Digital evangelists at many professional services firms have spent much of their time trying to convince often reluctant partners that the time was now to embrace digital technology. For many, it’s been a thankless and frustrating task. Then the pandemic happened and the digital transformation of professional services that looked like it might take a decade or more to achieve suddenly happened overnight.

Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap

A new McKinsey & Company survey finds that: “responses to COVID-19 have speeded the adoption of digital technologies by several years—and that many of these changes could be here for the long haul”. At professional services companies, the size of the change is 200%  larger then at consumer products companies.

Online video-conferencing, cloud-based document repositories, digital signatures, and remote work replaced business as usual overnight. It was the only way businesses could keep the lights on in the new normal. Like it or not, even the most technophobic lawyers, accountants, real estate professionals, and financial services providers have had to embrace digital technology in ways they never imagined would be necessary.

Allstate estimated that as a result of the pandemic more than 90% of its auto claims were submitted via its virtual claims tools. Before the pandemic, approximately 11% of auto insurance customers used virtual claims tools.

The post-pandemic world will see a completely transformed competitive landscape and customer experience. Count on the massive customer shift to digital to persist and reflect a new norm for customer engagement. Now that the digital genie is out of the bottle there will be no putting it back. Professional service firms will need to re-evaluate their value proposition and practices in this new digital world in order to survive and thrive.

Enabling digital transformation

So what should be the priorities for a digital startegy? Here are the core issues:

Client Focused Technology

Online technology is now an essential means of communicating with clients. The pandemic enforced move to online collaboration, conferencing, and e-signatures are all dependent on secure document sharing to function successfully. If email is your method of sharing documents you are going to have problems with duplication of content, which will create security and governance risks as well as reduced efficiency.

Professional service firms need a customer facing portal that is easy for customers to use and covers all the information and document management needs of your services. Professional service workers need mobile tools that can access information and documents anywhere and allows them to engage clients from anywhere.

Cloud-based infrastructure

People relocating from the cities to the suburbs and rural areas because of remote work and social distancing has been a big story. Thanks to Covid, your business will be relocating as well… to the Cloud. Even before the pandemic, large enterprises had already been all in on transitioning to the Cloud. According to a report from Synergy Research Group, through the first quarter of 2020, corporate spending on cloud infrastructure services reached $29 billion, a 37% increase over the same quarter last year. Companies that had robust secure cloud infrastructure were much better prepared to deal with the abrupt transition to remote work and cloud based collaboration caused by the pandemic.

For professional services cloud-based document management, collaboration and digital signing will be the foundation of any successful digital transformation initiative. All of which require a secure cloud infrastructure.

Embrace Automation

If Covid induced digital transformation is not enough of a dramatic change, Artificial Intelligence will soon automate much of the square pegs in square holes work in accounting, legal work, and other professional services. That can be a disaster or an opportunity depending on how your firm responds.

Freeing professionals up from drudge work allows them to focus on client-centered activities. Work that online and off requires communication skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. Something that humans are great at and something that machines will struggle with into the foreseeable future.

Cloud-based AI tools that feature automated knowledge management and instant information discovery across entire organizations can enable your team to locate examples of relevant previous project delivery, and leverage successful work in future engagements – accelerating outcomes and improving the client experience. Rather then fight a losing battle with machine intelligence using old work methods, put it to work for you to make your firm leaner, more productive, and more competitive.

Change is here to stay

Don’t expect things to be returning to normal post-Covid. Some governments are now considering ‘right to work from home’ legislation. There are multiple forces at work that are ensuring that remote work, more flexible work arrangements and more business being transacted virtually will be with us long after the pandemic is gone.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Professional service firms that normally would have taken months or years to affect digital change overnight became models of agile change agents. Systems were put into place within days to respond to the pandemic. Going forward professional service firms must learn from the experience of the pandemic and structure their businesses for continuous disruptive change. This will allow businesses to stay a step or two ahead of an accelerated rate of digital transformation.

The pandemic has proven that changes we thought were impossible or would take years were possible and could be enacted in days. Businesses proved themselves more adaptable to change than the conventional wisdom would have led us to believe. To survive and thrive in the new normal your business needs to embrace your new agile change-agent self.