Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 2: Human powered Shared Services

What's the relevance of Shared Services today and how are Shared Services reacting to disruption and continuing to provide business value? Our experts discuss the continued importance of Shared Services, the Future of Work trends most impacting this organisational construct and how to ensure humans are at the heart of Shared Services - as a function and as a consumer/customer engaging with this network. Also, when thinking about the longer-term future of Shared Services what should organisations be considering. Listen to this week's episode to find out!

Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Spotify.

Mark Bridge
Senior Manager, Human Capital

Mark is a Senior Manager in Deloitte's HR & Technology Advisory practice. He is experienced in large scale HR transformation and HR service delivery and shared services implantation.

Srishti Krishna
Senior Manager, Enterprise, Technology and Performance

Srishti is a Senior Manager in Deloitte's Strategy and Operations practice, focused on delivering high value and complex transformation projects from strategy to implementation in GBS, shared services and outsourcing advisory.

DH: Welcome to Season Two of Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast. In this season, we continue our discussions with experts from across Deloitte, covering all topics organisations face while putting humans at the heart of their work, workforce, and workplace transformations. I'm your host Daniel Hind, and along with the podcast team, Sam, and Anna.

SG: Hello there.

AU: Hi, Daniel.

DH: And I'm also joined by Shrishti and Mark, who are joining us to discuss all things shared service.

MB: My name’s Mark Bridge, I've spent my career working on HR transformation projects and sit within Deloitte Human Capital, advising clients on how to put together their operating models for the delivery of HR. And included in that, the role shared service centres can and should play.

SK: Shrishti Krishna, I'm a Service Delivery Model Design and Implementation Specialist, who helps clients plan their shared service, BPO, and GDS journey in context to business transformation. I'm a GDS lifer for about 20-odd years.

Thanks for inviting me today, Dan, and I look forward to the conversation with Mark and the podcast team.

DH: Great, thanks. So, Mark, can you kick us off? Various abbreviations or terminology used to describe shared services, but, fundamentally, what is a shared service?

MB: Yes, it’s a great opening question, Daniel, and I think for the purposes of the conversation today, we can see shared services as a bit more of an umbrella term that could cover business service, GDS, back off, and business process outsourcing. But I think, really, what you're asking is what does all of that actually refer to.

And for me, shared services is an organisational construct that starts with a group of people. And that group of people within the organisation will share common ways of working, they will have a common delivery model, and also, a common scope that they deliver.

And what we see with shared services is, effectively, a sharing of that group’s resource, technology, and infrastructure to deliver outcomes across an organisation. And therefore, crossing over business unit, or legal entity, or geographical lines.

So, you're bringing work together, centralising that, perhaps standardising that. And delivering the service, ultimately, from one part of the business, where it might previously have been delivered from multiple places, and therefore, often, in different ways.

DH: And what’s their relevance today in the business context, are we still seeing that the shared services is something that businesses are embracing? Shrishti, have you got a view on that?

SK: That's a good question, Daniel. If I look at the changing landscape across industry, there are three fundamental changes that the organisations are going through. First, technology disruptors suggest AI, automation, and digitisation. And that's driving how existing operating models work.

The second is transformation and modernisation agendas, so that's bigger, broader technology changes. And that's driving how functions’ processes operate, and how value can be locked out of technology and people and process.

And if I look at the third element, the generational shift in demand from customers is changing how organisations go to market. So that's the broad landscape change.

Now, if I look at how shared services contribute to it or how they will evolve over time, from a technology disruptor point of view, shared services are starting to recognise that the traditional models of providing services on a silo basis would not work. And therefore, starting to think about how services for the future are provided, and therefore, what workforce and skillset they need to provide those services.

The second element around the bigger and broader transformation agenda, traditionally, shared services were perceived as functionally led. So, they are looking now at how best to construct a more partnering model, as opposed to functionally led siloed models.

And the last element around the generational shift in demand, shared services are starting to think about how they look at user experience, employee experience, customer experience to cater for that demand. And therefore, shared services form part of that journey. And also, how they mature or help organisations mature into the next generation operating models.

