According to Deloitte, professional services firms need to embrace AI, business intelligence (BI), and big data analytics because they have no other option. In other words, opting out is a death sentence.
While just about every industry is in that same boat, BI and advanced, cloud-based analytics have become central to the professional services business model – which is literally built on expert insights, knowledge, and guidance.
As such, firms have unique intelligence and analytics needs. On the operational side, they need powerful solutions for managing hundreds, even thousands, of projects, people, and processes, across the entire portfolio.
On the client side, analysts, sales reps, and other experts need access to detailed insights and custom reporting tools they can use to support clients.
AI analytics are also helping firms modernize – they’re adding SaaS-like pricing models to their menu of offerings and engaging customers in new ways with personalized content and solutions.
Here, we’ll look at the increasingly central role AI, advanced analytics, and BI play within the modern professional services firm and how these technologies impact the entire business.
1. Real-Time BI Powers Data-Driven Decision-Making
Professional services firms measure success by their ability to manage projects, produce great client outcomes, and reliably turn a profit. It sounds like a no-brainer, but understanding what drives your business, your clients, and the market allows you to run your firm more effectively, keep customers happy, and power sustainable revenue growth.
When you don’t have a clear picture of where things stand, you can’t make profitable decisions.
That said, decision-making is about more than understanding “the what.”
When reporting tools don’t include baked-in AI/ML capabilities, it’s up to human users to interpret the findings, then determine which actions will deliver the best outcomes. This is bad news on two fronts: humans usually misinterpret their findings and as a result, use inaccurate insights to inform actions.
What’s more, employees at all levels waste countless hours manually gathering data from disparate sources and using spreadsheets and gut-feelings to make judgements on how the business is doing.
Next-gen BI and AI analytics tools help professional services orgs bridge that gap between analysis and execution. Algorithms can identify patterns, trends, and anomalies across the entire portfolio – and help users understand their findings in context, and guide them toward the correct set of actions.
Predictive insights can surface patterns and trends that can be used to improve resource allocation, service, revenue, as well as the strategies used by individual teams and business units. So, rather than using spreadsheet formulas or simple analytics tools, business leaders can act on opportunities and threats in real-time, model different scenarios, and make plans for the future.
For example, D365 Finance includes AI payment predictions and cash flow forecasting that allow users to generate forecasts from “what-if scenarios.”
Embedding AI and business intelligence into daily work helps teams work more efficiently and goes a long way in tearing down data silos. As an example, using Microsoft Teams with Dynamics 365 and Power BI helps client-facing teams work faster and provide better information to clients.
2. AI and ML Help Professional Services Firms Streamline Operations
Advanced analytics allows firms to automate backend processes, address serious inefficiencies, and improve client satisfaction on several different levels.
Velosio client, Global Strategy Group (GSG) sought us out when they realized they weren’t getting the data they needed for resource planning, budgeting, and forecasting from Salesforce.
Chief Information Officer, Andrew Ho explained that while the firm had a solid track record with clients, they didn’t have a clear picture of how the business was performing or what activities were responsible for successful outcomes.
GSG implemented Dynamics 365 Sales and D365 Project Service Automation (now part of D365 Project Operations) to tackle both sales and project management activities in one place. Tasks like billing, expense reporting, and time-tracking (which previously required employees to copy and paste data from Salesforce into spreadsheets) are now automated.
PSA capabilities also unlocked deeper insight into resource availability – and made it easier to maximize utilization. Projects were automatically assigned to the right staff, many of whom work on multiple projects at a time.
For example, Spairliners, an service org that handles maintenance and repair for Airbus carriers, replaced its legacy system with D365 Human Resources when it became too difficult to manage HR operations using Excel and SharePoint alone.
The Spairliners team significantly reduced the amount of time spent on admin tasks like managing schedules, onboarding and developing talent, and managing payments and bonuses.
And – they were able to be proactive about driving quality improvements across the entire organization by adding useful functions to the system – for example, any time an employee requests time off, managers are automatically notified and planned absences are documented in the Outlook calendar upon approval.
After years of steady growth across all business units, Axiata Digital Advertising (ADA), an AI and data solutions firm, realized its legacy system was straining to meet rising operational demands.
By implementing D365 Finance and Supply Chain Management, ADA was able to digitize processes, and streamline its overall finance and procurement operations. The firm increased productivity and client satisfaction, and was able to consolidate and close financial reports at a much faster pace – and still meet audit and compliance requirements.
