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The Top 5 Strategic IT Trends for 2021: How will professional service firms use IT this year?

In 2020 we saw IT become even more critical, as professional service firms nationwide embraced remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has undoubtly changed the way we operate and use IT, but what exactly can we expect to see in 2021? QuoStar's Head of Consultancy, Chris White, shares his predictions for the top 5 strategic IT trends.

/ Strategy
January 11th, 2021

The top 5 strategic IT trends for professional service firms in 2021

In 2020 we certainly saw IT move into the heart of operations. The COVID-19 pandemic saw swathes of professional service firms forced to embrace widescale remote working for the first time. The rapidly required enforcement saw IT teams working flat out to get all the necessary technologies, tools and processes in place to ensure employees could remain connected and the business remain operational.  

Nearly ten months later and plenty of us are still working from the ‘home office’. Many businesses have discovered remote working can work for them and are considering what the future looks like for their operations. It presents a great opportunity for firms to proactively review their accommodation strategies and reduce their overheads. While remote working is just one trend we can expect to continue this year, how else do we expect professional service firms to be using IT strategically in 2021? 

Strategic IT Trends: What can we expect?

Trend #1: Businesses get to grips with the strategic use of technology

We’ve seen the savvier firms already making measurable gains through the technology investments, but after the pandemic demonstrated just how critical technology is, more companies will start to follow suit. Keeping the lights on and operations running is no longer enough. Slowly but surely we’re moving towards the innovation stage as firms look to use IT as a strategic differentiator, delivering enhanced customer service and value, improving processes and seeing a measurable impact on the bottom line.  

Trend #2: Increase innovation and automation of processes

Automation has probably been on the IT trends list for several years now, but we’re definitely starting to see greater uptake at firms, across all levels. The thing to remember with innovation and automation is it’s not always about ‘sending people to the moon’, it’s about reviewing the way you are operating your business and making incremental improvements. It’s better to start by reviewing and automating a few simple processes, testing and refining, before taking wider steps. There is no need to rush out and try to automate everyone at once. This where you end up with massive, over-complicated workflows and things slipping through the cracks or not working correctly.  

Trend #3: Improved client service delivery and relationship management

With clients’ service expectations consistently increasing, we’re seeing more firms taking an interest and investing in client management. Clients now have multiple contact options available to them (e.g. email, calls, Facebook messenger, online chat, WhatsApp), so they expect to be able to make contact in a manner that suits them – and receive a prompt response. This has been worsened by the pandemic, giving even more options and availability for virtual meetings.  

In 2021, we expect to see more firms building robust service management processes, ensuring that contacts are responded to and not accidentally droppedMore firms are also likely to consider the CRM systems route and take advantage of automated workflows to manage this process. While this is positive, it’s important to remember that technology alone won’t guarantee better customer relationship management. Firms need to map out what they want to achieve and how they want processes to work, rather than jumping in headfirst. Most successful CRM projects take around 2-3 years to roll out fully, so firms need to be patient. Starting with a single department, or just senior managers is an ideal starting point.  This is as much a cultural change as it is about the technology. 

Trend #4: A greater understanding of data – plus how to extract and use it

Although many do not recognise it, professional services firms are data-driven organisations. The problem lies in the fact that a lot of firms do not know what data they hold, where is it stored, and how they can access it and monetise it. We are beginning to see a greater interest in this area and it’s increasingly becoming a topic of conversation. Firms are starting to use this data to make more effective business decisions, for example using past data to price work, to predict the outcome of litigation in legal, or to identify fraudulent claims in the insurance market. 

We also expect to see increased focus around general data and information, particularly around dashboards and reporting. It’s essential that firms analyse and measure all areas of their business, especially with the current pace of change and uncertainty. It’s essential that decisions are made on firm data. 

Trend #5: More focus on reviewing security and risk

Cyber-criminals certainly took advantage of the disruption caused by the pandemic. With more people working remotely, outside the safer confines of the company network most firms risk profiles increased significantly. The result of this combination meant rates of cyber-attack skyrocketed, with massive increases in malware, ransomware, phishing and other methods of attack 

Security is always one of the top concerns for business, but this year we expect there to be a greater focus on reviewing the arrangements in place to ensure they are fit for purpose – particularly with the continued trend of remote working. This could take the form of security audits, penetration testing, phish testing for staff and the like. We would definitely recommend that all businesses prioritise reviewing their risk and controls as a priorityThe rapid pace of change in the threat landscape means the basic measures, such as Cyber Essentials, are really not enough to protect any business. 

Conclusion

These are just a few of the ways we expect strategic IT use and behaviours to change and develop in 2021 based on conversations with our community. There are, of course, many emerging and developing technologies which will have their own effect as well as the outcomes from the pandemic, Brexit and other cultural events. We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on strategic IT trends for 2021, so do reach out to us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook    

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