For over two decades, shared services organisations have outsourced, centralised, and off-shored back-office or more complex operations with benefits like cost savings, dealing with duplications of activities across an organisation, overall efficiencies and better service.

Most large companies worldwide today have some kind of shared services concept in place. Globalisation continues to create rich opportunities and many large organisations have only scratched the surface of what is possible with shared services. After 20 years, shared services are still growing but it may not shape up as it has in the past for a number of reasons; new working patterns, customer service expectations, shortage of expertise, need for localised knowledge services, and disruptive technology are factors that are re-shaping the old model.

Disruptive technology

Among these factors, new technology is the contender most likely to bring disruption to the shared services model. Right now and in the coming years, concepts like marketplace driven platforms, cloud computing, social apps, converging communication channels, automation and robotics are technology trends that are contributing to the changing landscape of shared services.

Marketplaces are being established by large companies and public institutions in particular seeking to achieve the highest cost savings and harmonisation of processes. They come in the shape of private marketplaces used by large multi-national companies to manage their varied supply bases by creating a vehicle for quick processing, compliance and cost advantage.

To enable efficient marketplaces, we often see sophisticated suites of analytics and market insight capabilities. These marketplaces are supplemented by a platform-driven approach to make the deployment scalable. This is where cloud computing technologies provide anytime/anywhere access to applications, and infrastructure. Shared services can leverage this accessibility via multiple sourcing options from offshore to near shore.

New possibilities

Convergence of communications on the internet and the way they can now be embedded in all service applications opens up new possibilities to make regional centres smaller than ever before.

Direct “Skype” channels and web chat with customers is key to creating the proximity of knowledge services to their customers. Automated accommodation to time zones, languages and regulations, while working seamlessly with hubs providing routine and procedure-driven activities (which can now be located anywhere, thanks to technology and “the cloud”). Thanks to these new options available the service component is no longer locked into the location of a major shared service centre.

The flexibility bought by this technology allows operators to use staff from the most appropriate location and knowledge background regardless of their location. This also significantly shortens the amount of time to deploy operations into new markets while also lowering the cost to entry, making it viable to explore geographies previously ignored.

Couple these more efficient ways of communication with the automation (via robotics) of all standard tasks in the shared service centres and you are starting to migrate to a whole new model which is much less staff intensive and focused on intellectual capabilities and localised staffing structures.

The physical world is currently experiencing a wave of robotics in military applications to Amazon’s delivery drones. Robotics has been around for a while in shared services but the fact that many activities are migrating onto web or cloud based solutions makes it ripe for the next wave of automation with a minimum of people involved to handle standard operations.

Social apps

Social apps have a more important role to play in fluid collaboration scenarios and connected networks. Social apps are used to create value across a variety of complex activities and knowledge services. Operators who can master these new channels to engage with customers will gain a significant competitive advantage. To be successful objectives must be clearly defined and correctly implemented. Social apps can also improve collaborative engagement within shared services organisations, resulting in further continuous improvement while giving employees a sense of ownership and satisfaction.

This is becoming more important as teams are more distributed and not always based in the same geographies.

The future shared services model will look very different than it does today. Shared services are slowly being evolved and disrupted by technology with similar changes to those it brought about in its inception. However even though technology is moving ever faster, it is difficult to predict when models will become redundant and get replaced.

The future currently looks like a mixture of multiple models, both centralised and distributed, dependent on the nature of the services rendered.

For example, technology will enable the hub-and-spoke model of integrated business services to operate with more rather than fewer shared services centres in the network.

Shared services will be more ubiquitous and embedded in the technology applications companies consume; furthermore it will become seamlessly intertwined with companies’ in-house services. The focus of operators will be ever more concentrated on added value services from technology applications with various degrees of automation that can be coupled with efficient customer interactions and generation of business insight.