Shared Service Environment: Key Skills of a SSO Superhero

In the face of emerging SSO trends such as data analytics and RPA, and more demanding customers, we outline the key challenges you will need to navigate, and the skillsets that will drive you to Super-hero status.

This article originally appeared on the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network (SSON).

While on a global level enterprises have been adopting shared services for over two decades (according to Accenture, 75% of Fortune 500 companies have implemented shared services in some form), the focus has traditionally still been on transactional service.

Today’s leading SSOs are different. They stand out by having moved with the times and reinventing not just their modus operandi, but also their role and significance in corporate America.

Data Analytics, the big ‘can do’ enabler of success, is a key element for modern day support services. So, too, is automation, especially in the form of ‘robotic’ processing.

The challenge lies in adapting to this new market and leading from the front, which requires particular capabilities and skill sets not normally fostered within the functional ranks from which SSO leaders are plucked. In addition, there are a couple of trends shaping the shared services environment that demand you adapt (or risk falling behind). First, there is the trend towards advanced data analytics, meaning real time business analytics and intelligence driving global capabilities. 

Then there is the shift towards customer-centric service, which demands transitioning from customer-focused service provider to a customer experience driven process and platform. The net output is additional business value. Finally, there is the emerging partnership approach between functions like HR and IT, or Finance and Procurement, etc. The power comes from thinking as one team and leveraging combined capabilities.

In the face of these trends, and more demanding customers, we outline the key challenges you will need to navigate, and the skillsets that will drive you to Super-hero status.

1. Leadership

Shared services will experience a lot of push-back during implementation as well as expansion, both from functional heads (F&A, HR, etc.) as well as business units that perceive the SSO’s growth as a loss of control. The first priority of any SSO leader, therefore, will be to lead visibly, and to provide a strong anchor for their team. The senior management team will have high expectations, so the ability to display confidence and resilience when faced with inevitable setbacks will be of utmost importance.

2. Talent Management

The availability and skill level of talent varies according to location and competing operations. An SSO leader will need to promote the attraction of a career in shared services, as well as ensure that attrition is kept to manageable levels without causing disruption to the business. This is especially important in locations that support multiple SSOs or BPOs, where talent is regularly lured away through higher salaries. A strong SSO leader will work closely with HR to leverage the corporate brand in the local marketplace, form relationships with local universities, and offer a challenging work environment as well as robust career path.

3. Process Expertise

Although a shared services center may define the services it supplies by “process”, smart leaders are extending their awareness, if not scope, end-to-end. Among the many benefits is a better understanding of the root source of errors or inefficiencies emanating from upstream, as well as potential gaps in handover or performance that may occur downstream. Today’s SSO leaders are taking a holistic view over a given financial or HR service, and are able to drive more strategically valuable decisions as a result.

4. Change Management

Whether implementing a new shared services or driving through transformations that will deliver improved service, the shared services leader will need a strong awareness of change management options and methodologies, and the ability to execute them. This may mean investing in training or recruiting relevant resources. The single most common cause of shared services failure is lack of change management. Too often, we read about SSO leaders wishing they’d invested more time and money in managing the change up front. Don’t become one of these statistics.

5. Communication

Whether you are trying to convince senior management, your business customers, or your employees, communication skills are crucial to engage the “hearts and minds” of your stakeholders. Taking the time for that extra meeting, another phone call, or a face-to-face with a customer, can offer massive returns in terms of a smoother transition. Ask anyone who has been through an implementation, and communication will consistently be highlighted for its “make or break” power. Lack of appropriate and regular communication across stakeholder groups can lead to lengthy stalemates.

6. Collaboration & Negotiation

Today’s shared services are more about integration than they were in the past. That means that it’s important to develop and foster strategic internal relationships (the CFO, the CHO, the CIO) that can help your cause. There are plenty of synergies between functions, and lots of opportunities to leverage functional expertise to achieve better results. In today’s integrated and technology-enabled work environments, that means collaboration is the name of the game.

7. Relationship Management

When it comes to SSO customers, the shared services leader is the number one customer relationship manager. He or she needs to invest time in listening as well as “selling”. Listening is particularly crucial as customers will have specific requirements and want to be heard. At the same time, it is the SSO leader’s task to shift customers to standardized solutions as much as possible, as these are both cost effective and support quality standards. Customers need to be persuaded of the SSO’s value as a business enabler. Listening to customers’ concerns will help you align your services to better address them.

8. Tech-Awareness

Shared services success is predicated on the technology it runs. For while it’s first and foremost about people and process, without technology, true efficiencies remain out of reach. ERP is the prime enabler, but there are a host of bolt-on solutions that provide additional valuable capabilities. These range from scanning to e-invoicing to self-service portals to robotic process automation. 

Part of a leader’s role is to ensure he or she is up to date with regards to emerging solutions. It’s worth allowing a few providers in every month to pitch you some new ideas, and attending conferences to peruse the exhibition hall. Also, don’t forget to ask your peers which technologies they are investing in or evaluating.

Conclusion

As today’s best practice shared services are evolving from pure transactional centers to knowledge-based, data analytics-enabled operations, they are able to support the business more strategically to drive more intelligent decision-making. In the global marketplace, this quickly turns into a competitive advantage.

Whatever stage your SSO is at, you should reconsider whether you are maximizing your potential as a leader. 

And remember: Whether in regards to better decision-making, assimilation of merger and acquisitions, or managing global talent – the answer to most of your challenges can be found in the data. Don’t risk overlooking it as you progress on your shared services journey.

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