Microsoft 365: Life-changing tools you already use
Repstor CEO Alan McMillen drills into some of the advanced features of Microsoft’s Office platform to reveal their potential to transform the ways accountants work – without having to invest in new systems.
Just as necessity is the mother of invention, Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change on a massive scale. Where previously accounting firms may have been pondering a revamp of their IT systems, the pandemic made it a burning priority, not only to facilitate flexible home-working and continuity of service while offices were closed, but also to transform the way professionals prioritise, value and account for their time.
One of the big heroes of that shift has been Microsoft 365 (M365).
In March 2020, Microsoft reported that activity on MS Teams had soared by 500%; followed by 775% in April. That trend accelerated professionals rebuilt their organisations as virtual businesses during 2020. By In early September, Microsoft reported that over the previous quarter, Microsoft Teams users had used the platform to host more than 5bn minutes of virtual meetings in a single day.
Applications such as Outlook, SharePoint and Teams were a lifeline that helped accountants and other knowledge workers keep on top of client engagements at distance. Many of these professionals realised that M365 could be more than a temporary workaround: it could be their gateway to a more flexible future.
In truth, the transformations that we have seen in the past year only scratch the surface of what users can achieve when they harness the platform fully.
Gateway to a digitally-enhanced future
At Repstor we work with more than half of the top 10 global consultancies. In almost every case, teams are looking to work and allocate their skills and time in smarter ways. This aspiration extends to leveraging knowledge and experience gained right across the global organisation to deliver new value for clients.
Sebastian Hartmann, global head of technology strategy at KPMG, has written extensively about the scope for increasing the profitability of a professional services firm through more systematic data management. In our own dealings with him, we discovered a Microsoft 365 enthusiast who embraced its analytics capabilities to uncover new, real-time insights into the status of client engagements and where any bottlenecks were building up.
The big consultancy firms are building for the future around mainstream, cloud-based technology – not specialist legacy systems that cost an arm and a leg and still fail to keep up with the latest technology innovations.
As well as reducing costs and simplifying its IT estate, defaulting to M365 paves the way for new collaboration, content management, analysis and productivity features that are built into the platform
Microsoft Teams has grabbed the headlines during lockdown, but is much more than a collaboration tool. Forrester Research noted in 2019 that many of the savings associated with using Teams came from people having everything they needed in a single space – thanks mainly to not needing to switch between different applications to find information needed to complete tasks. Forrester estimated that information workers could save more than an hour a week by using Teams as a central hub to manage their work.
Combining Teams with the Power Automate, Planner and Tasks workflow apps enables more streamlining and automation. Users can tailor their workspaces for the activity in hand and access defined workflows that simplify collaboration with colleagues. At the organisational level, these capabilities enable firms to allocate time and resources in much smarter ways.
Then there is Microsoft Power BI, which can unlock business insights from a range of operational data sources and make them accessible for deeper enquiry through interactive dashboards.
Even more ground-breaking Microsoft’s Project Cortex knowledge management service. This “AI for the masses” initiative promises to transform how people manage analyse and manage content, so that it’s easier to file away without extensive manual indexing, and - more importantly - find on demand.
Any organisation already using the Microsoft 365 platform to create, receive, share, edit and discuss content will be able to apply Cortex to automate a substantial proportion of that processing and management - all the while teaching the AI engine what to look for, what to disregard, and how specific topics or types of content should be handled. Given the huge volumes of documents professional services firms deal with, Cortex is likely to be a boon for the accounting profession.
With all of these features readily available via the cloud, and new capabilities on the horizon, the case for consolidating accounting IT capabilities on Microsoft 365 – and moving away from specialist document management systems - is highly persuasive.