The Rise of the New Professional

Big changes are happening. We can all feel it; it has been going on for years, but as it is happening across many spheres, it is tough to pin down.

When I returned to this company three years ago I encountered a customer base that was reeling from changes, but was having a hard time pinning down what the root cause was. Yes, technology is always changing; but this was different. It seemed professionals were fed up with some of the tools and approaches being supplied to them. Beyond just commenting on it, they were actually starting to use rogue or unsanctioned products they downloaded themselves, instead of firm provided and approved technology.

I wasn’t alone. Technology analysts see it: Gartner called it the perfect storm, with mobility, consumerization of the enterprise and cloud hitting all at once. But we were trying to understand what it meant to professional organizations who are so dependent on the productivity of their professionals to deliver great work.

The crux of the challenge lies in knowing and truly understanding the new professional.

Defining the New Professional

It’s no secret that we are undergoing a generational change in professional services. In the legal world, for example, given the typical pyramid structure – e.g. leveraging junior professionals by more senior partners or General Counsel – most firms informally report that over half of their professionals are under the age of 35. That is pretty close to the age of the first attorneys who first used Google Docs in Law School- 32 to be precise.

However, we define the new professional not based on age (although they clearly skew to younger overall), but on mentality. The new professional uses multiple screens: phone, tablet and PC – and has the expectation that information and communications are equally accessible from each, ideally in a native format and not in a poor screen / desktop emulator. The new professional does more work on his or her own; case in point – the ratio of attorneys to support staff in most firms is at least double what it was 10 years ago. Most importantly, new professionals use technology in their personal lives, downloading apps, getting directions, sending packages, and hailing transportation. They are intimately familiar with what technology can do, and know now how to get critical work functions accomplished – such as document editing, sharing and collaboration – without 100% reliance on the tools provided by their employers.

So in our product planning book, when the new professional is confronted by older enterprise technology, and is under pressure to get a job done, if the existing technology is too cumbersome (like filling out a request form, emailing it in and waiting 24 hours for a sharing site to be provisioned) then the new professional knows how to get that done – and will do so – using other tools. A seamless, frictionless work experience, across devices, is the new standard / design target for the new professional.

Three Forces of Change

Just like 15 years ago, when email first barnstormed its way into professional service firms, three mega trends – mobility, security and consumerization — are reshaping what new professionals need and expect to be successful. While related to technology, these three trends are really borne from the changing expectations and knowledge of the new professionals.

To combat this rogue mentality, professional services CIOs can meet the needs of the new professional in the following ways:

  • Go all in with mobile. Desktop emulation, provided by many professional service firms as the approved mobile working environment, does not create an effective mobile experience – it merely reproduces a desktop experience (designed for a mouse and pointer) on a smaller mobile device (to be used by fingers and gestures). To maintain productivity and quality of work product, professionals need native mobile apps, delivered on a device properly secured so the organization has assurances that information will not be lost if the device is lost or stolen. We see smart CIOs providing mobile device management devices and native mobile apps.
  • Solve secure file sharing. Address the biggest collaborative hurdle – sending and collaborating on large attachments and large volumes of documents by email. This can be improved with an integrated secure file sharing product that integrates with work product management tools, including document comparison, metadata scrubbing and security and audit trail capabilities for a governed yet seamless user experience. We have gotten down to one click secure file sharing with iManage Share – faster, more convenient and better governed than any consumer alternative.
  • Update your own environment. After 7-10 years of deployment, many firms’ core document and work product management solutions need a refresh. We see more and more CIOs focused on tuning up their environments, refreshing their implementations based on lessons learned and best practices gained internally or through working with one of our partners. Often the best course of action is to fully utilize what you have today. For example, fully utilizing the project or matter centric refresh to incorporate new working methodologies and changing habits of users in recent years is a best practice.

We at iManage have been actively listening to you and your users, going as far as to interview and watch professionals use our products in focus groups to identify what they really want and how they really work. As an independent company, we have already begun to accelerate investments to meet the needs of the new attorney. But in parallel, we must also consider the other two forces of change in this market; the new work and the new client – and these will be discussed in an upcoming blog. Stay tuned.