Over the last decade, corporate shared services have rapidly expanded in scope and scale. New areas of services in HR, IT, finance, supply chain and BPO have emerged and have been widely adopted across the globe. But these innovations have also dramatically increased the complexity of providing services. The two key trends that have exacerbated this complexity are: an increasingly tech-savvy user base which is demanding cutting-edge user experience and an explosion in multi-location global which has brought in regulatory, cultural and technology challenge in scaling service delivery.
This added complexity has created quality of service issues and fixing them takes management attention away from more pressing business problems at hand. Over the last few years, the trend has been to establish a ‘service delivery function’.
The case for really knowing what you have
Increasingly tech-savvy users are demanding cutting-edge user experience within the organisation. This function takes an end-to-end view of a particular service line and is accountable for the quality of service provided. While this is a step in the right direction, I feel that it is not enough by itself to ensure successful delivery of corporate shared services.
There are three critical steps that CXOs of a firm can take to dramatically improve the odds of delivering value using corporate shared services:
1. Baseline Early, Baseline Often
Building a fact base of any service related asset (which includes technology – hardware/ software, internal capabilities, real estate, business continuity measures and so on) should be a regular function for any organisation. This task is even more important in shared services outsourcing where third party vendors are involved in the service delivery. A 'good enough' knowledge about the current environment might suffice for a vendor to start delivering services, but without a thorough baseline the company will not fully realize the value from shared services. Also, it is equally important to continue capturing the changing environment within the organisation on a regular basis. Investment in making this process as automated as possible is highly recommended. For instance, an IT asset management database can capture all IT related assets. The baseline processes of understanding how the landscape of the company changes is important for the service delivery function to continually deliver the right kind of services to the users.
2. Service usage
Service management is much more than just actively managing SLAs (Service Level Agreements) linked to service delivery. With increased user preference towards self-serve models, it is important for the companies to carefully consider what services they need to provide to their user base and when.
For this to happen, companies not only need to know what their current operations are, but they also need to constantly track the usage of shared services across their user base. The way a service is provided and the manner in which it is used by the users might differ. For instance, desk side support for mobile device users in many companies have been upended to a large extent by users solving mobile device issues on their own if there is a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy in place.
In the content of such evolving user needs, organisations need to constantly measure and evaluate the effectiveness of their service portfolio. Services should be kept relevant by changing and, when necessary, discontinuing or ramping them down. This will enable investment in other areas where users see most value.
3. Incentivise ‘data-centric behaviour’
Both of the steps above – understanding the baseline and constantly evaluating service usage – greatly benefit from fostering a “data-centric” culture within an organisation. Consistently collating information on the environment and service usage should be part of the organisational ethos. This behaviour needs to be recognised and rewarded at all levels. In most shared services functions, the focus is on collecting data on financial aspects and SLAs – especially if there is a third party involved in the service delivery. While these aspects are important for the day-to-day functioning of the arrangement, they do not contribute significantly to the long-term well-being of the shared services arrangement.
Consistently tracking the effectiveness of service delivery with an eye on how services need to evolve over time is in the best interest of the user – and by extension, in the best interest of the organization and any third-party supplier. As every corporate leader knows, the weight of expectations that comes with change is not trivial. This gets particularly accentuated when the change touches multiple business units. An explosion in multi-location global workforce has brought in regulatory, cultural and technology challenges in scaling service delivery.
Service management is much more than just actively managing SLAs and regions – which corporate shared services, by design, do. So, it is essential to build a clear understanding of what value the shared service is going to deliver to the business. While undertaking shared services endeavours, companies tend to focus on what they need for the future. Paradoxically, focusing on understanding what you currently have paves the way for building the future roadmap in an honest and achievable manner.
Given the rapid pace of development in the shared services area and the need for companies to deliver a more mature user base, the case for really knowing what you have has never been stronger.
Deepak Bharathan is an IT strategy and outsourcing expert at PA Consulting Group.
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