Shifting towards a Knowledge Economy

One of the key takeaways from SSON’s global market survey 2018 is Shared Services’ transformational shift towards more knowledge-based activities. Sixty-one percent of the >630 global respondents say their strategies are shifting more towards knowledge work (see Figure 1 below).

This trend is often correlated to the industry-wide interest and uptake of disruptive technologies (e.g. Intelligent Automation and the emerging interest in Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence) over recent years. Coupled with the traditional labour arbitrage models that encouraged the outsourcing of transactional work to BPOs, as well as shifting to low-cost offshore centres, we are seeing an increased focus in upskilling Shared Services staff whose time has been freed up to perform more value-added work (as reported in page 16 of this visual analytics report).


Figure 1: SSON’s Annual State of Shared Services & Outsourcing Industry Survey Results 2018


As the number of Shared Services Organizations (SSOs) distancing themselves from purely back-office transaction centres increases, we should not overlook the importance of planning for, and redesigning, knowledge-based work. 

The nature of knowledge-work is that it is extensive and varies across SSOs, based on how it is classified. Some examples provided to us in the 2018 global market survey include accounting, credit management, data analytics, tax, business intelligence, legal, marketing, controllership functions, etc. 

What should SSOs take into consideration when planning for this shift to optimise benefits for the enterprise and get a step closer to gaining a seat at the table?



Figure 2: Redesigning Knowledge Work by Harvard Business Review


The above diagram (Figure 2) from HBR’s article Redesigning Knowledge Work summarises the questions SSOs should ask and possible actions to take when transiting to higher value activities. I would like to highlight 3 critical factors:


Skill Gap Analysis

-Before embarking on any significant workforce transformation, it is essential to begin by analysing your current workforce and identifying the skill gaps between existing staff and what is envisioned to execute your SSO strategy. 

-Look beyond job responsibilities and focus on skills, competencies, mindset and behaviours.

-Be descriptive and specific on the type of talent that you want.


Effectively leveraging existing talent

-Once talent gaps have been identified, consider the need to restructure current and future roles. 

-To efficiently utilise scarce experts time and resource, automate or shift any administrative or low-skill tasks to other resources. 

-Develop training programs to up-skill current employees, leveraging internal or external experts to help broaden their competencies.


Recruit and Hire

-If your SSO lacks the right talent to support the higher-value activities, consider attracting and recruiting additional experts. 

-Support employees by providing top-notch technical training and clear career paths.

-Promote the right culture to encourage the new ways of working


Redefining high-value knowledge jobs is a crucial step as SSOs move along the value curve and embrace digital transformation. Being prepared and taking the necessary steps will prevent any skills shortages in this knowledge economy but also help lower cost and increase job satisfaction among employees. 


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