also important to ensure you have an adequate range of information before attempting to apply any data analysis techniques.
To develop greater data driven insights, you need to undertake the following steps:
One you’re adept in intelligent information management and generating greater top line productivity, begin capturing as much information as possible – your firm’s and your client’s, as well as the key activities you perform and how you manage differing scopes.
Once you are on the path to improvements in information and performance management, it is important you conduct audits to determine if you are recording the correct information. You need to identify how you recorded the information, what you did with it, what actual information was used and who undertook the work. What time was spent, and by whom, creating the key activities, and did the scope grow as the work progressed? How much value did these activities create? In the client’s eyes, was the same (or a lesser/greater) level of value realised?
The key is not to focus on what format in which to record your data, but rather to ensure you begin recording it. Once recorded, it needs to be stored in one central, easily-accessible location, mitigating version control issues and increasing its useability. This data could simply be kept in Word or Excel templates, recording observations, hours, deliverables and the client information you used – just as long as it is all focussed on better understanding those activities which provide value.
Does the system your firm uses for information and performance management also capture data around each engagement (what, how, who and how long)? If so, does this system provide the capacity for deep data analytics directly, or can they integrate with other solutions which can?
Once you have established effective data capture techniques and have become adept at the many different types of data you need to be recording, you can begin to consider selecting data analysis software and providers.
Using the template, the following questions will help you better understand what your firm requires:
Using Expede’s Data Driven Insights template, you will be able to better understand how your firm utilises data and information. This will help you to improve the way you handle information from the outset, enabling you to unlock deeper value from both your own and your clients’ data – a key factor in becoming a data-driven, highly-valued Deep Value firm.
The proof is in the pudding and being a data driven firm can revolutionise your business overnight, and when you’re embarking on a journey like this it’s important to make sure you’re headed in the right direction
The work involved in this change can at times seem insurmountable but with the right help it can be a walk in the park
If you want use years of real life experience as a Data Driven Firm fill in the form below and a member of the Expede team will reach out for a no obligation discovery call to steer you in the right direction: