Optimising financial processes

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GPO Summit London – Top 10 Takeaways

In September SharedServicesLink hosted their 2017 Global Process Owner (GPO) and Process Excellence Summit.

It seems only yesterday that I participated in the North American GPO Summit (my findings were summarised here) so I thought I should share some perspective on what has developed after 5 months! As well as attending the thought provoking sessions and round table debates and presenting my own perspectives, I always try to challenge myself to produce a synopsis of the currents of thinking, the GPO ‘zeitgeist’ if that is not too pretentious a term! These were my top 10 takeaways or highlights from the Summit:

Business is Simple

It is very easy to let complication obfuscate what we are trying to achieve. The Novartis talk reminded us of the essential simplicity of what we are all engaged in, in every role. The critical business outcomes, are driving REVENUE, reducing EXPENSE and optimising CASH. We need to frame our global process strategies in these terms to engage in the real conversation about priorities and funding.

Is the GPO responsible for ‘managing today’ AND / OR ‘leading tomorrow’?

This is a very interesting debate. There are a number of GPOs who view their role as advisory and consultative, but not one of direct responsibility for process performance. On the flip side, many of the same companies expressed challenges in getting initiatives funded and approved. I think there is a direct correlation, if not causation. One of the challenges in my opinion, is that if the GPO role sits in Shared Services, then by implication, the span of process under ‘ownership’ is not the end-to-end process across the business that drives the results, or that needs to be optimised. If the GPO does not own execution, how do we drive ownership for results? Who is held to account for results? It is noticeable to see a growing number of organisations appointing Global Process Owners whose responsibility includes, but is not constrained by Shared Services scope. These ‘executive’ GPOs already have a seat at the table and own performance. It is worth noting that this model seems to have less trouble in prioritising initiatives and funding.

How does the GPO drive change, power or influence, or both?

There was considerable discussion on this topic. Despite my previous point, influencing skills are critical to driving change. We had a session on the ‘GAIN’ approach to stakeholder engagement – what are the stakeholder’s GOALS, what are the implication of ACHIEVEMENT, what ISSUES will inhibit success and in by consequence, what are the NEEDS and priorities that implies. Yep, its another anagram, but at least it’s not 3 letters!. Whatever your level in the organization, given matrix structures, there are few, if any, roles with absolute power, so influence is key.

Focus on the numbers

Best in class GPOs are focussing on delivering results that the business recognises. AstraZeneca presented on their Order to Cash (O2C) GPO experiences in delivering $2.5bn in working capital improvements, by driving down overdue receivables, improving payment terms and the astute use of factoring of the highest quality debt. They drove ‘Days Sales Outstanding’ (DSO) down from 75 to 49 days over 3 years.

Change is an emotional experience

The curve of emotion is somewhat like bereavement, from denial, resentment, anger through to acceptance. DHL Express shared some excellent insights, including this timely reminder based on the Kübler-Ross (1969) model with the five stages of grieving.

Bear this in mind, it is what it is, so plan for it. It also explains why in change programs, you need to communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate again, even on core tenets of the mandate for change.

Error & Waste still prevail!

Despite dramatic progress, waste and error in core business processes still amounts to an equivalent of 5-6% of an organisations cost base! This has been stable, according to surveys, for over 10 years and in many cases, is getting worse. It reminds us that efficiency (doing things faster, cheaper) isn’t the only goal, we also strive for effectiveness (doing the right things). Beware, there are many examples of “automation making bad worse, faster” by propagating poor process. “Chase the Waste” and keep an eye on process execution. Analytics are the tool of choice here.


We still have a LOT of manual processes and admin legacy. It remains a constant source of concern that, despite our investments in automation over the years, how much manual, procedural, value-sapping activity is still involved in most of our processes. The gaps between silos are a great source of inspiration for RPA initiatives, which can deliver rapid returns. We should continue to drive this out. We can improve efficiency and quality at the same time.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) a powerful strategy, but where does it fit.

There are some excellent case studies and also some cautionary tales. RPA is a powerful, rapid return technique for filling the gaps and replacing the manual ‘swivel chair’ administrative tasks and spreadsheets. RPA is a great tool in the kit, but it does not fit every scenario or solve all problems. I still love the BD quote that “RPA is about fixing the potholes in the road, not building the new highway”! Of course, “the best automation is elimination” (Campbells Soup Company).

Beware the unintended consequences of automation

RPA (or any automation) can make badly defined tasks highly efficient, propagating exponential errors during execution. “Automation making bad worse, faster”? Maybe this should have its own bullet point?

Facts & Data

Everyone talked about the need for facts and data, whether it is for KPIs, for process understanding or for driving out waste and error. We need smart analytics, not more spreadsheets to analyse manually! A recent survey shows that many finance managers spend 80% of their time trying to find the right information and just 20% of the time acting on that information. Lets drive better, faster decision making with smart analytics.

A big thank you to SharedServicesLink for another very successful, thought provoking and insightful event. As always I welcome your comments, feedback and criticisms.

Thanks for reading…