Reflections: Learnings from my Journey (4: Esteban Carril)

I’ve built two successful shared services centers in my professional career - but I must admit I made the same types of mistakes, confirming the rule that "man is the only animal to stumble over the same stone twice".   As a matter of fact, I have attended several shared services seminars and discussed these issues with several colleagues from different regions of the world, and it seems similar problems appear repeatedly: resistance, people issues, performance measurement.
Here are three recommendations I have been able to gather from my own invaluable experience of leading these transitions.
Process Owners/Functional Leaders
At the beginning of the transformation, when selecting managers who will lead your processes, you should make sure that you bring in someone capable of managing and leading change rather than to have someone qualified for the service area that they will be managing. You need someone with the temperament enough to withstand negative feedback during the preliminary stages and who will get to the bottom of processes, challenging them to enhance them regularly. You should select managers who are not just comfortable with the status quo. Someone leading a process with a motivation and a continuous improvement mindset is critical for the success of a shared service center. Otherwise, your SSC will convert into a back office soon.
Collect KPIs before you begin
Most shared service transformations spent a lot of time focusing on the to-be process but not enough time on analyzing and getting a complete understanding of the as-is process. Getting some start-up and initiation KPIs will not only help you compare performance before and after shared services implementation but will also smooth the delivery of the project. We sometimes spend too much time on the to-be processes but we don’t get enough data about the transactional cost of processing - or how efficiently this was done before the transformation into a shared service model. The value of this data has a huge power to consolidate the model and it helps shared services teams get a starting point to achieve more efficiencies in their processes.
Turkeys don't vote for Christmas
During the preliminary discussions about the benefit of shared services to the local finance team, I tried to do my best effort in trying to show local finance teams the benefits of moving to a shared service model: free up time to allocate more resources to value-added activities, change the finance role to a business partner, economies of scale, consistency. These are all great advantages for moving to shared services - but even if we still show the beauties of shared services, we will still experience some people’s resistance.

People’s issues should not be underestimated. It is important to understand that not everybody will buy the shared service model immediately and not all the people will hold the same opinion. We should be ready for opposition; patience is not only a virtue but a necessity for a happy existence during the transition plan. It is important to keep in mind that trust will develop over time as your shared service center evolves and demonstrate its benefits on a daily basis
Must-have versus nice-to-have
It is important that you distinguish a local requirement from a usual practice. Sometimes a nice-to-have may be confused as a must-have given "this is the way we have always done it".  A local requirement issue is something that absolutely has to be delivered for the project to be considered successful. When analyzing the as-is process, or when discussing how the to-be process should work, we should make sure there is a clear distinction between these two concepts.

A must-have is any requirement that absolutely has to be delivered to meet local requirements or rules. This can be considered as critical or minimum requirements. Nice-to-haves are the complement of objectives or requirements that are considered desired or even important to the overall deliverable, but can be considered as optional or non-critical. This exercise may sound irrelevant but its importance should not be underestimated since it helps set up a clear expectations for our internal customers. This approach is not a way to avoid having to deliver on requirements - but it help us fulfill customer requirements in the best way possible.

About the Author

Esteban Carril is Director, Latin America Finance Operations for EMC Corporation. A graduate of the University of Buenos Aires, before joining EMC Carril served as Latin American Finance Director for 3Com. He has spoken at many shared services-focussed events and presented at SSON's Shared Services America Latina event in Chile in 2008.