Automation also increases the volume of data firms have at their disposal. ADA owns data from over 375M customers, and their service model is based on using that information to provide data-driven insights, guidance, and marketing solutions to its clients.
But – by connecting the entire business under one cloud-based platform, the firm can now support further process improvements and generate more data they can use to enhance the insights and services offered to their clients.
3. AI in Professional Services Maximizes the Value of Big Data
While professional services orgs will always derive their core value from human-driven insights and relationships, firms can’t compete without the right set of tools.
AI-driven analytics help firms maximize the value of their in several different ways, including:
Improve service quality. Real-time analytics allow organizations to move away from reactive strategies and embrace proactive ones like predictive maintenance programs that prevent costly break fixes and down-tine. AI and ML-powered predictive analytics platforms can instantly analyze massive volumes of raw data and surface patterns and relationships humans can’t detect on their own.
Analysts can use those findings to craft a compelling narrative with data visualizations and custom reports that illustrate larger implications for clients. Then from there, present relevant, actionable solutions and guidance toward achieving critical outcomes.
Deliver the kind of “hyper-personalization” clients expect. McKinsey analysts say that the value of getting personalization right is multiplying fast, noting that personalization drives better client outcomes and overall performance.
The closer firms can get to their clients, the better the results. AI plays a crucial role in helping professional services orgs serve up hyper-personalized solutions, services, and pricing — without crossing the line between relevant and creepy. IT providers might use advanced analytics tools to recommend better infrastructure solutions or put together the ideal stack.
Software companies might use detailed customer insights to inform new features and solutions or create educational content focused on niche use cases that matter to a specific client.
Unlock new revenue opportunities. According to Forrester, advanced, insights-driven orgs were 8.5x more likely than their less experienced counterparts to see are increase in revenue growth of at least 20%.
Leading firms are increasingly embracing business models centered on selling their data. That might mean building a SaaS-like data product. Or — it might mean packaging and selling data to other companies like Westpac Institutional Bank is doing.
The financial services firm just announced a new project, DataX, which pools and converts anonymized data from 6M+ daily credit card transactions to help its businesses and institutional clients better understand market conditions, identify growth opportunities, and better serve their own customers.
4. AI Analytics and Automation Help Professional Services Firms Reduce Risk
Beyond optimizing processes and guiding decision-making at all levels, AI, BI, and advanced automation allow firms to take a proactive approach to managing risk from multiple fronts.
Firms might use these tools to assemble critical documents like contracts, estimates, proposals, deeds, or mortgage and loan applications and analyze them for risk and compliance issues before they go out to the customer. Or, to reinforce legal and regulatory requirements, corporate policies, and brand guidelines.
This is important, as many firms are subject to strict financial regulations and tax reporting requirements (which get more complicated when firms operate in multiple countries/currencies) and can easily get into hot water if they fall out of compliance.
D365 Finance allows users to create their own rules to simplify tax calculations, configure docs and reports that meet compliance requirements, and enforce governance standards. Our solution, AXIO for Advanced Projects comes with 500+ built-in best practices that both reduce risk and help employees work more effectively.
AI platforms also help firms analyze transactions and run faster, more accurate audits. For example, built-in ML can analyze an entire year’s worth of transactional data and identify any red flags, in a matter of minutes, producing better results than humans using analog sampling methods.
AI and ML are central to detecting cyber threats in a cloud-based environment. Think – fraudulent activity, suspicious log-in and usage activities, and other anomalies. And – they can be trained to fix certain security issues on their own — without getting human employees involved unless absolutely necessary.
Accounting firm Lansigt ditched its on-prem services for a new digital workspace in the Azure cloud. Azure’s built-in analytics provided the firm with the transparency it needed to ensure all IT processes met the security and regulatory requirements of operating in the accounting sector.
By capturing more (and better) data, putting insights to work, and continuously optimizing your strategy, your firm will be better equipped to win in any business environment.
Still, those benefits are only possible if you select the right tools. Tools that solve problems and achieve very specific goals based on your unique needs and strategy. More importantly, you’ll need to cultivate an environment where everyone has the skills they need to effectively use data to drive a specific outcome.
Velosio’s Microsoft experts help firms transform the way they data, automate workflows, and deliver valuable services to their clients. Get in touch to find out how.