Optimising financial processes

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The Caterpillar and the Skateboard . . . .

At last week’s Shared Services & Outsourcing Week (SSOW) conference in Lisbon, Portugal, there were some genuine insights that apply to all of us, whether we are in customer, process, technology or service-centric roles.

My lasting memory will be the caterpillar and skateboard metaphor, courtesy of Tom Bangemann, more of which later.

We tackled some important topics, worth pausing for thought on!

  • Cost Efficiency – amid a great drive, of which I am part, for a “value creation” focus, we were reminded by Phil Priest, SVP GSS at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), that business priorities are always contextual. Sometimes we need to earn the right to have the value discussion, by demonstrating effective cost management. We also reminded ourselves in one of the workshops that the overwhelming business objective for GBS & Shared Services remains cost efficiency, in all its guises. There is no single answer.
  • Value Creation – we heard many perspectives on what value means. Clearly, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in this respect. We heard that real business value comes from end-to-end business outcomes which leads us into the “end to end” process & experience discussion. Nicoleta Apetrei and Philippe Gabulon of Societe Generale gave a compelling example of value creation through the offer of broader business consulting services to their internal clients
  • ESG – 52% of GBS and Shared Services organizations report that they are central to their corporate Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) initiatives. That is a rapid rise up the scoreboard.
  • Purpose – There was a lot of discussion on purpose, and building that into the GBS brand as a key element of talent attraction and development. We had some great examples of a “strategy on a page” from both Ellen Cnudde at Bayer and Anat Markus of Akzo Nobel. “People, Planet, Paint” is certainly memorable . . .  We also discussed the necessary balance of Performance and Purpose, which relates to the “cost vs value” debate.
  • Talent – Attracting, developing and retaining the talent and skills required to compete in today’s environment is a big challenge. We ignore this at our peril.
  • Passion & Humility – We were fortunate to listen to the life experiences of Jonny Wilkinson, a rugby legend (to the English) who is regarded as the individual saviour of his national team in several matches. Jonny talked through the emotional “roller coaster” of these experiences and reminded us that we tend to “put a story” on everyone we meet, when actually we know nothing. It was a humbling experience from a humble but passionate individual. The scores, trophies and awards are not the emblems of personal achievement. Meeting our KPIs? Maybe we meet them, maybe we don’t, that is not the ultimate measure. Jonny reminded us that it is turning up with maximum effort, and being present that counts. This is not as revolutionary as it may sound.  I will debate that happily!
  • Experience – customer experience is the most critical component of success of any process or technology. Organisations are aligning to focus on it as a priority. Emma Lawson of Unilever shared a powerful case study of an integrated end-to-end transformation of the customer experience, and the value delivered.
  • Digital – The need to avoid the “Shiny Object Syndrome” was mentioned more than once. As was Generative AI, Large Language Models, ChatGPT, Bard et al. We were reminded (maybe are finally near an inflexion point!) that The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
  • Process and Transformation – we talked about “end to end process cycles” as the enablers of value, simplicity, customer experience and efficiency. There is no “Digital Transformation” without “Process Transformation”. We ran a highly participative workshop for 70+ participants entitled “Digital Business Services Transformation: Drivers, Challenges & Best Practices”.  We had a great debate. The materials and notes from 8 breakout discussions have just been finalized (took a few days longer tha expected!), if you would like a copy, just let us know here . . . .

This all led to a great talk about the caterpillar and the skateboard. Considering the “transformation” or “metamorphosis” of the caterpillar into a butterfly, SSON Research & Analytics’ Tom Bangemann used this great illustration.

Tom observed that far too often, organisations miss out on transformation or metamorphosis completely, favouring the “caterpillar on a motorized skateboard” option.

Food for thought, and definitely raise a wry smile . . . (image above).