CEO Repstor
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Modernising professional services in eight steps

Repstor CEO Alan McMillen presents a practical action plan for migrating current operations away from cumbersome old systems. His eight steps minimise the pain and deliver quick wins along the way.

5th Oct 2020
CEO Repstor
Columnist
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The last seven months have been a tough test for accounting firms. Countless practices immediately ran into IT issues as people began to work from home, intensifying the urgency around digital transformation. 

As the current disruption continues, many firms are now focused on the rapid removal of legacy and stovepipe content management systems. Simplified, consolidated, cloud-based platform strategies will put firms at an advantage going forward. 

Where should firms start? What is the best and least painful approach? Which delivers maximum benefits and quick wins along the way? Here are some logical steps to making a positive and timely transition as cost-effective as possible.

1: Assess how current IT limitations are holding you back

Firms with on-premise/proprietary document management systems typically experienced the biggest issues with information and document access during the first, national lockdown. 

Many professionals relied on email to pass documents back and forth when working from home, with a risk of content duplication, security and governance breaches, and reduced efficiency. 

2: Remember one of the biggest takeaways of Covid: that even big firms can effect change quickly when they need to

When necessity called for it this year, even large and traditionally conservative firms stepped up. They were able to make and enact new IT-related decisions within days – while still performing due diligence. 

Microsoft Teams quickly became so intrinsic to everyday collaboration during the global lockdown, for example, that many managers vowed never to revert to former methods. 

The due security and compliance diligence performed by most firms regarding Office 365/Microsoft 365 (typically for the use of Exchange) made harnessing Teams relatively painless. 

The breadth of Microsoft 365 for collaboration and content management means firms can consolidate their activities as part of a broader, more streamlined content management strategy.

3. Whatever the plan, make it in the cloud

Today, there is no sense to persist with legacy, on-premise document storage and management systems. The latest and most secure IT capabilities are available, on-tap and in the cloud-managed around the clock by dedicated experts. 

All the major software companies are investing the lion’s share of their R&D budgets here, and where new advanced capabilities – such as AI-enabled compliance, search and filing, will be focused.

4. Allow for data migration – but don’t overthink it

While cautious firms might once have phased out legacy systems very gradually, continuing to use older platforms, this compromises those staff in roles that rely on that content being easily available. It can also leave organisations vulnerable to server failures, and with ageing infrastructure security concerns. For this reason, more firms are turning to a ‘big bang’ approach to platform consolidation.

While migration is a process that requires detailed planning and care, there are both specialist providers and tools available that can deal with any risk and ensure a timely result. With modern cloud services as the target, the ingestion, integration and consolidation become far less of an issue than it might have been previously. 

Look out for ready-to-go connectors to the systems you use today to store content or manage client engagements, giving your professionals ready access to everything they need to fulfil clients’ needs and report back to the business, via a single online hub.

5. Make change comfortable

Any change can be unsettling for teams, so factor this in and consider the need for staff training. 

Defaulting to a familiar interface like Microsoft Outlook or Teams means professionals won’t have to adapt to a new system. or change their approach to update access to business content. That’s because Microsoft 365 is a mainstream platform already used extensively across businesses every day.

6. Learn to let go

As the professional services industry braces itself for a challenging economy now on top of a fundamental shakeup of the market, the option to simplify modes of working is very appealing. 

Moving client engagement and associated content management to a familiar cloud platform that’s readily accessible will set them in good stead for whatever comes next – including new local lockdowns, enforced and preferred remote working and continued social distancing.

7. Prioritise the mobile experience

Any digital transformation plan should have mobility at its heart, especially in 2020. This should ideally include the option of offline access to content so professionals aren’t interrupted in their work if they lose their internet connection. 

8. Look ahead

Digital transformation decisions aren’t just about what firms want to achieve now. It’s also important to consider future potential, as technology continues to advance.  

Look for opportunities to automate more processes, for example. The Power Automate functionality in Microsoft 365 is ideal for streamlining workflow. Start by tying applications together so that data can flow more fluidly between them without manual intervention. 

Operational analytics are likely to rise in importance too, as firms look to pinpoint bottlenecks or opportunities to bolster margins – based on the latest operational data drawn in from multiple sources. 

Scope to transform knowledge management and enable instant information discovery across entire global organisations, meanwhile, could help teams leverage successful historic work in future engagements – accelerating outcomes and improving the client experience.

Ice hockey professional Wayne Gretzky’s well-worn quote, about getting to where the puck will be and being ready to do something with it when it arrives, which applies in so many contexts – is a great way to think about the transformation potential around content management.

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