Georgina Elrington looks into current issues and the evolvement of core shared services integration.
A simple way to think about shared services is as one back office installation that is used by various departments. The administrative tasks in an HR office, for example, can increasingly be carried out on a single system. This same system can then feed information to other business areas – such as the finance department – to help keep a watchful eye over budgets, resources, spending, and revenue. If everyone is using the same access point in the right way there will be less chasing for information and data can be automated to produce instant intelligence.
But for this to run smoothly the workforce needs to be engaged and understand the importance of using the shared service properly. And before that can happen, the system in place needs to have been set up with full consideration to the objectives. “As you build central back office functions it is important to have a clear view of your goals,” stresses Abigail Vaughan, chief operating officer at the payroll and HR software and services company, Zellis. “Is your goal just to create a highly efficient machine that works with precision much like a Swiss watch? Or is it also to transform the service being provided to bring additional value to the business? What do those new services and capabilities need to look like? The answer to these questions will very much influence the scope and shape of the shared services organisation.”
Reassessing current shared services for value and productivity
And the shared services shape can shift. Six months ago everyone was in the office accessing systems that were already networked for the people sitting in front of them. Julia Lewis, director, global business services at EY UK Consulting offered her views for those looking after shared services today. “While shared service centres (SSC) have demonstrated resilience and done well to navigate the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience has highlighted a number of areas that need renewed focus. Many organisations are now looking to their SSCs to support the broader enterprise objectives around cost and cash. Cost of service delivery can be targeted by looking at operating models and location strategies. SSCs will be asking themselves what is now the right balance of on-shore, off-shore and business process outsourcing, what is the right location for their centres, and is there an opportunity for consolidation?
“Although most SSCs have started their digital journey, they realise that they need to accelerate their digitisation and automation programmes and scale their solutions across the enterprise to have a greater impact on efficiency. A recent survey by EY and the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) noted that almost half of leaders confirmed that SSCs need to become more digitised post pandemic.
“The pandemic has increased remote working and changed the way businesses function. Where, traditionally, there was an expectation that all employees delivering service would be office-based, this policy has been turned upside down. SSC leaders must therefore reconsider what the ‘new normal’ means for their workforce – especially their Generation X and Y workforces, and also rethink policies and procedures to ensure that they not only attract and retain the best talent, but can also manage well-being and team morale effectively to achieve the best levels of motivation and performance.”
Pre, during, or even post-pandemic there are still some lagging processes that need an overhaul when it comes to shared service utilisation. Andrew Hayden, a senior product marketing manager at Winshuttle – a data management and process automation company said: “With increasing amounts of data to manage, shared service centre professionals are relying on slow, laborious manual processes to perform business critical actions. Within a finance shared service centre for example, it’s not unusual to find highly qualified professionals spending large amounts of time performing repetitive and monotonous tasks. Not only can this drain morale, but it can also lower productivity levels, stifling their ability to concentrate on other more valuable goals. This also accelerates the risk of user error. Common mistakes causing unnecessary headaches for SSC professionals include misplaced invoices, inputting errors, items not matching to purchase orders (PO) and missing PO numbers.”
Colin Crow is the managing director at a digital transformational company, Sigma Dynamics which helps companies to improve productivity. Crow’s perspective on the issues for shared service leaders today also focusses on achieving end-to-end data capture, alignment and management to ensure information is provided quickly, efficiently and accurately to all stakeholders, especially the end customer. “Capturing current-state data from all elements of the supply chain is key to being able to analyse this data, make informed business decisions and provide accurate and timely information to all other parts of the supply chain, which is crucial to business success in this competitive and challenging world,” he said. He also made the point that AI technology is maturing to the point that this data management can be largely automated. “This offers the potential to further optimise the management of the shared service centres, so they become value-added centres and not just processing units,” he added.
How is more digitalisation entering shared services?
