From the Desk of the COO: What an E/A Firm has in Common with Legal and Medical Practices

There's no question that industries very different from the consulting, engineering, and architecture industry (e.g., banking, medical, accounting, legal, higher education, and insurance) are dealing with comparable challenges on an everyday basis. When it comes to businesses operating primarily in the U.S., we're all similarly impacted by domestic macro-economic conditions and trends.

I like to see how much validity my observations have by running them by friends and fellow leaders from other industries. Time and again, I encounter the same set of business considerations and challenges that ignore industry boundaries. As COO, I'm eager to share them with you to give you a window into what goes on behind the curtain here at Dewberry to meet these challenges. I expect they may be similar to your organization no matter your professional service.

Top Challenges for All Industries

  • People and talent
    We're all impacted by talent pool availability and the increased competition from many market sectors. The decrease in college enrollment in STEM programs is materially increasing the competition for this talent pool from a broader sector, well beyond the E/A industry. This has driven businesses to focus on entry-level hiring (as a way to "increase the talent pipeline"), adding diversity to the workforce and being more flexible with the work environment to accommodate employees' needs.

people and talent

  • Organic growth
    Organic growth is the foundation of good business. It keeps you from losing sight of what's important, which is always people. Acquisitions and mergers are great ways to reach into a new market or expand leadership, but strong organic growth is founded on providing career opportunities and retaining good people. It also keeps you continuously focused on emerging markets and strengthening business development programs. And another observation: it's much easier to be profitable when you are growing—so another reason organic growth is important.
  • Succession planning
    Perhaps with a family-owned business this is considered easier, perhaps it's considered harder; but regardless of ownership, it's critical to the sustained growth and success of a business and the people invested in it. Too often a lack of succession planning, in ownership and executive management, in our industry leads to M&A activity or worse, business failure. I feel fortunate to work for a company that's planning for its third generation of ownership and continuously planning for management succession.
  • Management of technology
    Everyone I speak with struggles with how to advance technology while considering cost and company risk exposure. Technology is a critical element of all businesses: it keeps moving forward, accelerating, and growing as a cost center. (I can attest to this as one of the last "slide rule" engineers.) There's a fine balance between what's cutting edge and what's proven as sound technology and a "value-add" to our clients.
management of technology

  • Risk Management
    Regulations are increasingly becoming more complex. The way we, like other businesses, are responding is by regularly engaging our executive leadership in risk management and compliance, and by investing in strong leaders for our internal business groups most impacted by these risks.
  • Integrated services
    More and more businesses are experiencing demand for integrated services (or bundling of services). This is being driven by clients, but also as a way for our businesses to manage the cost of sales and delivery of services. When a business has been serving a client for years, it takes ingenuity to continue to differentiate against the competition. More often than not, a key differentiator can be to reach across business practice areas and streamline services internally so that clients benefit from a more holistic and informed approach.
  • Sustainability
    More and more clients are expecting sustainable solutions from their service providers. In addition these clients feel responsible for their own footprint and the footprint of their entire supply line. This along with a strong push from employees, is causing businesses across U.S. markets to make their own operations sustainable and measurable against quantitative methodologies to calculate the full impact of economic, social, and environmental factors of green investment decisions.

What Our Commonalities Teach Us

While not a complete list, in performing my informal research, I spoke with colleagues in the construction, banking, legal, professional consulting, real estate and development, insurance, and accounting industries, as well as colleges and universities, local and state governments, and federal agencies.

The point of all this is to just give you a look at what common challenges businesses face, and how they are working to make a successful business tick these days. From my experience at Dewberry, it takes good people and a dedication to organic growth to provide opportunities for those people; proper succession planning and technology management; trust in those who lead compliance programs; dedication to serving clients with better solutions; broader engagement of employees in client and business development; and leveraging sustainable solutions and practices.

So don't feel alone. My advice to you is to always take the opportunity to learn from other industries on how to tackle the major challenges you face.

  • Dan Pleasant
    Dan Pleasant
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