This morning I gave an extended keynote session at the annual offsite of a very interesting global professional services network, which brought together the leaders of the member firms. International networks in accounting, law, consulting, and other professional services have flourished over the last years as small to mid-sized firms have sought the benefits of belonging to a network. Brand, access to resources, providing a more comprehensive offering, and being able to offer integrated services to clients that are active overseas all make it an attractive proposition.
Yet the reality is that the degree of collaboration within most of these networks is, to put it kindly, far less than it could be. There is often little awareness of the distinctive capabilities of other firms in the network, let alone the inclination to bring them business or to integrate their services into what they offer their clients.
As such, my keynote address was on the Power of Collaboration, covering among other issues the Seven MegaTrends of Professional Services, knowledge-based relationships, organizational networks, trust-building, and core strategy issues for professional services firms.
I have long said that networks of professional firms have the potential to challenge and rival the major professional firms. We’ve seen many examples emerge, and clients are increasingly happy to deal with networked firms. I’ve experienced this directly with Future Exploration Network, where we’ve run significant consulting projects drawing on a global network of resources, and been chosen in preference to big-name consulting firms. For any professional services network, there is absolutely extraordinary potential in being more collaborative. Yet there is also the reality of significant cultural and behavioral change being required from member firms for this to happen.
Processes and technologies that span the network are also valuable. After my keynote one of the executives asked me about tools to identify relevant capabilities across a broad international network. This theme of ‘expertise location’ is one that has taxed the large “integrated” professional firms, and is even more challenging for a network. The US intelligence community is currently developing technologies to facilitate expertise location across its own network of many different intelligence agencies (which are certainly not highly integrated – I’ve written on some of the intelligence community’s knowledge issues and tools before).
Social network analysis and value network analysis are tools that have been primarily applied in organizations and across industries. I believe there is massive potential in applying these to the burgeoning sector of professional networks. The opportunities are extraordinary compared to the current reality, and even incremental improvement in collaboration in these networks could be worth a fortune not just to some, but to many.