Digital disruption... and opportunities in professional services

Earlier this week I presented to the Sunshine Coast group of the CPA - the professional accounting body in Australia with over 150,000 members.

Colin Graham, Causeway Innovation, presenting to CPA Sunshine Coast

Colin Graham, Causeway Innovation, presenting to CPA Sunshine Coast

The topic was 'Future Proof Your Business Through Innovation' and my message was that there are a lot of changes happening - particularly with rapid advances in technology - and that the accounting profession has an opportunity to embrace innovation to survive and thrive in this new business climate. 'Digital Disruption' is real but any time of disruption also presents major opportunities.

The accounting profession - alongside other professional services such as law, architecture and medicine - is already experiencing disruption, for example with the introduction of cloud based services. A study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte found that the likelihood of automation for Chartered and Certified Accountants was 26th out of 366 occupations. This is not necessarily a negative thing as many repetitive tasks can be automated freeing up professional staff to focus on more interesting work that adds greater value to clients.

Tim Kastelle of the University of Queensland defines Innovation as executing new ideas to add value, all three parts of this definition are important. Innovation is often associated with new products but its application is much wider.

The 'Ten Types of Innovation' framework introduced by Doblin highlights that innovation can make an impact in all aspects of business configuration, offering and experience. Research by Peter Fisk of Genius Works highlights that a lot of focus has traditionally been placed on product offerings and introducing new products. Fisk highlights hat the greatest value has been generated in areas such as business model and network innovation and there is great scope for accounting firms in these areas, and across all ten types of innovation.

All professions can learn from each other, and I used an example from the the legal sector in Western Australia. In this example, two firms with 27 years experience between them combined to launch two new brands. One would be positioned as a traditional law firms with a focus on senior partners providing added value services in areas like dispute resolution and commercial law, The second brand would tap into automated technology to target more routine and high volume work relating to property law documents and services. So the firm recognised that some work can be automated and designed a specific brand and service to target this market was a fast, fixed fee service. One of the partners noted:

Traditional law firms risk being left behind, particularly in practice areas that are commoditisable, as they struggle with falling productivity and intense competition from new firms who are embracing different and more cost-effective ways to provide legal services,’ Shannon Davis

I also highlighted examples of a couple of accounting firms that have established distinctive positions and developing an innovative approach in business models, branding and network innovation - at least. The examples were:

Business Depot, based in Brisbane and Toowoomba: Brisbane office includes a co-working space, distinctive branding, positioned as business advisors, regular program of business events, a network of service providers called The Collective.

Blue Rock, based in Melbourne: very distinctive postionning, branding, work environment and wide range of business services to support entrepreneurs, including digital marketing

Blue Rock offices

Blue Rock offices

In conclusion, accounting - and other professional service sectors - is experiencing a rapid period of change and disruption. The opportunity is there to tap into innovation and create a greater impact for clients, more rewarding work for staff and greater returns for the firm.




Colin Graham