The year of “udsyn”

I recently did a presentation on the future of professional services for Dansk Industri (DI) at the latter’s beautiful building in the centre of Copenhagen. It was an apt place for such an event: Each floor of the building is named after a concept, and the top floor, with its expansive view across the city, is called “udsyn”.

The simplest meaning of udsyn is “view”, but its resonance is far subtler than that: “Ud” actually means “out” and “syn” means vision. “It means looking outside your world”, DI explained.

I can’t think of a better word to sum up what I think is the big, strategic opportunity for professional services firms in 2019 than udsyn. I’ve already written about the imperatives for consulting firms, but being able to action these and respond to other tactical challenges facing the broader professional services industry will depend on looking outside your world. Professional services firms are no different to their clients. They see the world through the lens of their heritage and, often, the services they offer: To someone with a hammer, every problem appears to be in need of a nail.

But the professional services industry faces unprecedented challenges. Clients are looking for innovative solutions—not necessarily blue-sky thinking, but grounded ideas and the pragmatic application of best practice from elsewhere. They’re looking for value to be delivered. Being an expert simply isn’t enough in today’s world: Clients find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between firms based on the quality of work they do—every established firm can boast good people doing good work. Indeed, while 71% of clients globally say that the quality of work done is good, only 47% say that it actually adds value. As we’ve discussed many times in this blog, the professional services world is splitting in two, with clients increasingly saying that a firm offering low-cost services can’t also be good at delivering high-value ones. However, at the same time, high-growth opportunities now almost always involve a combination of these types of services—professional services firms have to integrate the two, even as clients tell them it’s not possible to do so. Squaring this circle is putting the business model of most firms under intense pressure: Launching sub-brands only moves the problem from the way a firm positions itself in the market to its internal organisation. Clients complain that most of the teams put together by firms are multidisciplinary in name only. Not surprisingly, they’d like to see firms simplify the way they work.

To respond to these challenges, professional services firms are going to need to look at examples from elsewhere in the sector and beyond. They must challenge their assumptions and find ways to overcome the internal obstacles that make it hard to change.

In other words, they’re going to need more than a little bit of udsyn.