MB: I think if I could just add into that and agree with everything that Shrishti said, I think, for most organisations, shared services, overall, has been around for a long time now. And I think the focus is really around where things are going to go, as opposed to whether or not shared services can, conceptually, is the right answer.

For most large organisations that, certainly, I've worked with or come across, these are functions within a business that are well-established, often have a large number of employees that sit within them. And so, really, it’s about where do we go now with some of the disruptors that Shrishti’s calling out? How can shared services react to that in the best way.

DH: Yes, Mark, just following on from that. If you think about shared services and Shrishti’s comment around silos and moving away from the silos, are we seeing that the shared service is becoming more holistically of a back-office function? Serving the business and then freeing up the time of the business in some of those key areas such as procurement, or accounts, or financial, or HR to focus on the value-add?

MB: I think that's right. And I think there's probably two elements to what you're saying there, Daniel. The first is to move away from the functionally led siloed approach, what does that structure for your shared services organisation look like?

And what’s right for the organisation? In some cases, that might be achieved, yes, but within that, there are various ways you can set that up.

And the second point around that, I think, is, also, this idea of moving up the value chain, the idea that the shared service organisation has got a history and a strong success story from a transactional point of view. But where can we start to add value from a more complex service point of view or driving insights through data and analytic, to the retained roles or the roles that sit outside of the shared services teams? So, absolutely, I think both of those things are fully in play and have been for a while.

DH: Shrishti, anything you’d add to that?

SK: If I look at the three dimensions of the future of shared service model, the first one is, really, around experience. Second, on insight. And third is about speed. If I look at experience, it’s closely linked to personalisation and how teams will be constructed to augment each other.

Insights, centred around ability to be more proactive and enable decision-making for the broader organisation. So, what used to be a traditional construct of reacting to a service, reacting to a customer complaint is going to be more looking at solving a problem even before it hits you.

And the third element is around speed, which is how fast can you layer or integrate your services to get to the customer faster and in a more agile way.

MB: I think, insight, experience, speed are really good pillars around which organisations can think about where they want to take their shared services capability, if you will. Some of the work that I've been involved in when working with clients in the HR space, if we take insight, for example, just building on that a little bit. It’s fair to say that within the HR function, there are roles that really should be benefitting quite directly from the building of shared services capability.

We talk about strategic HR business partners and COE roles, but something I see quite commonly is a lack of understanding, really, between shared services and those roles, and what they need to be able to deliver.

And I think you can solve that, only, through a richer conversation around data, reporting requirements, and also, more importantly, probably, the actual business challenge that's being addressed. And then, that has a big impact around what you're trying to deliver through shared services and the ability that they have to be able to put organisations and people information in front of these broader HR colleagues. It will require, probably, a different skillset.

And for me, also, the conversation becomes a little bit more around building solutions, as opposed to just a transactional interaction. So, it’s about the role design that you put within the service centre, in order to be able to do that and set both sides up for success. And I think it’s only then, really, that you can start to get to a point where you can say as HR we deliver insight for the business.

DH: If I may be bold and say that, obviously, when we’re talking about transactions and people working in large numbers in centres and environments, is there a challenge not only for organisations to keep the interaction that... Both the employees of the shared service environment, but also the consumers, the customers who are engaging with the shared services, how do we keep those interactive and engaging and interesting for both, to deliver that more seamless experience?

MB: I think, definitely, this starts to point towards shared services reacting to broader Future of Work trends. Thinking about, as we said in the intro to the podcast, the workforce and workplace impact. I think a bit thing for me, I would be interested to hear Shrishti’s view, is this balance that shared services are going to need to strike between the human and the machine, in terms of how they deliver their scope.

I think when we talk about the experience we want to give, of course, the seamless experience, the technology-enabled experience is probably what everyone’s aiming for. But there are areas where we also have to think about that higher touch or that human touch, and doing something in, almost, a responsible way, either to a customer or to an employee.

And that’s a part of the big interest for me, just from an HR point of view, there are transactional elements to the work, but there are also complex people services that you're needing to deliver. So, I think keeping the employee at the heart of that is thinking about what do we want this to feel like as they're engaging with us as a function, if you will. What do you think, Shrishti?

