Businesses leaders are increasingly presenting tougher challenges to their corporate functions: “Help me save money year-on-year” and “allow me to be more flexible so I can respond to external changes” are just two examples of what they are looking for. At the same time, the customers of corporate functions are demanding better and quicker services as they bring external expectations to the workplace.
Integrating corporate functions to create a global business services (GBS) organisation is increasingly recognised as a way for a company to help its leaders achieve both of these ambitions. But GBS organisations only generate value to the business when they go beyond administrative and transactional support and start providing truly integrated, value-adding services.
Mike Clementi, Vice President of Human Resources at Unilever, thinks leaders want reliable solutions that enable them to drive competitiveness and growth. Specifically, they seek simplicity, speed, stability and savings.
He explains how providing leaders with these 4Ss helps them focus on their primary objectives and address real business issues: “For us, getting the GBS infrastructure in place was one way to kick-start the transformation. We knew that a GBS would create a simpler and more cost-effective organisation with the tools and infrastructure needed to grow our business. By building global consistency, we hoped to deliver speed and efficiency; and have a sense of stability whatever is happening in different parts of the world. Ultimately, the output is all about increased savings and better service, the two ‘S’ measures.”
Getting to this stage and ensuring that everyone is behind you to deliver it, however, remains a significant challenge.
Victor Torres, global business services expert at PA Consulting Group, which worked with Unilever to set up its GBS organisation, outlines how setting up a successful GBS comes down to addressing three main challenges. First, organisations need to get the confidence of the business by excelling in the delivery of transactional services.
“Essentially, as Mike says about the approach taken at Unilever, this means creating the infrastructure to make sure all the everyday support is carried out brilliantly, and that efficiency and contribution to bottom-line profitability becomes business as usual,” Victor says.
The next challenge is about ensuring the organisation is ready to provide integrated services. Victor adds: “You need to look at all the functions to see how well they are integrated. From our experience, integration is not an easy task because it requires the careful consideration of all elements of the GBS operating model. For example, you need to consider how to integrate interactions with customers of the service, delivery operations and systems, the management and control of services, and the management of suppliers. You therefore need to think about the capabilities and skills that will enable this integration.”
The final challenge which needs tackling is to look beyond the GBS’ existing remit to identify the areas where it can really add value. Providing value-adding services could mean many things but the measure of success will be on the impact these services have on the top-line. Do they help the business win more customers? Do they allow rapid growth in new geographies?
The possibilities are extensive but can include: providing end-to-end solutions that speed up innovation and product design; delivering insights and intelligence into future consumer behaviour; and creating the infrastructure to enable new business models in untapped markets.
Victor says: “Unilever is a great example of a company that has worked to get a fantastic GBS infrastructure in place. Now they are at the really exciting point of being able to talk about the impact that the new GBS organisation is having on the rest of the business.”
For Unilever, building the infrastructure and transforming the organisation was the first stage of building its GBS and took around three years. Their next phase – which they are in now – focusses on running the GBS organisation and making sure they deliver all the benefits that they set out to deliver. To ensure GBS runs successfully, Unilever is concentrating on three areas.
The first is getting everyone behind the idea of GBS at Unilever. “This means approaching the GBS with the needs of the customer and consumer at front of mind. We need to be absolutely clear about what we are trying to achieve, and why this is good for the company”, Mike explains.
The second involves realigning the GBS organisation to deliver value. Mike adds: “By bringing technology, information and services together, we are creating a simpler, leaner organisation. And we are focussing on leadership and talent development as these will sustain and make GBS relevant into the future.”
Finally, the team are focussing on change management or ‘continuous improvement’. Mike says: “‘Change management can sound like jargon and, if you use jargon, you risk alienating your audience. And, if you always talk about change, people will think that you mean something that won’t last very long. So it’s better to talk about continuous improvement and create this mind-set in the organisation so it can become part of everyone’s day job. In that way, you are continuously upgrading.”
Mike concludes: “This is a great time to work in a GBS as it is a recently new, but rapidly growing, field. We are developing employees with an amazing portfolio of future-needed skills such as information management and business transformation – and you put these skills to practice working in a truly global and diverse organisation.”
Victor Torres is global business services expert at PA Consulting Group
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This article first appeared on Outsource.