Regardless of the type of business, you’re talking about, organizations invest in digital transformation for a myriad of different reasons.
Some turn to the power of modern technology to improve efficiency – empowering employees to communicate from department to department easier than ever before. Others want to guarantee that data can flow freely across the enterprise, making sure that the critical information that people need to do their jobs is always in the right hands. Others still do it for cost savings. Not only can a digital transformation save a tremendous amount of money upfront, but it’s an investment that will also continue to pay dividends for years to come.
All of these benefits have always been important – but they’re especially so given everything going on in the world right now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March of 2020, as the pandemic first began to make its way across the world, millions of employees suddenly found themselves working from home indefinitely. As a result, many organizations suddenly realized that they lacked the infrastructure needed to support this revolution. In addition to not having access to the tools people needed to work as productively as possible, they found themselves in dire need of solutions that would allow them to share critical information as securely as possible. This is especially true in an industry like accounting and financial services, where firms are dealing with data that is decidedly more sensitive than most.
Even though vaccines are rolling out across the world, the number of remote workers isn’t exactly dropping. One recent study revealed that in August of 2021, about 13% of people were still working remotely full-time due to concerns about the pandemic and the newly emerged Delta variant, among others.
Indeed, working from home is a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon – which means that organizations who were preparing for digital transformations prior to the pandemic need to seriously rethink their approach. The world has changed in a dramatic way and there’s no putting that particular genie back in the bottle. This is only a negative thing if you allow it to be. If you approach your digital transformation from the right perspective, you stand to gain enormously in a wide range of different ways, all of which are worth a closer look.
The Shifting Landscape of Post-Pandemic Life
Not too long ago, the team at M-Files partnered with Accountancy Age on a report that detailed what digital transformation – and business in general – has been like before, during, and (hopefully) after the pandemic. It featured survey respondents from a mix of organization sizes, ranging from those with 51 employees all the way up to those with 1,000 or more.
Overwhelmingly, the report revealed that accountancy firms in particular were simply not ready for the transition to fully remote work when lockdown restrictions were originally imposed. A massive 76.6% of respondents said that they initially battled significant challenges in terms of enabling staff to work productively from home – not to mention the difficulty they experienced in servicing clients as effectively as possible.
So much of this has to do with the fact that the accounting industry has long adopted a myriad of different applications and solutions to share, manage and store sensitive business data. This includes but is not limited to chat and video conferencing tools, enterprise content management systems, and more.
The issue here is that this almost immediately runs the risk of creating data silos that firms simply cannot afford to have existed. Again, information needs to be able to flow freely from one segment of the business to the next – regardless of where those employees happen to be. This is true not only in terms of allowing people to effectively collaborate with one another but with regard to empowering workflows as well. If critical data is trapped in a single repository and the person who needs it to do their job doesn’t have access to it – or worse, isn’t sure it exists at all – this only runs contrary to a firm’s goals.
Initially, in an effort to combat some of these risks, many accountancy firms took to sharing information with clients by sending physical copies in the mail. This was true of 44.4% of respondents. Another 79.4% of respondents said that they shared the same information via email. Not only do these methods pose a significant security risk, but they also affect traceability as well – leading to a poor client experience when the opposite should be your primary objective.
The Future of the Workforce Has Arrived
All of these things underline the importance of digital transformation in the modern era – particularly during a time when the “new normal” that we’re all about to return to will likely have little resemblance to the one we left behind.
Case in point: data security. As stated, accountancy firms in particular lacked the infrastructure needed to truly support remote workers in the most secure way possible. In addition to email folders, respondents to the aforementioned survey said that they used files and folders across shared network drives, solutions like Microsoft SharePoint, CRM and ERP systems, dedicated accounting solutions, file sharing applications like Google Drive, and more to manage and share business and client documents within the firm itself.
The right approach to digital transformation is an opportunity to consolidate all of this down into one simple, easy-to-use system that is built with modern workflows in mind. M-Files, for example, is a document management system that allows information to be accessed based on not where a file is stored, but on what is contained within it. All data is stored via a system that can be accessed anywhere, at any time, on any device. More than that, permissions can be set to make sure that only the people who need a particular file to do their jobs have access to it – thus preventing that information from falling into the wrong hands.
Likewise, a digital transformation can be a great opportunity to create branded, customizable client portals that themselves can help accountancy firms better collaborate with clients. Not only does this guarantee the security and privacy of client documents, but it also improves the digital client experience as well.
In the end, a digital transformation is a massive undertaking, yes – but for most accountancy firms, the pandemic has proven that it’s an investment that is well worth making. “Change” and “disruption” are only negative words if you allow them to be. With the right perspective, you can see them for what they really are – opportunities just waiting to be taken advantage of to propel the next decade of your firm’s success and beyond.