Professional services must act now and join the digital revolution

 
Stephanie Hyde
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The possibility of being ousted by an innovative startup applies to all industries (Source: Getty)
No industry is immune from digital disruption. And any business would be foolish to think that it is a phenomenon limited to specific sectors or models.

The possibility of being ousted by an innovative startup is just as applicable to an industry like professional services as it is to, say, media and communications – or those that are impacted by models like the sharing economy, which has created success stories like Airbnb and car sharing startup BlaBlaCar.

It should be clear by now that to stay ahead, all businesses have to adapt. As clients become increasingly reliant on the digital world, services firms must innovate to meet demands.

This January, PwC published its annual Global CEO Survey, which revealed that a third of UK business leaders are concerned about a significant new competitor from the technology sector. Alongside the threats of new rivals and rapid technological changes, digital disruption in our own sector is being amplified by the biggest overhaul of the professional services market in living memory, as regulatory changes – such as mandatory tendering and new audit firm rotation rules – converge with increasingly fierce competition for talent. This new landscape brings challenges for the industry, not least for incumbents.

Yet this should not only be seen as a need to “adapt to survive”. The changes in the wider market are also producing opportunities, for both providers and clients, that far outweigh the challenges. Take, as an example, the ways in which SMEs are using professional services. Developments in technology have opened up communication channels and enabled seamless contact with clients. The use of cloud technologies, when blended with traditional services, means that big firms can now offer services at more accessible prices, providing a much wider range of options for SMEs.

One illustration of this rising tide of regional choice and access is PwC’s My Financepartner. Launched last year, it uses cloud-based accounting technology to offer new services to and build relationships with clients that we couldn’t reach in the past. For services firms, this opens up a completely new market. And for SMEs, it offers an unprecedented opportunity to tap into the type of professional services that were once perceived to be the preserve of major corporations.

These developments are redrawing market boundaries and intensifying competition in every area – with smaller players pitching for larger company audits, big firms targeting smaller opportunities, and new products and services emerging. And these shifts are creating a professional services market that is far more dynamic than ever before.

It is vital that incumbent firms seize the opportunities that are available. Otherwise, they risk falling victim to disruption, and losing out to nimble competitors. Whether it’s industries or regions, digital is removing the old dividing lines.

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