From contracts to workflows to client documentation, data dominates modern business. According to a recent survey by Matillion and IDG, data volumes are growing by 63% across companies, with a fifth of respondents drawing from 1,000 or more sources.
It goes without saying, moreover, that these vast figures are particularly common at professional services enterprises forced to handle hundreds of customers and thousands of individual engagements.
Yet if the amount of information flowing through enterprises is constantly increasing, the ability of businesses to understand and exploit it has not always grown at the same pace. Remaining on top of client engagements is all too often a laborious, manual and unstandardised process. Though a number of platforms are now available, many are stymied by weak security or a lack of customisation.
A crowded field
Over the past several years, a number of customer management and collaboration tools have entered the market: from DocuSign to Slack to MS Teams. This growth is easy to understand. If ad hoc emailing worked in the dial-up age, such an approach risks being confusing, inefficient and insecure in a world where perhaps 80 zettabytes are criss-crossing internet servers worldwide.
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Listen to Narayanan Arun, however, and it becomes clear that recent solutions have drawbacks all their own. “Off-the-shelf products have limited functionality – or compromised functionality,” explains Arun, Hexaware’s AVP and practice head, HiTech and professional services.
This point is obvious if you consider the offerings of many customer engagement providers. DocuSign, for instance, is ideal for managing electronic agreements – but less so for document editing or project tracking. Naturally, auditing and other professional services normally deal with clients across a number of areas, from inking deals through workflows and data management.
As an alternative to third-party partnerships, some professional services enterprises are instead investing in customised in-house models. But Arun strikes a note of caution here too, stressing that personalised platforms are often both expensive to build and frustrating to manage.
Of course, avoiding these problems is imperative across business. But it arguably matters even more for players in the professional services space. As Arun puts it, the core function of these companies, whether law firms or accountancies, is less to sell a physical product than to showcase the “individual expertise that is provided.”
And as Arun continues, tracking data is particularly challenging when it comes to firms outside the Big Four, for example, that lack the manpower and time to devote large in-house teams to information management.
How does Hexaware fit into these developments? The IT service management company’s Collab platform is the firm’s response to these challenges. Despite the name, the platform actually covers more than just text chat or simultaneous document editing, instead overlapping across contracts, documents, customer management and workspaces. Arun, for his part, calls Colab a fully “orchestrated” client engagement platform.
Examine Collab’s specifics and the platform’s all-encompassing nature quickly becomes apparent. From client creation to engagement reviews, it allows users to safely and seamlessly track information across multiple stakeholders. That’s shadowed by document collation, audit trailing and data routing to multiple users, among other functionalities.
This focus on customisation is far from incidental. For Arun, Collab represents a “midway point” between traditional SaaS offerings and in-house models, allowing individual customers to tailor their experience without worrying about bug catching. “Let’s say there’s a particular workflow that is unique to your specific company,” he says by way of example. “It’s just a matter of writing the code for implementing that functionality into an overall application.”
If these features are all to Collab’s credit, Arun equally appreciates that substantial shifts in data management take time. Before a client actually adopts Hexaware’s platform, the company undertakes a thorough analysis to determine what functionality a firm already has in place – then adapts its approach accordingly.
Given how important information is across professional services, Hexaware is similarly careful to provide assurances that data won’t be lost during the transition to Collab. “That’s on us,” says Arun, adding that before-and-after data mapping is important here. This is usually echoed by training sessions, not least around teaching users to add new features as a business develops.
More broadly, Arun is keen to highlight how Collab’s intuitive design can encourage adoption. “The moment you see it, you will know what to do with it,” he says. “And you don’t have to fire up a Windows laptop to get it up and running – you can run it on your phone with absolutely uncompromised functionality.”
Plans for the future
Beyond the flexibility and accessibility of the programme itself, Collab is similarly adaptable in terms of pricing. Unlike many of its competitors, Hexaware offers both flexible and tiered payment options for the platform, typical of what Arun calls an “extremely accommodating” approach to potential customers.
At the same time, Hexaware is already examining how Collab could be tweaked and enhanced. Context-specific chats are one current area of work, while integration with APIs and Teams is in the pipeline too.
And given the increasing pressures on professional services to comply with requirements around customer data, these developments are doubtless being welcomed at chambers and accountancy firms the world over. “Collab is certainly enticing,” Arun summarises. “We think that our potential customers will love it.”