The digital transformation imperative for shared services

Omnipresent progressive technology developments have transported modern businesses and shared services into the new era of digital transformation.
Read time 5min 10sec

The concept of shared services is said to have been introduced in the '80s and driven by a number of major corporations with multiple business units seeking ways to reduce administrative costs.

Digital transformation, on the other hand, is generally thought to be the hot topic of the 21st century but in fact, sprung up in the late '90s.

As the world began to computerise processes over the past 30 years, digital activities have mushroomed. Today, anyone wondering if they should have a digital transformation strategy in their company has already missed the boat.

Digital transformation is driving every aspect of not just modern business but of life itself, with the proliferation of digital apps for every sector, including banking, retail, hospitality and more.

According to Gartner, many companies implement global business services to improve the maturity of their shared services but end up with little to no return. It goes on to state that the top companies improve their shared services model by driving value, enhancing credibility and staying ahead of new technology trends.

In today's digital world, businesses must cater to tech-savvy consumers who can swap loyalty at the click of a button in the face of poor or slow service, with instant gratification being the name of the game and service excellence the currency of success.

Therefore, competition is rife in all sectors, margins are tight, and organisations are seeking to reduce costs while continuing to deliver exceptional service levels. This can only be achieved by implementing digital transformation programmes.

Digital transformation is driving every aspect of not just modern business but of life itself.

So, it's not a question of should the organisation be doing this − it is an imperative of how quickly it can roll it out with a clear strategic roadmap that seeks to extract the value that technology can deliver to the business.

In a nutshell, omnipresent progressive technology developments have transported modern businesses and shared services into the new era of digital transformation. Yes, it has been on the agenda for years, but today there are new priorities to ensure resilience and cost savings, in the face of recession (COVID-19), the ability to shift the workforce, plus an imperative to 'get off paper' − the latter meaning going digital.

The PPT factor: People, processes, technology

All too often, business managers assume digitally transforming their organisation is about either introducing automation, or in the case where they have already automated many functions, it's about bringing in even more ways to achieve this.

While technology can do a great deal and software can replicate much of the manual work done by people − enabling the company to reallocate those resources to higher priority projects − digital transformation goes much deeper. It requires the firm to scrutinise the available technology and re-examine methodologies to ensure it is making the most of people, processes and technology.

But it is important to understand that digital transformation does not change the goals of shared services. The company must still prioritise service improvements and drive growth and efficiency. But to truly digitally transform shared services operations, there are key areas the business simply must get right, and these are finance and back-office.

Shared services that haven't digitised these functions are unquestionably experiencing significantly greater pain during COVID-19 than those who are already on their digital transformation journey.

The devastating economic impact of COVID-19 has sent global shock waves through businesses everywhere and with crushing financial consequences.

On the health front, companies had to act quickly to ensure the safety of employees, which did not come without unplanned for costs. Being able to work effectively from home has helped keep companies open-for-business and has saved lives.

Organisations have had to adapt rapidly to a remote workforce model, bringing with it additional security requirements plus the sheer monumental task of achieving 'business as usual' while moving the entire workforce off-premises without dropping the service ball.

Markets have changed dramatically, requiring not just flexibility, but the ability to respond to these shifting dynamics with agile technologies has become crucial.

The ongoing pandemic is significantly testing business continuity and resilience plans. Not many companies, if any at all, were prepared to suddenly have their staff, en masse, working from home, while at the same time coping with business and supply chain disruptions.

The interesting thing is that this has been the trend for shared services for years, but it is now crystal clear that digital transformation is crucial to business continuity.

If, as is said, all crises drive transformation, then this one is creating huge momentum for digitisation.

Prior to the coronavirus, one of the biggest barriers large corporations faced in the drive to deliver successful digital transformation projects was resistance to change − the human factor.

However, people and businesses have come to terms with the fact that the need for change is now urgent. Companies reliant on pushing paper around an organisation or operating with on-premises systems are faced with the stark realisation that it is now imperative to digitise.

As the global economy shows signs of recession, organisations are seeking to drive savings and reduce costs wherever possible. Automation and digital transformation can deliver millions in cost savings. Companies already on a digital transformation journey will also have some new priorities as we emerge from COVID-19.

Having stress-tested systems, many businesses will now be shifting focus from purely cost saving to deploying technology that supports resilience.

In my second column in this series of three, I will look at getting the right technology in place to meet business needs.

Monique Williams

Southern Africa regional sales manager for Hyland Software.

Monique Williams is Southern Africa regional sales manager for Hyland Software, where she is responsible for sales on Hyland's Content Services platform.

She has in excess of 20 years' experience in the information technology sector and holds an Honours Degree in Marketing Management and a Bachelor of Social Science in General Psychology, Industrial and Organisational Psychology, from the University of Cape Town.

Williams has worked for Hyland Software for over a decade and in that time, has been partner manager for UK and Scandinavia, and business development manager in South Africa. Her duties in her current role include generating revenue for Hyland Software by establishing and leading the execution of a plan to market, as well as managing existing and newly recruited partners in Southern Africa. Since being appointed to this role, she has increased sales revenue and has achieved year-on-year growth of a minimum of 30%.

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