Client: Global Marketing & Communications Firm
Function: Finance Department
Project: Create Regional Shared Service Center
A global market research holding company wanted to create a finance regional shared service center in North America.
The North American footprint consisted of several different operating units located throughout the United States and Canada. The goal was to consolidate the decentralized finance functions of its separate operating units into a single regional shared service center, with shared resources and business process. The aim of this initiative was not only to reduce cost but also to improve compliance & control across all operating units and finance processes.
The primary challenge faced by the project team was the wide variation in business processes across the business units. Additionally, the business units had very little formal documentation of their business processes, which made comparing the processes and documenting the future state business processes particularly challenging. This was also made more difficult, because the project was confidential during the requirements gathering phase, which meant the project team had only the CFOs and other high-level employees to work with to documentation current state business processes.
The project team also had to develop standard business processes that would support a variety of operating models and finance teams.
While the different business units used the same ERP system, the implementation of the system across the units varied widely. As the team began to document the current state business processes, it became clear that system configuration changes would need to be made in order to truly standardize the processes.
The first step in determining the future state business processes of the share service centers was to document the current state business processes.
Gathered the CFOs and other high-level employees for a several days long workshop to review business processes and document the current state. Picked four key business units to be the representations of the units in North America. Determining which business units would be part of this workshop was based on total size, revenue, size of the finance department and amount of business process documentation available.
Then once the current state business processes were well documented, the project team determined the scope of work that would transition into the shared service center and the work that would remain in the business units. This standard scope had to be granular enough to be able to categorize work but also broad enough to accommodate the differences in business processes across the business units.
Once the scope of work was agreed to, the final future state business processes were defined, with handoffs between the shared service center and the business units defined.
The agreed scope was then put into a standard template for easy data gathering from the operating units. A simple analysis could then determine the headcount to transition into the centers. Assistance was also provided to the operating units to help design the retained organization that would remain after the transition of work into the centers. This helped facilitate the transition and ensure that day-to-day operations were not impacted.
Change management formed an integral part of the project. Stakeholders across the operating units were mapped and categorized. Communications plans were developed and included standard communications templates, presentations, speaking points, etc. These were used by the operating unit managers at predefined stages in the transitions. Where possible, existing personnel would relocate into the centers but when this was not possible new employees were hired and training plans developed to transfer knowledge from the operating units to the centers. Change impact assessments were also undertaken within the operating units to design specific change initiatives to facilitate the transitions.
The lack of a single financial system and the limited direct control that the parent company had over the operating units minimized the ability to effectively undertake any major process or organization transformation pre-transition. It was agreed to undertake a lift & shift approach as much as possible with any major transformation to be undertaken after the operations were stabilized within the centers. Where changes were possible, initiatives such as job role redesign or expense policy standardization were introduced to improve operating performance.
Liaising with the various HR departments was a significant part of the project. Much of this work revolved around aligning recruitment / redundancy plans with the transition schedule for each operating unit. This involved coordination between the existing operating unit HR department and the new HR function that was being setup within each of the centers. In addition, a constant stream of HR related issues needed to be resolved in areas such as; resignations, redundancies, job descriptions, compensation, job title standardization, benefits equalization, pensions, etc.
Information technology was critical to the success of the shared service centers and the activities typically involved either finance system connectivity or workflow system rollout. The centers were being designed to initially operate with multiple finance systems since no standard finance system was being used across the operating units. Connections needed to be built between the centers and each of these systems. IT projects were commenced prior to any transition to connect the centers to the operating units’ finance system. In order to enable the shared service centers to operate in a different locations (often a foreign country) to the current operating units, workflow software solutions needed to be implemented. These solutions automated processes and used digital images for approval & signoff removing the need for paper.
Coordinating all of these efforts required the creation of a Program Management Office (PMO) to plan and provide regular status updates. The PMO tracked performance against the custom designed transition methodology that had been developed for the project. The PMO function operated at multiple levels and provided status updates to senior leadership as well as daily logistical support to agree & lock-in transition schedules for the transport of office equipment, files, etc. with the operating unit managers.