Merger and acquisition is on the increase in the professional services marketplace as organisations look to gain market share and manage escalating competition.
But, with pressure on prices, growing demand for a new billing model, and a need to radically improve customer service, just what is the best way of achieving the objectives of consolidation?
While organisations may be tempted to create a standard set of core operational applications – from finance to contact management or complex matter management solutions – the reality is that rapidly achieving effective access to client data will be the key to reducing risk and delivering the high quality of customer service required.
Ben Weinberger, Chief Strategy Officer, Phoenix Business Solutions, outlines the importance of creating a consolidated Document Management System post merger/acquisition in order to improve collaboration, transform business insight, and gain competitive advantage.
Competition has reached unprecedented levels across every professional services market. The result is huge downward pressure on pricing and a shift away from traditional billing models to fixed, competitively priced contracts that are often scrutinised for value and hence require improved control over both costs and staff performance/productivity. The response from the market has been two-fold: a move to achieve differentiation based on high levels of customer service, and a drive to gain economies of scale and market share through merger and acquisition, both nationally and globally, with significant activity across every market.
Merger, however, is not a simple process and can introduce risk – especially in a professional services market focused on delivering service quality and controlling costs. With information distributed across multiple business systems, including finance / practice management systems, there are a number of fundamental issues that need to be taken-into consideration if the combined organisation is to operate effectively without exposing the firm to additional risk.
When teams are distributed across multiple locations, the merged organisation needs to consider how best to ensure consistency of service to clients whilst also enabling optimal collaboration to achieve planned cost and efficiency objectives. At the same time, there are challenges associated with reducing the risk inherent in running a highly distributed service delivery model while controlling costs across the expanded, often global, operation.
The key question must be: how will the organisation provide access to essential business information – from matter details to delivery cost – from multiple disparate systems?
In an ideal world, every aspect of the separate infrastructures – from practice management onwards – would be consolidated into a single solution from day one. Of course, this is usually not feasible, especially when CIOs are given limited time to consider the implications of the new business model.
Therefore, it is essential for the CIO to understand the merger or acquisition objectives and to create an appropriate technology road map that delivers ‘fast track’ access to the required information, and the ability to collaborate, while addressing key concerns such as jurisdiction. Critically, this means avoiding long, drawn-out implementations that disrupt business activity and undermine the potential of the combined organisation to grasp new business opportunities.
So what is the best way forward? At the heart of a successful merger has to be rapid access to trusted, relevant client information. Over the past decade, the majority of law firms, accountancy practices, and property management companies have deployed some form of document management solution which serves as the main location for client work-product. A DMS is the most efficient mechanism for maintaining a single, logical repository of information that provides anytime, anywhere access to client files. More recently, firms have exploited the matter centric design capability of modern DMSs to further improve collaboration and productivity, with far more effective and intuitive access to client, matter, or project-specific information.
Given the value and importance of the DMS, in a newly-merged organisation, it is the consolidation of separate systems and creation of a single DMS that can be the key to rapidly realising some of the intended benefits of a merger while also helping to minimise the risks. Further, implementing a matter dashboard or matter summary solution that integrates data from other core systems can further enhance the ability to more efficiently collaborate. With all client information, from email to contacts to financial data, accessible alongside a central matter repository, the business immediately reduces risk – especially the risk from conflicts and service delivery issues – and facilitates far more effective working practices and collaboration. Indeed, with the right information model, the DMS and a matter summary dashboard can provide the central conduit to a raft of information, pulling data from finance / practice management, CRM, and other systems to provide essential insight alongside an already familiar DMS interface.
Consolidating existing DMSs and integrating an information portal or dashboard can be far more compelling than embarking on a complex, long, drawn-out, and potentially disruptive implementation of a completely new solution. A well-designed DMS and matter summary solution can deliver the benefits of matter management quickly and effectively, without requiring the changes to workflow and process that are simply impractical at the early stages of mergers.
A consolidated DMS also supports the delivery of consistent service to clients, especially those that may have been clients of both organisations pre-merger/acquisition. With real-time access to every document and email or other piece of matter data relevant to that client, irrespective of the location of the team, the DMS facilitates effective collaboration across locations to deliver the highest quality, yet seamless service to clients, and avoids any potential conflicts that could arise due to historical, pre-consolidation activity.
Furthermore, with a single source of information, the business can gain in depth understanding of performance at every stage of the client relationship – from initially pitching for the business at a competitive yet deliverable and profitable rate through to analysis of the profitability across different practice areas. It provides a platform for business analytics and Key Performance Indicators, assisting management in tracking the performance of the new business structure while monitoring the quality and progress of client activity.
For any organisation with a global presence or even multiple, regional offices, the ability to share information and collaborate effectively is key to delivering profitable, joined-up client services. For those firms embarking on any M&A activity, the speed of consolidation is key to realising the envisaged financial and competitive benefits and helps create a strong corporate culture – and that means attaining global access to trusted, accurate, and relevant data.
Waiting for a long, drawn-out consolidation of practice management solutions, or attempting to implement a completely new, all-encompassing solution, is simply not an option if the company wants to grasp the initiative. It is by focusing on the fundamental requirements – namely, real-time access to accurate, cross-company client information (already contained within the DMS and other existing systems) – that the new organisation can fast track the benefits of merger.