Delivering quality in Shared Services

Daniel-Shiels-2 Daniel Sheils, Head of Health and Public Service at Accenture, shares insights into the rationale for the model and best practice.

Governments face a widening gulf between the rising expectations of those they serve and their ability to deliver. If these rising expectations are to be met within constrained budgets and with fewer personnel, then the manner in which many services are delivered needs to change. Based on decades of experience working with hundreds of international clients across the public and private sectors, Accenture has seen how the Shared Services model can create a high-performing culture. In this context, Shared Services is a key component of Accenture’s vision for enabling governments to become high-performing organisations.

The essence of Shared Services is the consolidation of administrative functions into standalone organisational entities whose core mission is to provide administrative functions as effectively and efficiently as possible. Best practice implementation involves the dramatic redesign of business processes – typically leveraging the latest automation technologies and the transformational change of organisation structure and workforces.

The most common examples of administrative functions that can be delivered through a Shared Services delivery model are:

human resources (including absence management, pensions, leave management and training administration);

payroll (including payroll processing, compensation records and benefits administration);

financial management (including general ledger, accounts payable, travel and expense processing, accounts receivable, cash management and internal audit);

logistics/materials management (including asset management, warehousing, inventory management and transportation);

purchasing and supply chain (including strategic sourcing, category management and tendering);

customer service (including call centres, helpdesks, credit and collections, and order management);

training and education (including training needs assessment, training development and training delivery); and

information technology (including data centre operations, desktop support, applications development, application maintenance and telecommunications).

In Ireland, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been a strong leader of Shared Services transformation as part of the broader Public Service Reform process. This is reflected in the establishment of the National Shared Services Office (NSSO) and the recent appointment of Hilary Murphy-Fagan as the Chief Executive of the NSSO.

The implementation of Shared Services across the Civil Service commenced with the establishment of PeoplePoint as the HR Shared Services Centre in March 2013. To date, 80 per cent of staff across 38 in-scope Public Service bodies have been transitioned and full rollout will be completed during 2015. The recently established Payroll Shared Services Centre (PSSC) currently services over 20,000 payees across 21 client bodies with further bodies due to migrate to the PSSC shortly. The Financial Management Shared Services project is well advanced and is expected to progress further in 2015. A variety of Shared Services initiatives are also underway across other areas of the Irish Public Service, including the health, education and local government sectors.

Moving to a Shared Services model can yield a wealth of operational improvements – an increase in service quality, economy of skills and technology investments, economy of scale, flexibility and standardisation. These benefits not only have economic value, which is often the primary impetus for implementing a Shared Services model, but also hold far-reaching strategic implications. The key benefits which are typically delivered by Shared Services are outlined in the adjacent table.

Accenture’s extensive experience of designing, implementing and operating Shared Service centres has shown that there is a considerable gap between average Shared Service centres and top-performers. This gap is directly related to the extent to which Shared Service centres employ the following critical leading practices.

Garner and sustain executive management sponsorship: Moving to a Shared Services model is a major change initiative involving significant disruption to staff, business processes and technology. On that basis, a high impact executive steering committee focused on driving the business case should provide a clear governance structure.

Articulate a well-defined mission, vision and future operating model: The project should be organisation focused rather than systems focused, resulting in an improved service delivery capability for internal government operations.

Clearly define the business strategy, objectives and the scope of services: Once the mission and vision have been defined, develop a Shared Services strategy that is designed to get the organisation to that visionary end point.

Build a strong business case: A strong business case will allow the Government to make sure the Shared Services programme is on track and is what reform leaders will reference to prove that the implementation is delivering value. A strong business case will be a constant – helping the Shared Services implementation to weather ups and downs that may arise from changes in organisational strategy or budget constraints – by always delineating the initiative’s value.

Focus on improving customer service: Improved customer service is a huge, often overlooked benefit of Shared Services. If service quality suffers, customers gradually move back to their old ways of doing things. Focus on service from day one, and keep it a priority.

Collaborate closely with partners and third parties (including unions): Governments frequently point to union issues as the largest roadblock to implementing Shared Services. To build union support for organisational or position changes, involve them early. Build a workforce model that anticipates the major sticking points and have a solid plan for dealing with each one of these.

Put quality Shared Services centre leadership in place: The Shared Services leadership team refers to the person with overall responsibility for the Shared Services centres and the people who report directly to him or her. Important attributes for these leaders include deep end-to-end knowledge of the shared processes and/or functions, a customer-oriented mindset, an entrepreneurial flair, strong interpersonal skills, an ability to delegate effectively and a process improvement mindset.

Acquire quality Shared Services centre personnel: To serve an undoubtedly diverse customer base, the people at the heart of a Shared Services centre should bring a strong team skill set, significant breadth of experience and a diversity of perspectives.

Implement rigorously standardised and automated processes: The path to Shared Services excellence is through rigorous process standardisation and automation across the entire government. Any data that comes into the transaction-processing Shared Services centres should be normal, standard and expected. Sharing responsibility for the process helps catch errors and, over time, motivates the customer to get it right the first time.

Emphasise change and journey management: Successful Shared Service project leaders emphasise change management techniques to ensure acceptance and traction of the outcome. They invest considerable time in communicating the changes to come and developing training to ensure a smooth transition.

Build a solid technology platform: The technology infrastructure of the Shared Services programme is the basis for all automation improvements and for supporting additional organisations over time. Therefore, it is the key to realising additional value over time. Make sure the technology platform chosen is equipped to add scale or enhanced technologies over time.

Use a ‘greenfield site’ if possible: A greenfield site is a Shared Services centre that is built from scratch as an entirely new entity separate from the parent organisation. The use of these greenfield sites allows Shared Services entities to establish a standalone identity and a customer-focused culture with an emphasis on continuous improvement. In certain circumstances, where centres of excellence are already in operation and can be re-utilised, successful Shared Services functions can be built by exploiting these existing capabilities.

Build a call centre in the Shared Services centre: The very best implementations include building a call or contact centre that acts as the front door to the Shared Services centre. Call centres provide a way to track demand, manage workload, provide best service and, most importantly, free up process workers to focus on their core duties.

In Accenture’s experience, the adoption of these practices will largely determine the degree to which a Shared Services operation achieves the benefits achievable in a Shared Services programme.

Responsiveness A focused, specialised, service-oriented support unit ensures that operating department needs and issues are addressed in a timely manner
Flexibility A Shared Services Centre acts as an organisational infrastructure to ease reorganisation of customer organisations
Standardisation Standardised practices and compatible data provide a common language to diverse operating units and facilitate analytical decision-making
Economy of skills Centres of excellence allow for the development of specialised skills and career paths that can be leveraged across the organisation
Economy of scale Consolidated functions and processes reduce the cost of transaction processing activities, including facilities, systems and personnel


Daniel Sheils can be contacted as follows:
Tel: +353 (0) 1 646 2339

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