SK: You're right, it is a fine balance between human and machine that the shared services would need to construct around the broader organisation. It’s not one that anybody’s solved to date, but with automation, AI, a lot of new technologies, the organisations’ started their journey on design thinking around those elements.

But surely, that human and automation balance is not going to go away, and shared service, therefore, becomes more relevant. Because there's a long way where a fully automated solution is going to work. And therefore, for a short period of time, hybrid models will coexist.

MB: I think the other thing, as well, that's quite interesting to explore when we think about how shared services is moving towards more a human-centred focus is, internally, within the shared services teams themselves. I think, probably, a big shift that's only been accelerated over the last 12 months with the pandemic, is the question of where work will be done. It’s probably the most important question, really, in my mind at the moment.

I was reading a report, recently, a shared services report, that said something like three-quarters of respondents from the survey indicated they’d have some sort of hybrid model in place from a remote working or flexible working point of view.

Even when it’s fully safe to reopen the physical centres.

I think that's going to have a big impact on how you set those teams and those employees up for success. Just thinking about how you might manage teams’ productivity. Previously, it would have been through walking the floor and monitoring visual cues.

So, I think there's going to be a technology layer that needs to go over the top, but that needs to really be about how you support teams and support team managers to deliver the work. And I think Zoom and Teams is only ever going to go so far.

So, I think there needs to be a big focus, as well, around that workplace and where workers doing it from.

SK: And I agree, Mark. I think direct hard reporting lines will be rare in future, as I can safely put it, and will be, probably, going across global and driven by talent availability than, actually, location and hardlines.

DH: Sam, and Anna, I think you've been doing some reading around experience, and within the context of shared service, have you got anything to add?

SSG: Building on what’s been said, I know Mark talked about experience, as well as three pillars on which shared services rests. And mentioned the phrase human-centred. And Shrishti, earlier, was talking about the role of AI in that. The Shared Services and Outsourcing Network put an interesting piece together on this, talking about the nine critical behaviours proven to impact customer satisfaction. Over to you, Anna, to kick us off on what those are.

AU: Thank you, Sam. Yes, I guess it’s important not to forget that customer is at the centre of whatever you do. And certainly, looking at the nine behaviours that this report touches on, you could see the customer being at the heart of all of those.

It’s all about showing empathy to the customer when you interact with them. So, it’s about the acknowledgement of the issue that the customer is getting in touch with you about. It’s about effectively questioning, building that rapport to increase trust in the interaction, and in the information that you are delivering.

Demonstrating ownership of the issue. And representing the company to the highest standard. But also, it’s about setting expectations, what can customers expect from this interaction, so making sure that it’s very clear at the end of the interaction what the resolution or the next steps are.

SSG: Yes, and I think expectation is a really interesting one because setting good expectations is well proven to increase customer satisfaction. And it’s happened, interestingly, in the tech world. If you think about when you try book flights with KAYAK, they will tell you what the website is doing when you're waiting.

And just small things like that that set people expectations. But also, letting people know that work is going on in the background are really important ways of helping to improve that customer satisfaction. And if follows on quite nicely to the next point around building rapport. If there is a strong relationship between the persona answering the query and the person with the query, that is a great way of building trust in the fact that the query is going to be resolved.

Again, two of the things that are required to help build up rapport are, one, actively listening, as I'm sure, we’d all be aware.

But also, showing empathy and understanding. And to Mark’s point around HR, within shared services or wherever it may be, really emphasising the human aspects of the role. Showing empathy is a great thing that humans can do that an AI model won't be able to.

AU: And interesting point here is about self-service. And certainly, that’s quite prominent in shared services. So, I guess, Mark, Shrishti, do you have an opinion on promoting self-service, and how do customers normally feel about self-service?

As I know it is a useful tool to promote as it helps the shared services organisation to run smoother, but I also know that some customers try and avoid using self-service, do you have any thinking on that?

MB: Yes, definitely. It’s always a conversation that you end up having when you're building your model. I think what I've seen recently and what I think we’ll see going forward is definitely continuing with the multichannel approach towards how a customer or an employee would engage with a shared services team.

