The Digitalization of Professional Services — How SMBs Can Keep Up

11-Oct 2022
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Chelsea Williams SENIOR COPYWRITER

The digitalization of professional services sped up by approximately five years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, people needed high-quality remote project management software that their employees could collaborate on in real time — and they needed it as soon as possible.

Let’s talk about a few aspects of the recent history and impact of digitalization: 

Pre-Pandemic Trends in Professional Services

‌The pandemic was just one of many catalysts of the swift digital transformation of professional services businesses. Before March 2020, there were already three trends at work in the professional services industry and operating model.

1. Demand for Increased Speed

Customer demand for increased business speed and agility had already sparked a pattern of faster tech adoption. A tech-driven startup could emerge in any industry seemingly overnight and revolutionize the standards of operation, challenging traditional business models. By providing more agile, effective services, these startups sometimes take down industry powerhouses that have dominated markets for years.

2. Streamlined Digital Delivery of Services

Providing digital delivery of services also positioned professional services firms to take a healthier market share than their competitors by giving consumers the most efficient tools to operate their businesses‌. 

Creative delivery services have expanded and supported a growing demand for tech-forward service providers. Going forward, digitalization might also require reinventing business models.

3. Shift to a Value-Based Business Model

Digitalization supports value-based, as opposed to traditional rate-based, pricing and business models. As tech usage has increased, subscription-based delivery of knowledge and other services has surged in popularity. The average consumer now expects a more consistent relationship with the businesses they frequent, especially for services over goods.

Outcomes of the Digitalization of Professional Services

Innovation is essential, but when an industry is forced to change, there can be some unpredictable outcomes. As heavy tech investment has become an unavoidable part of the new norm for business operations, navigating this shift has meant coming to terms with external expectations.

Customer Demands Pressure Companies to Adapt

Businesses are being pressured by consumers who are aware of technological advances and demanding faster, more agile services. But the average consumer doesn’t have a broad understanding of what it takes for every business to keep up, nor how digital transformation takes place in each industry.

In professional services, the quality of client relationships can suffer if you’re not careful about how you introduce new platforms and workflows. While you should afford clients attention to the extent you can, they shouldn’t be the ones making the decisions about how you’ll conduct business.

Lower Barriers to Entry

In recent years, startups have been able to step in and provide much-needed services to existing businesses — relationships that took many times longer to develop in a less technologically advanced world. In many cases, newcomers can even provide a more compelling user experience at a better price than companies already operating in the industry.

According to Harvard Business Review, "disruptive innovation research" is the process by which new entrants to an industry challenge current industry norms. On the flip side of disruptive innovative research lies radical innovation, which stems from the creation of new knowledge and the clever commercialization of novel products and solutions to problems faced by consumers. Ideally, your service business will balance the two. 

Adapting solely to keep up with trends means you may be cutting-edge today but lost in the past tomorrow. Use lower barriers to entry when it counts: when you identify a space your business can occupy creatively and profitably.

Workforce Productivity Management Using Tech

The massive shift to virtual workplaces and distributed teams caused by the COVID-19 pandemic required workforce management to quickly embrace digital transformation. The transition to remote work also gave businesses the opportunity to employ a flexible network of global talent.

In need of connection, businesses of all sizes sought cloud-based services for advanced tech solutions. The sheer number of high-quality productivity tools, content management systems, project management systems and other technologies have put more small to midsize businesses (SMBs) on even ground with larger competitors.

Think of how many different tools were required for operating a business before the advent of smartphones: You had your telephone, your Rolodex, endless piles of paperwork and employees whose sole function was to perform tasks we now do digitally. Many of these processes can be automated with the right business software, making it easier than ever to run a digital business.

Adapting to the demands of consumers and the shift to digital work is not easy. Moreover, it can prove quite costly, leading many businesses to resist the change. 

Pressures to adapt to consumer — and employee — demands will always exist, and you should consider the degree to which your team is ready for new productivity-enhancing tech. Resisting the need for digitalization can hurt your business’s ability to compete in the long run, but moving too fast can be risky.

Finding a Balance With Business Tech 

Instead, slow down and ensure that you’re building a deliberate relationship with tech that supports your goals and vision.  

While you have seemingly endless choices of platforms to adopt, it’s wise to choose a tech stack that’s appropriate for your industry and consolidate your software enough so that your business can ride the waves of further global economic shifts while remaining profitable. 

The right solutions will be unique to what you offer, but above all, you’ll want a versatile platform that can grow with your business and support multiple departments.

As a collaborative client work management platform, Accelo provides a full suite of tools and resources you need to improve client relationships and maximize profitability. Manage sales, quotes, projects, tickets, retainers, timesheets, billing and scheduling — all in a single cloud-based platform.

Accelo can help you keep up with the digitalization of your corner of the professional services industry. Schedule a demo of Accelo today.

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