Consider Shared Services to Improve Operational Efficiency
The concept of finance shared services is not new. Allowing organizations to “share” resources across the enterprise—instead of centralizing departments in several different global locations—has the benefit of consolidating and standardizing processes to improve operational efficiencies as well as reduce administrative costs. But if you think it only makes sense as a cost-cutting measure, you’re eliminating opportunity.
Many companies explore the self-service option during economically challenging times, as if reducing costs and outsourcing operational functions are the only drivers for considering shared services. That’s unfortunate, because the reality is, with finance shared services, businesses can realize operational efficiencies and increased productivity—with the resulting cost savings as a byproduct.
Historically, certain finance functions—operational or support functions (notoriously referred to as “back office” functions)—have been relegated to cost center status and have never been considered an engine for innovation. However, by evolving how an organization manages its invoice-to-cash processes, it can transform its finance operations from a cost center to a revenue enabler.
A Guide to Implementing Finance Shared Services
Transformation shouldn’t begin with “How do we cut costs?” but rather with “How can we perform better?”
At some organizations, the finance department can have a reputation as an unengaged cost center that is the department of “no.” However, you can change this by instituting a three-step approach to creating a virtual shared service model to manage finance operations. Whether you’re a multinational corporation or a small domestic business with multiple locations, it’s a process you can employ that will set you down the road to delivering real results.
I call it Ask, Analyze, and Measure.
- Are your workstreams decentralized with suboptimal processes?
- Do you find that you have limited automation across processes?
- Are you working in a fragmented manner with limited standardization?
- Is your department operating above benchmark costs?
Outline your current processes and detail how you’d like them to be performed relative to identified best practices. This “current state” document should then be shared with other stakeholders so they can confirm and validate, and it demonstrates your willingness to partner with other markets or groups. Hopefully, other stakeholders will be more inclined to help because you’re taking an interest in what they’re doing.
When considering a finance shared service model, it’s important to understand the basics of your organizational infrastructure to help determine its maturity level. You may find your workstreams are too decentralized or too manual, your infrastructure is fragmented, and there’s little global standardization of information sharing or success metrics. These all lead to high operating costs, and there’s likely going to be pressure to reduce costs in this economic climate.
More importantly, the results of a market evaluation will help you plot out the road map for designing your shared services model. One key component of this infrastructure review is the establishment of a governance model to help you set up or redesign your infrastructure to:
- Address organizational deficiencies
- Establish a central point of control
- Create synergy among business partners
Surveys and Site Visits
The first step of the market evaluation is to survey the other offices being considered for shared services. Through my experience, the responses are likely to be what people think you want to hear as opposed to what may actually be happening. This could lead to a site visit (when travel allows). Site visits demonstrate corporate’s interest in better understanding local operations. They can also help create a more positive perception of why you may be inquiring about local business policies, processes, and practices.
Now you can begin performing your analysis in a more hands-on way relative to the survey responses you received in your initial current state document. This is where you’ll discover the gaps in what is actually being done versus what people say is being done. Again, this is not a bad thing, but rather an opportunity to immediately perform fit/gap analysis.
The idea of performing a fit/gap analysis is to take what you captured as your baseline for performing a function and determining what, if any, best practices are being used. Bridging the gaps between actual process and performance and best practices will help you establish desktop procedures that can be used for training. It ensures that everyone in your organization is managing expectations properly and serves as a repository of information about each workstream that needs to be accounted for in your shared services model.
Scale with Global Compliance
The more countries you operate in, the more regulation must be accounted for. Best-practice governance models let finance teams gather the right information for each market, understand the legislative landscape, and apply synergies to what they’re doing under similar conditions in another country or region.
This leads to more global policies that can bridge gaps across business segments, units, markets, and regions. Inevitably, you will find, particularly in a global setting, that your respective offices may be responsible for the same functions, but each may be performing a process slightly differently—hence the importance of the market evaluation and current state analysis as a starting point for any finance operations plan.
Once you identify who’s doing what well, hold webinars and training sessions on best practices. Be sure to ask why one group may be performing a function slightly differently from the noted best practices—and listen to their responses. You want to ensure you’re capturing the many statutory and regulatory requirements local governments may have, which could be creating inefficiency within a process.
If you want to bring efficiency and scale to the function, it doesn’t matter where the teams are. Whether it’s credit, collections, billing, dispute management, disbursement, or transactional accounting, you want all of those processes managed as consistently around the world as possible.
Do a Technology Audit
Now it’s time to audit your enterprise solutions in order of operations. How many software and systems are used in your invoice-to-cash processes? Some organizations have a customer relationship management (CRM) system, a configure-pricing-quoting (CPQ) solution, a financial platform (general ledger and related subledgers), a collections management solution, an enterprise data management (EDM) solution, and a business intelligence (BI) tool for reporting. Perhaps you have more than one of each of these solutions, or perhaps you have none. Perhaps they’re not integrated and should be.
A technology audit can reveal which solutions should be kept, which have global capabilities, and which should be retired. Perhaps there’s one solution that spans a few different functions.
Begin the Finance Shared Services Journey
Initiating change, particularly if it impacts people and resources, can be very challenging. Likewise, convincing and gaining alignment of others in your organization that these changes will improve operational efficiencies can be challenging. However, I can attest that, by following these recommendations for finance shared services model, you will likely create synergy with business partners across your organization, increase efficiency, and realize cost savings.