A new week, a new adventure. On Monday I started a new professional challenge, at the heart of  professional services organization, heading their digital initiatives.

What does digital even mean these days? Well, it’s everything and nothing, but for my own sanity I see it as a way of describing the ways in which technology is making our expectations as consumers of service providers change, and that those attitudes that we have as consumers is increasingly changing our expectations at work. That’s possibly no clearer – but I explore it more in the digital architecture work.

The world of technology in business has traditionally been (for non-technology companies) a matter of streamlining and systemizing back-office functions in the name of efficiency and cost-saving. The rise of digital, in which the focus shifts to the products and services provided to clients and customers rather than the things that a business does just to be a business (finance, legal, HR and so on) requires a big mindset shift for organizations and technology people alike.

At this stage I’m in information gathering mode. But it seems that there’s a reasonable classification of “things” that falls like this:

Enhancements are changes to streamline existing ways of working. This might be traditional IT, but also might be things that do actually touch the client or customer – billing systems, for example. In professional services firms it might also be an idea to think of professional, fee-earning staff as “clients” of a sort as, especially in partnerships in the world of law or accountancy, the relationship isn’t the same as that of employer/employee in more conventional organizations.

Transformations are changes that give an opportunity to do something significantly differently, or add a new product or service that is enabled by technology. In my experience of fee-earning organizations in the past (particularly the world of marketing agencies) it can often be difficult to get investment in transformations because everything tends to be focused on incremental enhancements to the way in which work is delivered on a client-by-client basis. Lots of rough duplication of technology can be seen as OK if effectively each client is paying their own way. Opportunities for the service provider can be missed, though, as a result. Proper content management in creative agencies springs to mind…

Disruptions are changes that are going to significantly devalue the business models for an existing product or service. Disruptions are really hard to initiate within an organization because they are likely to involve having to slay cash cows. It’s really, really hard to drop an existing revenue source before it dries up – but if it dries up it’s probably because someone outside has found a new, cheaper, automated way of doing things. There are a stack of examples of this in the world of technology, but in professional services the media provides good, and scary, case studies of what digital can do to established professions. Just ask any photographer or journalist.

Ultimately, professional services organizations – accountancies, law firms, consulting firms – provide content, knowledge, process and expertise. Which elements of those are valuable to clients, and which can be reduced in cost (and therefore price) are at the core of the challenge of digital in these sectors. It’s going to be an interesting journey…

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