[IMGCAP(1)]There are many words you might use to describe your place of work—perhaps corporate or numbers-based—but agile probably isn’t one of them.
Yet, the ability to be agile in a corporate setting can have several benefits: it could mean being able to quickly respond to opportunities, react to change, and adapt to challenges in ways that grow revenue, maintain profitability, satisfy clients and grow your firm. When agility is embraced in a company, there are several outcomes: new business wins and efficient responses to change, thus maintaining profitability, happy clients and good positioning for growth.
Winning New Business and Growing Revenue
As public accounting services become increasingly commoditized, firms must respond quickly to new business opportunities—or risk losing a chance to win the business. So how can agility help?
Propose quickly, yet accurately. Agile firms can quickly identify relevant past client work to serve as an insight for new proposals. Looking at similar past work helps determine what led to profitable results last time, which resources were involved, and whether the pricing was competitive, yet profitable. But you don’t have time for long, complicated data-mining; CPAs need information on tasks, staff and availability, all in one place. Further, the information must be easily retrieved and sorted along any of the many variables you may be looking for (e.g., by client, by resource, by job number or task type, etc). Fortunately, modern tools can help transform all of your firm’s past and current work into meaningful on-demand knowledge. You don’t have to handle it all on your own.
Similarly, an agile firm can easily determine if the right types of resources are available and have the capacity to accommodate new work. Quick identification of current and future capacity helps the firm commit to the timeline and even assign specific individual resources if requested by the client. This means having accurate knowledge of current WIP, upcoming future work and resource availability—organized and noted by skill sets, talent and experience level. The information should be easily retrievable, not locked away in three different systems and only available to the one team member with access.
Imagine the advantage for a firm that quickly responds to a new business opportunity with an immediate proposal that commits to the resources and timeline, and shows examples of relevant past work. Putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes, which firm would you choose?
Reacting to Change and Maintaining Profitability
Even the best-planned engagements are still subject to change: resources can shift, scopes can change, and budgets can fluctuate. Though these changes typically have adverse effects on profit margins, agility helps firms to respond appropriately, thus maintaining, rather than jeopardizing, their expected margin on the work.
Picture an engagement that suddenly broadens in scope to add an extra assignment. An agile firm quickly determines who has the appropriate skill and available capacity to take on the additional work—and can see how this additional work will impact other projects already in process, and future work the employee was scheduled to deliver. Doing this means having the right information together; not only so that information is easily accessible, but also so the engagement manager can see the firm-wide cause and effect of making the change.
Picture the alternative: Firms with disconnected information may respond quickly but perhaps incorrectly. Taking on the expanded scope may have unintended consequences, which could leave the firm unable to service other work in the pipeline or over-extend its resource capacity.
Over-extending staff can jeopardize employee morale and can lead to robbing other teams of individuals to complete the work, with detrimental effects that include understaffing other projects and delivering a lower quality of work.
Responding to Clients and Managing Their Expectations
Agile firms are better positioned to satisfy clients, and isn’t that what we’re all after? Flexible processes give firms the agility they need to respond to client demands. Consider a client who prefers an invoice that includes a complete break-down of the work provided, as opposed to a top-line description.
Firms with rigid, inflexible systems may not be able to produce such an invoice, leading to an unsatisfied client. Or they’re left with highly manual processes, which are inefficient and lead to errors, and also affect client profitability. We all want to satisfy clients; wouldn’t you like client satisfaction to be profitable?
Staging for Growth
Finally, agile firms are better poised to respond to growth opportunities. Responsive organizations can modify their processes and structure to react to new business opportunities, like new service offerings or expansion into new geographies.
Often, the key to such an agile response lies in systems that can quickly adapt to these opportunities, because minimal internal retooling or reorganization is needed, and also inexpensively, because such systems don’t need inefficient and cumbersome manual steps as a stop-gap while being retooled.
Empower Your Firm
Where to start? How many new processes do you need to invent and incorporate? Don’t be overwhelmed. Just keep in mind that agility means accessible information and organization—not necessarily new processes. It’s not about introducing hundreds of new procedures, check-in points or filing systems; it‘s about empowering staff at all levels with crucial data personalized to the needs of the client or project.
If “growing” and “profitable” are the first words that you want to come to mind as you describe your firm, then “agile” must come close behind. Only when your firm is truly agile can it consistently capture new business, respond quickly to change, and position your firm for continued growth.
Claus Thorsgaard is Deltek’s EVP and general manager—professional services. He is responsible for managing sales and marketing for Deltek Vision, Deltek Maconomy and Deltek People Planner, enterprise software solutions that power the businesses of accounting firms and other professional services firms around the world.