Some years ago it seemed that much of my management consulting work was helping large, complex corporations implement some form of global shared business services. This was always challenging, disruptive, but ultimately fascinating work. There were always significant benefits to be had (cost savings, service improvements, increased leverage and collaboration) and in some cases, figuring out the synergies among disparate business units was almost literally a ‘game-changer’.
The Keys to Effective Shared Services
I have not been particularly tracking the shared services trend for the last several years, but I wonder why I am not seeing more of it among my Business Relationship Management consulting clients and trainees? After all, the keys to effective IT services are more broadly applicable to all shared services:
- Strong Service Management discipline
- A focus on Service Value
- Global sourcing
- Integrated measurement and governance across all Shared Services
- Business value focused Relationship Management
Information Technology is not a Solution
Furthermore, in today’s business climate of continuous change and rapidly emerging technologies, sustainable competitive advantage is rarely gained from IT alone. Today, it is more commonly the combination of:
- Better information enabling better decisions or new services
- New technologies enabling better business processes or business models
- Smarter, more collaborative, more engaged talent
These three dimensions demand a strong synergy among technology, business process and human resource experts. And yet, traditionally, these three disciplines have not always worked together synergistically. For me, cost savings notwithstanding, achieving 1., 2. and 3. above is the best reason for shared services. In other words, it’s not an efficiency play, it’s an effectiveness play.
Shared Services Maturity
Regular readers will know that I am fond of using maturity models as a way of making sense of the world. The Shared Services Maturity Model above surfaced through a multi-company research collaborative I was part of back in 2006. I’m pleased to say that many companies have made progress in maturing their shared service capabilities over the last 10 years, but the progress is slow, and it is still the rare minority that are really achieving the benefits of Value-centric Shared Services.
If you are an IT Business Relationship Manager, imagine how much more impact you could have if your domain was people, process and technology!