Transforming a fast-growing traditional accounting firm with some 50 million documents spread throughout various data stores into a fully data-driven digital enterprise is a daunting task.
But that is exactly the one BDO Netherlands CIO Marcel Donkers is currently undertaking to help the firm not only provide its core competency of accounting and auditing but also create new insight-based services for clients in 167 countries.
BDO Netherlands, which has more than 3,000 employees, is an independent member firm of BDO International Ltd., one of the largest accounting firms in the world. The firm is currently deploying a company-wide strategy to transition to a completely “data-driven” enterprise, Donkers told CIO.
“All of our actions are working toward maturing our processes and the way we handle our data and systems for our clients,” Donkers told CIO.
In a nutshell, this means that client-facing workers must have quick and easy access to relevant data to serve a specific client need, project or service, he said. And in an organisation with not just millions of documents but also an expansive network of files, internal databases and external data sources, attempting to wrangle that data for searchability is not for the faint of heart.
“We are trying to get the right data and right insights to the right person at the right time,” Donkers said. “It sounds simple but it’s pretty difficult to do.”
Data strategy informs digital transformation
BDO started its digital transformation by prioritizing building an overall foundation for its data platform at the organizational level. This meant the first step in the strategy was to educate employees to understand and embrace the technological changes that come with data-driven digital transformation, Donkers told CIO.
However, it soon became clear that to achieve its ultimate goal, an enterprise search solution that would help the company quickly organize and find data to facilitate this transformation should have taken centre stage.
“I think we started a little bit too late,” Donkers acknowledged, about the team’s decision in early 2020 to evaluate enterprise search solutions for BDO Netherlands. “I would have given it higher priority than we did.”
Still, even though it was clear that BDO Netherlands needed an enterprise search solution as an integral part of its strategy, Donkers needed to prove the value of such a solution to the business professionals within the organization that would be using it before getting the full greenlight from executive decision-makers.
Proof of concept leads to implementation
This is where teaming with enterprise search provider Sinequa became an easy decision for BDO when evaluating leading vendors in the field, Donkers said. Sinequa was willing to work with BDO on a working proof-of-concept that could be presented to key company stakeholders before pulling the trigger on a full-blown project.
Creating a pilot to prove how their technology can streamline and optimize enterprise search for potential customers before signing a long-term contract is a tactic Sinequa uses with about 90% of its customers, says Stephane Kirchacker, vice president of EMEA at Sinequa.
“We prove that we can solve your issue very quickly,” he said. “We think it’s a key selling point.”
It certainly worked with BDO Netherlands, Donkers said. The proof-of-concept “was received very successfully and that was one of the primary drivers” for Sinequa landing the project, he told us. The companies signed a contract in June with Sinequa to provide enterprise search that could grow with firm’s digital transformation strategy.
Other factors that were attractive to BDO Netherlands were Sinequa’s position as a Microsoft partner, since BDO is a Microsoft shop. Moreover, Sinequa’s enterprise search is one of the few that provides a connector to MFiles, a document-management system that BDO also uses, Donkers said. Sinequa also provided Dutch language support that is essential to supporting a Netherlands-based firm, he added.
App interfaces can be based on user roles
Sinequa’s solution for BDO involved not only creating a single point of entry to searching for all of the data in the enterprise, but also creating role-specific search applications depending on departments within the organization, Sinequa’s Kirchacker said.
“BDO likes the idea of having a specific interface depending on the business,” he told us. “They want business-specific apps, for instance, for the legal people, the salespeople [etc.].”
Indeed, BDO ensured that it took into consideration “the people using the data and targeted specific use cases” as it was deploying enterprise search throughout the organization. This was the source of the biggest challenge in implementing the solution for a company that has so many data sources to search through, Donkers said.
“We have a lot of documents — but not all are production documents,” he told us. “Many are more like archive documents. Our biggest challenge was how does the whole structure fit the layout and the nature of our services, and how does this mesh together in regard to TCO and ROI.”
The two companies put their heads together and had numerous conversations about how to approach this problem because “it was hard to understand,” Donkers said.
Adding intelligence to search enhances value
The solution Sinequa is providing to BDO Netherlands will ultimately add intelligence to the data based on taxonomies the firm has set up for data depending on its content, a person’s role within the firm, and the service being provided, among other factors, Donkers said.
“That kind of intelligence is added to the way Sinequa is going to provide you with results,” he told us.
The initial full roll-out of the foundation of Sinequa enterprise search should happen before the end of 2021, Donkers said. But the company doesn’t plan to stop there.
“We are making optimization and expansion plans for 2022 and further,” he said. “We see a lot of potential for this building block in our platform.”
Indeed, Donkers sees enterprise search as a springboard for packing new data-driven services to customers based on information derived from using the foundational solution, he said.
“We will be adding more intelligence, which we can reuse in processes and services to our clients,” he said. “We fully see this foundation as a starting point for further utilizing the capabilities of Sinequa.”