In the 80s and 90s, offshoring became the thing to do in corporate organisations. It was a quick way to take repetitive, manual work out of the business and put it somewhere with lower-cost labour and better tax incentives. Over the years, shared service models have evolved, and it is not uncommon for organisations, large and small, to have some elements of shared services, be they offshore service centres, global business services, group business services or otherwise centralised back office functions.
However, the transactional nature of the work means that these teams can be siloed and opaque. Their work isn't always seen as adding value, nor related to the mission or purpose of the organisation, its strategy or its customers.
Thanks to the fourth industrial revolution, accelerated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and a stronger imperative to put the customer first, organisations have shifted towards a digital agenda. In doing so, they are finding that every part of the business is required to connect to deliver on value – including the once isolated shared services.
Automation, intelligence and people
In a digital future, back office operations need to maintain pace as the rest of the business becomes quicker, agile and resilient around them, adapting to provide customer-centric products, services and experiences. A realignment to customer and digital, and automation and engineering of processes for speed is necessary, and will require a whole new range of capabilities and skills.
There's a revolution at play, and internal shared services are being asked to become an equal partner in their organisations to add new value, shifting their value proposition from execution and transaction to the provision of data science and intelligence. These insights will allow the greater business to operate more efficiently, making quick, informed decisions. Shared services groups, sitting atop a wealth of data, will be integral in driving new products, services, solutions and experiences.
Skills to be fostered in order to provide this are varied and multiple. They include: critical thinking, the ability to really drive process, data science, automation, and intelligence. The workforce, therefore, needs to undergo a digital skillset transformation; a reeducation to 'digital', not only to build different thinking but also to adapt to different roles and business needs in the future.
To use the data surfaced by shared services, human needs to meet digital. Organisations will require the ability to use their data in new ways. Intelligence platforms such as Signavio that allow people to access, understand and drive insights will be increasingly important.
Digital business process platforms allow organisations to create a digital source of truth, a backbone that will support the company going forward. In them, all elements of the business and its data can be mapped, including processes, which allows artificial intelligence to analyse everything, uncovering opportunities for improvement, transformation and identifying redundancies. Automation can then be put in place with full understanding of where it will be most useful.
It's important to understand that to get the most out of the technology, it will be critical to embed it. Technology cannot simply be plugged in, skills cannot be built in isolation, and competency plans will not drive a transformation. Employees must be taught how to bring their new knowledge and digital tools together and how that will drive change. It's the human part of technology that organisations often forget. Without it, new processes and new automations will just be added steps or processes to work around.
On the other hand, if the toolsets and skillsets are brought together and built into the business's operations with platforms used daily in people's roles, employees will be able to 'be' the change, operationalise transformation and drive real, meaningful impact.
Find your north star
The most successful shared services transformations are from organisations that reimagine what they could be, identify the new capabilities and skills required to get there and create a systematic approach to their implementation.
Technology will provide the 'how', but the 'why' is equally important. For the new wave of global business services to successfully drive business value, they must have a north star to aim for. A vision, and narrative path, that will make clear how new skills and technologies are critical to its achievement. Getting people on board with change is never easy, but knowing that upskilling is not just about driving efficiency but about how they fit into a bright future will remove fear and inspire collaboration.