I think that kind of flexibility in how and when you engage is what we’ve come to expect, picking up on what Sam said around what we see, almost, outside of work. So, I think multichannel and giving the opportunity for self-service to be there, but not the only route is the right way froward. There's nothing wrong with an email, there's nothing wrong with someone picking up the phone at the end of the day.

I think the other point that was really interesting, though, is around this query handling and building of rapport. I think if you are going to push self-service quite hard, you have to make sure that what sits beneath that, in terms of, perhaps, an escalation is really set up to be able to handle those queries. Build that rapport and get the right answer to the customer.

And again, for me, that points straight back into capability and having the right talents on those teams.

SK: It all goes back to the generational shift that we are seeing from your service employees and customer experience.

Unified layer or we could call it hybrid models will coexist. And therefore, the importance of shared service, how the layers are constructed become quite important and shines the light on how shared services will operate in future.

In terms of shared service itself, of course, there are methods of adopting them, versus you can maintain the multichannel.

Depending on the organisation, that option rate changes on self-service. But it’s always good to have those multichannel available, and that's something that one should create as part of your shared service DNA.

DH: On a personal level, in more recent years, the interaction with shared services both at Deloitte and just from my interactions with our own HR team, or IT helpdesk, or how I prefer to interact with companies is always via a chat function.

And that's just become my go-to, on a personal preference. It’s something that I can do, either on the phone or just have a window open on the side of my desk so I can still be getting on with my day, whilst also dealing with an issue. So, yes, that's just on a personal note. I don't know if that's a generational preference, but it’s certainly a personal preference.

We touched on earlier the impact of COVID, very briefly, and I just wonder if there's the opportunity to expand on that slightly? Or any other wider considerations that you feel organisations need to look at when they're now thinking about the longer-term future of their shared services?

MB: I think part of what I was discussing earlier around physical location, definitely, one that jumps to mind are, historically, service centres have been physical structures and often placed in low-cost locations. But with this shift towards more flexible working and more remote working, as a result of the pandemic, I think that might have an impact.

The one thing I would say though is I think that will take quite a long time. I think we’ve got to remember that for the last 20 to 30 years some of the shared service centre talent pools that have been based in certain locations, driven by university graduates going to work in these organisations is quite well-established. But, I think, for sure, even if it’s not a quick shift, it is something that shared service centre leaders are going to have to think about overall.

SK: And you agree with, Mark. There are other aspects to security and how the process is operated within a building. And those considerations, while with COVID, posed a reaction and models emerged. But long-term, if there is going to be a demand for flexible working, you need the right infrastructure behind it to support it.

DH: I think we’re coming to the end of the recording for today. But I just wanted to leave you both with a final question. If we are engaging with a client, what would be your top three focus areas for them when they're starting to look at the future of their shared service?

SK: If I look at it, the future of shared service is a centralised organisation that would be underpinned by business outcomes or outcome-driven organisation. It would be made up of a network of teams who provide richer and greater insights. They would be acting as strategic assets or an ecosystem team that can play between technology and human services. And the leaders of future shared services will focus on more integration and innovation. So those would be my top three.

It’s an organisation which is providing a big outcome-driven with an inside-driven team, and it’s made up of an ecosystem of technology and humans, and leaders who can think far out and ahead.

MB: To be honest, that's some of the key points. Probably the only thing that I would add into the key takeaway, if you will, Daniel, is to think about all this in a bit more of a bite-sized way. We’ve covered so much today in such a short period of time from a technology point of view, to capability, and talent, and also, to the way in which you structure the shared services function that you're leading.

I think, for me, it’s about recognising where we’ve come from. Shared services, as I said, have forged their way in, they've got the seat at the table, and have got, I think, reputations to maintain. And therefore, looking forward, it’s about tackling some of the things we’ve discussed on this podcast in a bit more of a bite-sized way. And planning it out over a period of time and identifying the areas that you want to go after that are more of a priority, as opposed to thinking that everything has to change right now and all at the same time.

DH: And that brings us to a close this week. I’d like to thank both Shrishti and Mark for their insightful conversation around the future of shared services. And also, thank Sam and Anna for their contribution. We look forward to speaking to you all again in the future.

Read the related blog post here.

Did you find this useful?