What Technology Does Today's Information Worker Need to Succeed?
If we want to learn about the evolution of enterprise applications and where they are headed, there are few better places to observe than markets whose primary deliverable is information.
Professional services firms—such as legal, accounting, and financial services—deal primarily with managing information. They receive piles of it from clients, generate loads of it themselves, and often deliver information—or counsel, based on that information—as their final work product.
How is the role of enterprise applications that help professionals manage and leverage critical information in these information intensive environments changing? And what can CIOs take away from this trend to help their workforce succeed?
As CIO of a major law firm, I have a front row view to some of the changes taking place. I see three key trends driving the evolution of enterprise software in my field: the changing expectations of users and clients, the cloud, and the increasing and sometimes conflicting need for comprehensive governance and security.
Firms no longer have to spend precious hours reviewing the skills section of out-of-date resumes or pinging squads of knowledge management experts
How information intensive industries respond to these forces offers some powerful lessons not just for CIOs at professional services firms, but CIOs in any industry—since the majority of organizations have their own internal legal, accounting, tax and finance groups with similar workflow as these firms.
More than the Basics
Today’s information workers—especially those in the first decade of their career—have used consumer-level IT tools such as Google Docs, Dropbox, and Skype and expect information to be fully synced and available anywhere, at any time, on any device.
These users want more from their professional applications than just the basics: they want integrated, easy-to-use, always-available applications that will eliminate the friction of getting work done and make their day more productive.
I see key enterprise software in my industry evolving to meet these expectations. Rather than just managing information, the tools are evolving to interpret, analyze, and add value to that information; helping to keep users better informed and more productive—even sometimes anticipating their needs.
From Managing Information to Mining It
For example, in my industry, time and billing systems have traditionally been “scorekeepers” that record time entries for billing purposes. Increasingly, these applications are starting to incorporate analytics to capture and analyze workflow and project performance to enable better understanding of an organization’s cost structure and how it impacts profitability in each kind of engagement. This is no small matter, as over 75 percent of the cost of a professional services group is staff. Ultimately, this analysis can power new business models demanded by clients, such as fixed cost and per-unit cost, as opposed to hourly billing.
Document management systems are also evolving “beyond the basics.” Traditionally viewed as repositories to store and version content securely, they are turning into more complete work product management solutions that can streamline complex tasks like secure client collaboration and multiparty authoring. System audit trails, used traditionally for governance, are being mined with big data tools to identify internal experts by analyzing users’ information creation and consumption patterns. The result? Firms no longer have to spend precious hours reviewing the skills section of out-of-date resumes or pinging squads of knowledge management experts. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg of the ways that work product management serves as a powerful productivity application, bringing professional tools together to save information workers time.
Cloud Security: Need to Get Both Right
The cloud is another key factor shaping technology within information intensive industries. Cloud delivery frees up IT staff to do higher value activities rather than managing the infrastructure. The new service delivery model also enables anywhere/anytime access and reduced friction for users, increasing their productivity.
These productivity gains are only possible, however, when security and governance are carefully addressed. Given current security challenges—from phishing and other targeted malware attacks, to information leaks by insiders—those who manage the most critical business information, have a higher obligation than ever to maintain it in a way that is both secure and governed.
Many public cloud infrastructures may be deemed inadequately secure for use with sensitive information. As you consider the cloud, make sure the environment is optimized for sensitive business information and integrated with the tools your users use every day. Work product management systems are evolving here as well, to deliver enhanced lifecycle governance that reduces risk for professionals.
Strategic Vendor Collaboration
For a CIO, these new technologies—analytics oriented and cloud enabled—change our relationship with strategic vendors. Coupled with agile development, we now collaborate more closely than ever with our strategic vendors to co-create solutions that truly optimize the workflow and usage patterns of the end-user.
For example, our software partners work with us to conduct user interviews and observe how users actually get certain tasks done. Additionally, our software partners have increased their use of application and interface designers and iterative user testing to create a delightful user experience that—beyond looking good—is actually more productive. The end result is very encouraging.
This type of strategic collaboration and product refinement occurs when CIOs focus less on technology for infrastructure—and more on technology for business impact.
Employees at professional services firms and related departments are hardcore information workers. These professionals deal with some of the most important—and sensitive—decisions made in business on a daily basis.
To succeed in managing and gaining value from the information their jobs surround them with every day, these workers need applications that are centered on the way they work, available via the cloud, and securely managed and governed. CIOs that can deliver on this front will offer a powerful model for how to meet the next generation of information workers with software they will use, rather than abandon.