Shared Services: A Look Before You Leap (or Step)

Shared Services
Posted by Jim Scully on July 1, 2013

We’re about 18 years into the use of shared services to streamline and add efficiency and cost-effectiveness to the delivery of HR services. Back then, shared services organizations (SSOs) were made possible by the technological leap from real-time mainframe computing to the now-familiar client-server environment, as the new technology enabled efficient centralization of information processes. Now, in the next giant leap, client-server technology is being uprooted by cloud solutions and the software-as-a-service (SaaS) phenomenon. This latest disruption presents some interesting implications for shared services.

First, cloud-based service technologies, like case management and knowledge portals, are more affordable for smaller organizations, making shared services a more viable solution for medium-size organizations. Second, organizations that haven’t yet entered the realm of shared services can consider leap-frogging over centralized manual processing almost completely in favor of employer and manager self-service. Third, the new technology gives organizations cause to reevaluate their current delivery mechanism to see if the cloud can provide new or better capabilities. Lastly, because cloud solutions can be configured, but not customized, organizations are also using cloud solutions to drive harmonization.

The rise of the cloud has organizations asking technology-motivated questions like, “What new service-enabling tools are available?” “How might these tools change service delivery models more broadly?” and “Is the time right to start using shared services or to switch platforms?” Many organizations are also beginning to explore the role of social media channels in delivering HR services.

Meanwhile, figuring out how to manage and mitigate the realities of globalization — differences in language, laws, culture, processes, programs, and the like — remains a puzzle that technology has only partially helped organizations solve.

Another perennial desire is to finally be able to answer the questions surrounding shared services measurement and benchmarking. The fact that nearly 20 years later we’re still trying to figure out what the right metrics are and how to most effectively measure shared services value and performance speaks to just how rich and complex an undertaking it is.

Over almost two decades, many organizations have built impressive SSOs and compiled years of experience and insights that all of us can tap into. Others have boldly embraced new technologies to forge their own path. Learning from these leaders and exploring the possibilities and potential of shared services in light of advancing technologies is the focus of the upcoming 2013 Shared Services Executive Retreat, sponsored by the Shared Services Institute and Deloitte Consulting. We’ll be exploring the latest research results, learning from veteran shared services consultants and HR professionals, and kicking the tires of some of the latest technology offerings.

In speaking with organizations all along the continuum of shared services adoption — the leaders, the middle of the pack, and some who are still trying to decide whether to even take the first step — I find that they share similar aims and angst. Ultimately they want to glean the most value they can from a shared services undertaking. The ones who haven’t started the journey wrestle with the weight of the investment required and the likelihood of disruption during the transition (as is typical during periods of significant organization change). The ones farther down the path — even those satisfied with their current setup — worry that by not fully exploring the capabilities new technologies offer, they are missing out on realizing even greater value. Or that their current environment may become obsolete as cloud-based, social media-enabled solutions overtake older systems and capabilities.

Do you see your organization among these typicals? Or do you have your own concerns before leaping into shared services for the first time or taking the next step to advance your organization’s practices? In either case, I hope you’ll consider joining us at the Retreat later this month. In the meantime, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Jim Scully Jim Scully has 18 years of experience in shared services consulting and implementation and founded the Shared Services Institute in 2008. He specializes in applying lean systems thinking to improve performance and reduce cost without compromise. He also founded the HR Shared Services Network, which is the world’s largest social network dedicated to HR service delivery professionals.

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