Although Covid-19 disruption and challenges have been widespread, digital transformation initiatives have soared as leaders recognise the performance benefits associated with digital platforms. For companies in the professional and business services sector, in particular accountants, who are responsible for 11% of the UK economy’s gross value added, the time to capitalise on this opportunity is now. Chris Nichols, Microsoft Dynamics consultant at Columbus UK, explains



In a highly competitive market, staying technologically advanced will not only help secure valuable market share but ensure organisations can stay nimble in the face of changing business conditions.

Studies by global consultancy McKinsey show that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, digital transformation strategies have been fast-tracked by seven years. For firms such as accountancy practices operating in areas typically less affected by digital disruption and supply change challenges, it only seems logical that now is the time to replace outdated business processes and systems.

As customer demands rise, so does the level of complexity…

As accountancy firms continue to grow and extend internationally as they service companies expanding into new markets and geographies, the level of business complexity also becomes apparent.

Projects are routinely intended for overseas markets and clients, requiring regular collaboration with multiple stakeholders such as subcontractors spread across several geographies, and presenting new regulations to deal with, posing major challenges.

Yet customers still expect tailored support, frequent engagement and faster completion of projects – all at a lower price point. This puts businesses under pressure to accurately plan complex projects in advance and enhance process efficiency to avoid spiralling costs.

…but going digital could be the saving grace

Many accountancy organisations have been switching to digital solutions specifically to address these demands.

As competition in the market heats up, businesses that fail to stay ahead of the digital curve will find themselves falling below the threshold of customer service expectations, struggling to stay connected and unable to retain top talent. This, in turn, will erode profit margins and make firms vulnerable to losing customers to more agile competitors.

There are four major industry pressures that digital transformation can help accountancy businesses overcome to stay agile and grow market share:

  1. Effective organisations require an end-to-end management platform

As project volumes and complexity grow, firms will need to ensure project workloads are managed and resources are deployed in the most optimal manner. Digital solutions provide a rapid alternative to manual strategic planning and forecasting – helping businesses anticipate shifting workloads and quickly react to projects scaling up or down.

End-to-end business management platforms, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, offer dedicated applications and modules to support these project operations, integrating processes covering sales, financials, project management and more. Harnessing advanced capabilities such as AI will also aid with planning for and reacting to unexpected periods of downtime or high demand. Using technology to better get to grips with active and upcoming projects will help managers estimate costs, resource projects based on availability, and accelerate delivery.

  1. Reporting just got easier with digital solutions

Performance and reporting are everything in the accountancy sector. Businesses must be able to show project progression, demonstrate the meeting of KPIs and detail billable hours to customers, without having to be chased by the customer for updates. Ensuring project and broader business data is clean, accurate and easily accessible is vital to maintain accountability and keep clients happy.

Effective project management solutions can provide a centralised repository of data for full employee access to the latest data from any location. The most advanced solutions also leverage automation and AI for data mining and reporting, which eliminates the need for manual entry and validation, and feed data into dashboards for visualisation.

The benefits of these advanced insights are twofold: they help keep customers happy and engaged, and also help managers make informed decisions in real time. Tapping into these analytics and reporting dashboards can provide visibility of project status and progression within a ‘single pane of glass’ – making it easier to take corrective actions, learn lessons and demonstrate success.

  1. Talent at the ready? Time to gear up the recruitment

With business growth, comes the demand for suitable talent. Businesses seeking to rapidly expand will need to retain their existing talent – including training and upskilling where necessary – and seamlessly recruit and onboard new employees. Yet these broad recruitment drives are often a drain on existing capacity, drawing employees away from completing billable project work.

This is another area where advanced business management platforms provide a solution. Dedicated HR modules integrated into the existing technology stack can make recruitment a seamless process, automating a large proportion of formerly manual processes and shortening the onboarding timeframe – reducing the capacity devoted to these tasks.

When combined with other capabilities within the business management platform, this can help rapidly identify skill sets, resources and spare capacity that can be assigned to the most appropriate project or team. Managers in turn avoid the risk of overburdening employees or under-resourcing certain projects, keeping productivity and satisfaction levels high.

  1. Improved team collaboration leads to enhanced efficiency

One of the key lessons learned during the disruption of the past year is the need to improve collaboration and connectivity between individuals, teams and even entire organisations. For accountancy practices in particular, disparate teams, regional offices and external subcontractors must all be linked together – ideally in real time – to ensure maximum efficiency.

This need for greater connectivity also comes at a time in which working models are being completely reshaped, with a mixture of on-premise, remote and hybrid work that must all be supported. Businesses that put in place suitable collaborative tools early on will reap the rewards of improved productivity, higher morale and access to a wider pool of industry talent.

Fast, timely access to data and other project assets will be at the centre of this, but firms should also opt for solutions that link into core business management platforms and meet industry standards around regulation and data protection.

Digital transformation is just around the corner

While the shift to digital-first operations can be daunting, it is also inevitable. Firms in accountancy and the wider professional services sector should act early to embrace the changes that await. Those that embrace change sooner rather than later will take pole position in the chase to tackle the rising complexity of projects and customer service expectations.

But setting about any digital transformation project first requires an effective, end-to-end management solution at the heart of the business. This will eliminate siloed data and ensure people, processes and projects are better connected for greater efficiency and collaboration. Firms looking to engage with a partner should seek one well-versed in various aspects of their own industry disciplines – this way, digital solutions can be altered to meet particular requirements.

The combination of all these will help firms adopt the most suitable approach for reaching digital maturity and as a result, unlock further opportunities such as cloud deployments.