Taking up on the concept of shared services becoming more efficient enterprise assets we heard from Peter Walker who is the chief technical officer EMEA at intelligent automation technology company, Blue Prism. “An increasingly key change agent, across any central back office function of a shared services environment, is intelligent automation that runs an AI-enabled digital workforce. This is a workforce that interoperates without requiring coding, across all systems and disparate operating environments – automating processes up to 150 times faster than human workers – with zero errors, 24/7. This is proving the best way to swiftly and accurately perform end-to-end, process-based activities, so they’re delivered much faster, smarter and more efficiently.”
“For example, over 50 NHS Trusts are using our cloud-based digital workers to automate a wide range of activities at unprecedented speed across multiple functions. There’s a growing community of healthcare organisations that are sharing their tried and tested automations using a newly created NHS Digital Exchange (private online marketplace) that allows NHS teams to further accelerate the deployment of new automations and better support remote health activities. These pre-built automation assets cover more than 40 processes enabling key back office support for recruitment, HR on-boarding, finance processing, and tackling enhanced
access to services, patient communication from admissions and outpatient support.”
For digital workers as a business-led initiative, Walker highlighted that: “While IT and technical leaders are vital to ensuring smooth roll-outs and the ongoing running of the platform, it’s down to shared service leaders who best understand their operational challenges and demands to make judgements about where digital workers will have the greatest impact on swiftly delivering positive business outcomes.”
The potential of shared efficiency starts with a shared vision
Staying with the NHS example we heard from Patrick Highland, finance manager for systems and reporting at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. He told us that: “A good example of the potential for shared services within the NHS is the growth in Trusts transforming their back-office technology estates to create a digital eco-system designed to optimise collaboration in pursuit of excellence in patient care and management. Without a shared vision to guide change, the decentralisation of the NHS has created a splintered technology back-drop that works against realising a collaborative approach to managing patient care. It’s clear there’s a long way yet to go if the NHS is to achieve the wished-for digital transformation.
“Siloed technology approaches and ways of working limits the NHS in leveraging one of its greatest assets, data, and the ability to share that data to better analyse, treat and prevent illness. Intelligent automation will play a significant role in allowing clinicians to swiftly and accurately perform joined up, data-driven, end-to-end activities across disparate systems. For example, at our Trust we’re seeing a significant acceleration of eReferral processing and automation of that work stream. Using Blue Prism Cloud has protected existing resources from the impact of that increase which would otherwise be shouldered by existing back-office resources. Automating our private patient billing function has sped up the process and removed processing errors. This has freed our team to focus on developing relationships with customers and allows them to chase debt in a more sympathetic and empathetic way that only people can do.”
“My advice for other NHS Trusts considering the adoption of intelligent automation is to first secure C-suite sponsorship for the initiative and use that powerful voice to articulate and champion the efficiency benefits of automation, to pave the way for wide-scale adoption. Communicate success and use every opportunity to educate potential internal customers on the benefits of automation to turn them into positive proponents and adopters of the technology.”
So what can leaders do now to optimise the functionality and value of shared services?
Zellis’ Vaughan stressed that enterprises need to focus on harmonising business units. “This means understanding why differences exist, and working to develop harmonised, lean working practices and pursuing a unified automation agenda. At the heart of this process should be a best-in-class process team which has up-to-date knowledge of automation. This team can ensure your enterprise doesn’t sit in a technology implementation logjam, and instead can take ownership of driving process automation using widely available and simple tools, such as Microsoft Power Automate, to enable quick results. You do need to consider, however, how automated processes will be supported in life and ensure that the usual monitoring infrastructure is in place in order to ensure business continuity,” she said.
The last words go to EY’s Lewis as she puts the focus, for SSC leaders looking to ensure that their central back office functions are optimised and fit for purpose, into four main areas.
1. Fully digitising their operations and implement disruptive intelligent automation technologies across end to end processes;
2.Increasing service scope by creating centres of excellence to make the best use of data and new analytics tools to enable decision making that will drive significant value for the broader business;
3. The customer and user experiences when defining process and service to enhance satisfaction; 4. Re-assessing the skills required for their workforce and up-skill appropriately to ensure they have the right talent to support digital, analytics and customer centricity. By addressing the above SSCs can continue to deliver on enterprise objectives, keeping costs low and driving value-add across global operations.