Professional Services firms are different to other businesses. What do Legal, Finance, Marketing, Business Consulting and other services have in common? They are people to people businesses. No physical product is changing hands. If the people working in these firms are their currency, their specialisation and expertise is the final product being sold to clients. Welcome to the new knowledge economy.
Resource management as a category is finding itself in the eye of the storm due to the central space it occupies between people and profits. And when else in recent history have both people and profits suffered to such a large scale than the current times?
How easy is it to price, manage, package, sell and quality control people’s skills? Not very! It takes a combination of people, and more recently, software to understand and measure the value chain from pitch to final invoice. Here is usually where resource management comes in handy. Traditionally a manual activity in the last few years, now human resource management is rapidly becoming a space ripe for disruption. Resource management as a category is finding itself in the eye of the storm due to the central space it occupies between people and profits. And when else in recent history have both people and profits suffered to such a large scale than the current times?
COVID-19 has forever changed the face of the industry by introducing an increased level of system complexity that firms need to adjust to rapidly in order to survive:
- Fluctuating client demand: Long gone are the days of long retainer contracts. Not only has COVID-19 created an uncertain environment for existing client activity, but any new client commitments seem to be shorter term and subject to more flexible cancellation terms. Firms are finding it harder to predict and hire ahead of time and as a result teams are stretched thinly; as are margins.
- Remote and Hybrid Working: A novel concept back in 2019, remote working has become the norm in 2021 and not necessarily by choice. One thing is for certain, the days of full offices will be replaced by hybrid working areas, allowing for less frequent interactions.
- Contingent Workforces: Due to the overall uncertainty a lot of firms are turning towards contingent workforces as a way to normalise some of the supply and demand peaks. However, engaging contingent workers comes with its own set of challenges. Ability to quickly and accurately vet, engage, onboard, review and offboard whilst maintaining quality of output and managerial sanity are unfortunately no easy tasks.
- Well-being: The pandemic and the resulting recession are creating the perfect storm for a number of mental health related issues to arise. But the largest difficulty of all is not just dealing with a workforce that has experienced collective trauma but doing so remotely and virtually. Understanding who is not coping well (despite them ploughing through work) has been a sign of a good manager in the old days, now it’s completely essential.
Unmind, a workplace mental health platform has been growing at an accelerated pace, by providing a holistic professional environment which tackles sleep, calmness, fulfillment and happiness. Co- founded in 2015, by NHS clinical psychologist Dr Nick Taylor, serial startup founder Ry Morgan, entrepreneurial technologist Nick Tong, and leading corporate wellbeing practitioner Steve Peralta, Unmind was created with the mission to support mental health in the workplace. The startup received $10m in funding by Venture Capital firm, Project A with further funding from Felix Capital last year. The growth of Unmind is a response to how important mental health has become as a priority for corporates.
Existing Enterprise trends accelerated by COVID:
- Cloud vs On premise: Long before COVID-19 came along Enterprise Software was moving towards hybrid and pure cloud models, albeit at the speed of a snail. The pandemic accelerated the pace of change towards lightweight cloud solutions that can be accessed by any location.
- International vs Localised: This one is a bit contentious. On the one hand, there is definitely a need for flexibility and true internationalised solutions that are fully accessible to distributed workforces. On the other hand, data regulation is becoming stricter than ever. At the end of the day, however, companies will always choose providers that solve their problem in the best way possible and therefore it’s down to the software companies to figure out how to globalise their offering, whilst adhering to legislation.
- Vertical vs Generalist: The increased system complexity described above means that generalist solutions rarely cut the muster any more. Professional services firms are increasingly seeking solutions with optimal use case fit. This creates an interesting tension with specialist solutions winning an increasing volume of tenders.
Talent orchestration is a relatively new way of addressing some of these people related challenges. The premise behind it is simple. In an increasingly complex ecosystem humans are finding it difficult to make unbiased resourcing decisions at scale. In the same way that Deliveroo and Uber are not manually sifting through 1000s of drivers to find the best one for each order, technology can now help resource managers highlight the perfect match between skilled worker and client project. In this way a multitude of decision parameters can be factored in to determine the optimal outcome including, but not limited to: profitability, capacity, past experience, upskilling opportunities, well-being, time difference and ideal team composition. It’s a fundamental shift from legacy systems that mainly rely on two dimensions, profitability and capacity, whilst ignoring variables that can contribute to softer metrics such as employee satisfaction and retention.
Adadot is the world’s first talent orchestration platform for professional services firms, helping businesses manage their most valuable assets; people and time. Its unique technology combines algorithmic decision making and smart analytics to highlight the best resourcing decision. The platform provides insight into how a team’s time is managed, how busy team members are and also allows you to match your team’s skill sets from an external marketplace. Cloud-based and with an incredibly flexible data model, Adadot is built for remote. It was founded by a female-led team of Oxford and Imperial graduates who spent decades working in global professional services firms and experienced some of these challenges first-hand. Their mission is to empower firms and employees to work on their own terms on an unprecedented scale. Founder Alex Harris explains how “as the world is emerging from a forced experiment in remote working, it’s time to really invest in the right tools to empower both employees and firms to work under their own terms. Frankly speaking, the archaic hierarchical decision making structures that exist in established verticals like professional service need to be retired in favour of more flexible approaches rooted in transparency.” With strong backing from advisors and investors with experience in leadership positions in organisations like Microsoft and Google, Adadot have just closed their first funding rounds and are gearing up for their pilots. The startup has also been featured in Barclays Eagle Labs and AccelerateHer and is ready to transform how businesses gain insight into and make decisions around their key resources.
In conclusion, there has been a huge increase in the complexity of the environment that professional services operate in. Resourcing decisions have never been more complex and legacy systems are not in a place to provide support in an increasingly remote and fragmented world. New paradigms such as talent orchestration are coming in to enhance human decision making with powerful algorithms and optimise outcomes for professional services firms.