What do Expert360 and Nifty Forms have in common?

As part of our research project into digital disruption in professional services, I have had the opportunity to talk to some Australian-based ventures who were nominated by research participants as being representative of innovation in the sector.

Expert360 and PwC’s Nifty Forms are interesting examples that represent two sides of emerging digital disruption in professional services:

  1. Disintermediation of the traditional firm structure; and
  2. Automation of professional services.

Looking at the two platforms, the similarity may not be immediately be apparent.

Expert360 launched in 2013 with the goal of creating an online marketplace for freelance consulting professionals. Clients submit project briefs through Expert360 and matching candidates can pitch for the work. Expert360 manage contracts, invoices and payments between the client and the freelancer.

PwC Australia launched their first Nifty Forms product, Nifty R&D, in October last year. Nifty R&D provides a quicker and easier way for small businesses to apply for the Research & Development Tax Incentive in Australia. It reduces the traditional claim process from six weeks to about a day.

Nifty Forms Process

Both have created mechanisms for creating efficiencies that allow clients to access expertise in a quicker, more flexible and cost effective manner. This has allowed them to address parts of the market that are currently under serviced (or depending on your perspective, you might actually say they have been historically over serviced).

They are also both changing the relationship between the ‘firm’ and the ‘client’. In this aspect they are taking different approaches:

  • Expert360 is acting as the trusted intermediary (and building its own brand in the process, just like a traditional firm), but ultimately each freelance consultant needs to manage their own personal brand since they are are pitching themselves for projects.
  • Nifty Forms is brokering access to expertise, but the identity of the individual advisors involved in the design and delivery of the service is hidden behind its own brand and that of its parent firm, PwC.

‘Trust’ and ‘Reputation’ are still important, but are either being democratised from the firm back to the individual (in the case of Expert360) or productised (in the case of Nifty Forms).

Expert360 Profile Sample

It is also worth considering how both Expert360 and Nifty Forms are bringing new roles and job functions into professional services. For example, Expert360’s team includes a “Head of Engineering” and Nifty Forms has a “Product Owner” – both these roles are classically associated with software companies.

These two examples provide a window into the possibilities of digital disruption in professional services that is taking place right here in Australia.

While neither Expert360 or Nifty Forms expect to completely disrupt the sector, they do demonstrate the possibilities for changing the way professional services operate that was not possible without digital technology. It also raises issues for further discussion:

  • What does professional services as a career look like if parts of it become more productised?
  • How well prepared are experienced and ambitious new professional staff for managing their own marketability and reputation outside the traditional firm structure?

What do you think?

Further reading: