Today’s outsourcers and shared services operations are expected to deliver not just cost savings, but also innovation, agility, quality and growth. At the same time the bar has been raised when it comes to expectations with customers having lower tolerance for mistakes, delays or poor service. In fact, Gartner rates customer experience at the top of CEOs’ priorities for 2017. It is the ability for organisations to respond and adapt quickly to both customer requests and changing market circumstances that can provide that key point of differentiation.
The dual pressures of delivering more for less and acting as an incubator for new ideas and efficiencies can be a tall order, especially if you are managing complex processes on behalf of multiple clients or departments across different industries or physical locations.
So what steps can be taken to liberate time, make better use of resources and create that additional value? According to The 2016 SSON (Shared Services & Outsourcing Network) State of the Shared Services Industry Report, ‘process excellence’ was identified as the area that will most radically improve the value that shared services will provide in the next two years. This was closely followed by data analytics and operational agility.
Room For Improvement
If they’re managed effectively, processes can be a key enabler of consistent execution, business improvement and innovation. For large outsourcers or SSOs (Shared Services Organisations), ill-managed or out-of-date processes can have a ripple effect across the whole organisation - stifling efficiency, speed and the ability to introduce fresh and more efficient ways of working. To keep up or even better, stay ahead of the competition, processes need to be simple, accessible and reviewed and improved regularly.
Even with advances in process management tools and technology, the management of processes is haphazard and process documentation is quite static in nature at many SSOs. At best, processes are recorded in packages like Visio. At worst, they are stored in people’s heads - so when someone leaves, so does their know-how and the SSO’s methodology. Commonly stored on shared drives, Intranets or in personal notebooks, many of these procedures are drawn up by project teams or continuous improvement specialists, but are rarely accessed by the teams that should be following and improving these processes every day.
Most people these days have a multitude of apps on their phone, but if they are difficult to use or complicated then they get deleted—fast. SSO team tolerance for complexity and a poor user experience is low. The same applies to business tools: if a CRM system is cumbersome to access and update, then it will be ignored. Process management and improvement is no different…if it’s not a living entity that develops and grows over time, then best practice and ongoing business transformation simply die on the vine.
For any transformation to work, it’s essential to get buy-in at both a senior management and grass-roots level. In our own experience of assisting multi-nationals who need to deliver Global Business Services (GBS) but are hampered because they do not have a strong process management and improvement discipline, it is often shared services leaders or heads of HR or Finance that look for a better way of doing things.
Shared services leaders look for opportunities to improve agility, innovation and customer experience. For HR professionals, the emphasis might be on improving on-boarding, training or staff retention, or perhaps considering how they can re-skill staff with the trends of virtual working, AI or automation. Meanwhile, the motivation for CFOs is likely to be around cost reduction, revenue creation, internal controls or bottom-line efficiencies.
No matter who is responsible for driving transformation, success or failure will almost always come down to team engagement. A process improvement culture can’t be something that’s imposed from above, it must be owned and fed by internal teams. Involving everyone as part of an organisation-wide process improvement community will mean that every employee can potentially have a say. The value of this crowdsourcing approach to create a melting pot of ideas should not be underestimated, as it is those at the coal-face—whether working in a customer contact centre or delivering bespoke IT services to end-customers or specific departments—who often have the best insight as to what works and what doesn’t.
The rewards of introducing a process improvement culture that is interactive and involves everyone can be realised sooner than you might imagine. Take for instance an IT outsourcing provider, who recently adopted cloud-based process mapping; within weeks they captured and reached consensus on over 200 new processes using the application. They can also use the platform to demonstrate to customers the different services they can deliver, the value they can provide and the SLAs they can meet. At the same, they expect to gradually reduce any type of process failure in their business moving forward.
Mitigating the risk of failure and meeting compliance requirements can be a major benefit of standardising processes. Think about how this might impact a large outsourced contact centre or a global IT services provider. If there is an incident or emergency that needs to be addressed, whether a customer service or IT support request, there should be clear guidelines on what should be said or what steps should be taken. If necessary, approved process variants can enable teams to adjust the standard process to meet the requirements for different customers, countries or departments.
Global vs. Local
One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. On the one hand, you can reduce the costs associated with duplication and complexity of processes by standardising and streamlining them, but there is also a case for introducing bespoke processes for bespoke situations. We work with the shared services centre of a Canadian health provider where a single, standard process cannot meet the requirements of everyone, especially the unique requirements of different regions. What they need is a set of process variants that can be easily tailored for each individual region where health-related or payroll methods may be unique to that territory. This means SSOs don’t need to re-invent the wheel, they can leverage parts of the standard process that remain the same, but with the added value of ‘glocalisation’ where variants are required and applied.
Clarity of Purpose
With clearly designed processes that everyone can understand, access and contribute to, it is possible to create an unstoppable improvement culture where both value and innovation can thrive. Charles Araujo, principal analyst at Intellyx, expressed a similar sentiment in a recent whitepaper entitled The Innovation Map: How to Create Disruptive Innovation in a Complex Digital World. In it he notes, “It’s not a lack of creativity that stifles innovation, but rather fear, vagueness and ambiguity. When team members are unsure of how things work, they hesitate to take risks or suggest new ideas.”
By making process management and improvement dynamic and integrated into every employee’s daily routines—from the CEO through to a Customer Service Advisor—true business transformation can start to occur. This is true even for the largest and most diverse of shared services organisations, providing an enabler for innovation and value to flourish at every level. With talk of AI dominating the future landscape, the role of outsourcing and shared services, and how they will be affected, is still up in the air. What is certain though is that any conversations around adapting to change will be centred on process.
Benefits of introducing a process improvement culture:
- Transition new work into shared services organisations more effectively
- Improve newly transitioned work
- Enhance quality and help SSOs commit to and meet SLAs with standardised processes
- Get more clarity and accountability for who is responsible for what
- Eliminate errors and rework
- Enhance the customer experience
- Reduce training and on-boarding costs
- Minimise risk and meet compliance requirements
- Retain expert knowledge and intellectual property