Optimising financial processes

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5 Priorities for Shared Services Leaders for 2017

SSL NASharedServicesLink held its North American Leaders Summit, the 6th flagship event in this series last month in Atlanta. The balmy Georgia weather was a perfect counterpoint to the cold facts and sharp insights in round table discussions and presentations by subject matter experts.

We heard experiences and best practices from IBM, Johnson & Johnson, The Hackett Group, Greif, BD, Dun & Bradstreet, Deloitte, Coca-Cola, TCS, EY and of course, Consider Solutions.

There were some thought provoking survey results at the outset; the one that surprised me the most was that while 85% of Shared Services organizations have Global Process Owners (GPOs), only 24% of those own process simplification and standardisation! It may seem counter-intuitive, but there is devil in the detail! There are 7000 shared services organisations out there operating 30,000 centres globally!

I was very taken with the precision of the opening plenary session led by Noemie Tilghman of Deloitte. She got us thinking, right from the start, about the 5 key strategies that today’s Shared Services and Global Process leaders need to embrace;

  • Look beyond the SSC – it’s not just about efficiency within, but effectiveness beyond
  • Empower the GPO – provide the tools, resources, accountability and authority
  • Embrace Robotics and AI – explore, learn, strategize and exploit new ways of adding value
  • Drive Analytics – time for talk is over, Just Do It!
  • Focus on Talent – what is the future and what skills do we need to acquire and retain

There was an excellent e-Procurement transformation case study from Greif working with Coupa, citing ease of use, amazon style operating model, no supplier fees and rapid time to time to value.

Andy Cameron of Coca Cola (TCCC) gave a powerful case study on Global Process Ownership (GPO) key leadership roles for the WHY, WHAT & HOW of global processes. With the scars of practical experience, we were reminded to remember key GPO support roles for data, IT, controls, Operational Excellence and Change. He challenged us to ensure that our business value drivers, both financial and operational – align to our metrics!

Global Process Ownership is a multi-dimensional challenge. Many, if not most, large organizations have embraced the GPO nomenclature. However, empowering the GPO to add genuine value is a hard road, not for the faint hearted! The framework below is a useful introduction to the ten streams of management that the GPO needs to lead. These are the themes to discuss with the executive team and stakeholder groups.gpo-framework

There was some excellent discussion, experience sharing and debate on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). I was fortunate to be asked to facilitate one of the sessions on experiences and plans, target processes, investments and benefits. This was an enlightening discussion, not least in that the reported percentages of organizations already implementing RPA was not represented at the conference, although this was a pretty mature audience by most measures. I suspect that maybe the marketing is a little ahead of reality!

Robotic Process Automation should not be confused (despite attempts) with artificial intelligence, physical robotic machines or the singularity (when computers achieve human levels of intelligent thought). The robots in questions here are software components which allow enterprises to automate high-volume, repeatable tasks on top of existing applications for processing transactions, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other systems. This is essentially a smarter application integration strategy.

By far the best RPA case study I have seen was from Steve Gordon at BD. Practical, specific, relevant and devoid of hyperbole, Steve nailed it. In their specific process improvement experience in P2P, they achieved 60% FTE savings. Impressive! The strategic insight I left with was his great quote which he used repeatedly in the organization to maintain focus on priorities, which was “RPA is about fixing potholes in the road, not laying new highway infrastructure”. This crystallised an important strategic perspective; Not everything is about building the ‘Brave New World’, and continuous improvement with RPA can proceed in parallel with longer term, game-changing strategies.

Another key takeaway was RPA requires process standardisation and data quality to be successful, which plays to the need for better analytics, so we can identify the variance, to start with!

Which brought us to the topic of simplification and standardization. Despite the enormous progress in automation of end to end processes, ERP systems, finance transformation and the like, it is very clear that as businesses, shared services and global processes, we are not as mature, standardised and optimised as the surveys and marketing suggest. How do we address the issue!

We shared an overview of the relationship between outcomes, performance measures and analytics, which many find helpful;

Overall Drivers of Process Performance - P2P

Effective process Analytics have been a key part of the Shared Services business case for years, but organizations have not really delivered the goods for a variety of reasons. Not least, “analytics” often gets confused with “reporting” and “metrics”. We need a special type of analytics to help drive simplification and standardization towards process optimization. Analytics that identify exceptions, outliers and non standard process behaviour can help drive focus and value extremely fast. The role of analytics in continuous improvement cannot be understated. Keep an eye out for more on this topic in the new year…

We heard a talk about developments in Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning that are delivering major advances in analytics and process optimization through deeper and more precise insights for decision making. We heard about the new techniques that have moved beyond ‘rules based’, red flag thinking, into the area where software learns from the data itself, and outliers are identified and predicted using supervised and unsupervised learning. The potential to obviate the need for technical specialists, programmers and data scientists in business analytics is significant. There is much more to come on this topic!

Finally, EY shared a vision of the future of work in what we hope will not become a dystopian society. They showed an eerie animation entitled “The Last Job On Earth”, which is worth a watch here.

Then we went back to work, grateful for our current challenges, safe in the knowledge that success is not a straight line!

successThanks for reading . . .