Re-thinking Corporate Services in an uncertain world: How the back office can be adaptable to uncertainty and change

By Ben Wilson

During the pandemic, organisations were forced to adapt at speed, rapidly deploying technology and changing their ways of working. The customer-facing front office took priority in the scramble to expand services and recover revenue. However, this transformation did not always flow through to the back office, reducing the effectiveness of corporate services to support the core business.

Organisations now have an opportunity to translate the benefits of pandemic-led transformation into the back office to build resilience in an increasingly uncertain world. Unstable geopolitics is affecting operations in foreign markets. Climate change looms ever larger. The cost of living is rising sharply, increasing overheads and eroding margins. Organisations face an important challenge to re-think corporate services – how can they best complement their transformed front offices, while becoming adaptable in an increasingly uncertain world?

Rethink your operating model

Transformation during the pandemic was agile, responsive, and instinctive. Huge human effort, often cross-functional and highly collaborative, ensured business continuity. There was little time for formal planning. As a result, many organisations now possess legacy corporate services operating models, that are expected to support shiny, new customer propositions. How can operating models adjust to overcome challenges with this mismatch?

Become a strategic partner: Assess your corporate services to identify elements that continue to add value and where there is opportunity to transform those that do not. Functions that once appeared transactional could be reconfigured to offer strategic support to the front office, providing forward-looking advice while offering flexibility and resilience to their changing requirements.

Explore shared services opportunities: Remote working models have increased the importance of standardised processes and policies, enabling greater shared services across geographies, departments, and sectors. Such changes enhance collaboration while increasing efficiencies through economies of scale.

Review your location strategy: Near-shoring and offshoring can widen access to talent pools and reduce costs, such as real estate, while maintaining and even improving the level of service – both for internal and external customers. Your existing location strategy may be designed for a fundamentally different landscape. Does your strategy still hold up economically and from the perspectives of resilience and security?

Rethink your processes

Many organisations’ corporate services are struggling to process higher volumes of demand, or new demands entirely, from transformed front offices. Current ways of working are often inefficient or patched together with fragile manual workarounds. How should corporate services processes be redesigned to best support the needs of their organisation?

Design for uncertainty: Front office adaptation is most successful when actively supported by the back office. Many back offices are playing catch-up following pandemic-induced front office transformation. Designing processes that are adaptable will allow future change to operate in tandem. We recently supported a major high-street sandwich chain’s finance function become adaptable in their processes and tools to support new online customer propositions and business models. Elsewhere, HR and IT are rapidly evolving to support hybrid working, and many procurement teams are adapting their supply chain approaches to ensure resilience in trade and import/export.

Design for the end customer: Aim to go beyond the direct impact of back-office ways of working on the front office. Focus on delivering the right outcomes for paying customers. Organise your processes around value streams and outputs, rather than within traditional functions, to increase ownership, resilience, and adaptability. The whole organisation – not just customer-facing teams – should be focused on meeting customer expectations and needs.

Design for a more global organisation: With location and proximity no longer constraints, complex and sensitive processes can be run successfully from afar. This creates opportunities for further standardisation and collaboration across organisations.

Rethink your technology

While front offices are now more digital by default, back offices often rely on aging systems. Having remained beholden to legacy technology for longer than desired, organisations can now turn to technology investment to support their ambitions around resilience and adaptation in the face of uncertainty.

Embrace digital disruption: Legacy back office systems are a major impediment to organisational agility and consume significant resources, especially when human intervention is needed to bridge gaps in functionality. With increased digitisation and hybrid working, these gaps are only widening. Cloud technology is increasingly moving from a best practice to a necessity. Software as a Service (SaaS) Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions can drive better processes, while delivering new and improved services.

Support hybrid working: Employees need better support to work remotely. In addition to Zoom and Teams, using automation, self-service (in areas such as absence requests, expenses, training) and digital solutions avoid manual workarounds and paper-based processes. This will help retain and attract the best talent in a competitive market, as well as increase organisational resilience.

Capture and analyse data: Organisations need to be adaptable, making quick decisions based on accurate and available data. Capturing and analysing the right data is key to improving operational performance and delivering a better, more value-adding service for your customers. We are helping a regulator to implement a hub and spoke operating model that builds data capability across the organisation, delivering relevant analysis to support service development.

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Ben Wilson Corporate Services expert

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