SSON Launches NEW Managed Certification and Online Learning Program


Jim Bergman is a happy man, today. After six months in the works, and hundreds of phone calls with practitioners around the globe, November 1 is finally the day that Jim is signing off on the SSON’s new Managed Certification and Online Learning Program. As the latest addition to the SSON’s stable of products for the shared services and outsourcing practitioner, this Program complements "on-the-job" learning by providing the only online accreditation program of its kind, specifically tailored to the "shared services" market.

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As the first cohort of "students" go live today, with participants from India, Scandinavia, Germany, the UK and the USA, Barbara Hodge sits down with Jim to ask what’s in store for this group.

Barbara Hodge: Jim, I know it’s been a lot of work putting this program together. Tell us, in a nutshell, what it’s all about.

Jim Bergman: What we recognized, about a year ago, was that there existed nothing in the way of "standardized learning" for the global shared services and outsourcing market. SSON, through its regional offices, often came up against the complaint that there was no standard for skill-sets across functions. An executive operating a finance shared services center in Hungary, for example, for the European region, might have completely different skills sets to his or her counterpart in the US or Latin America. Given the global marketplace, especially for shared services, SSON recognized an opportunity to provide some real value to this area.

Barbara Hodge: How does the program work?

Jim Bergman: We’ve established 10 core "competencies" that any shared services or outsourcing practitioner should be familiar with — core skills, if you like. They include: Change Management; Financial Acumen; Risk; Project Management; Talent Management; Governance and Compliance; Contracting and Negotiation; Benchmarking; Stakeholder Management; and Quality.

Each of these competencies consists of about eight modules, which cover the key learning points as defined by a global steering committee of practitioners. Participants complete the individual modules online, but are able to interact with other participants via a message board exclusive to that particular module. So you are able to discuss any questions with peers, regarding that particular module. I have set up and run similar Managed Certification programs for other industries before, notably for the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management, and I have found that the message board interactions are where much of the value is escalated. It’s where you can translate the theory into practice and network with peers across industries.
SSON is also making its archives accessible to participants, linking modules to "additional reading" from the SSON knowledge base.

Barbara Hodge: How long are you expecting participants to take to finish this course? Is it formally recognized with certification credentials?

Jim Bergman: We are not dictating to individuals how fast they should progress — but we do recommend that they complete one core competency every two weeks. Each competency, as I mentioned, consists of about eight modules, and we would expect each module to take about half an hour. On that basis, getting through 10 competencies should take no longer than 5 months. We’d like to honor our first "graduates" at the Shared Services & Outsourcing Week event in Florida, in March 2011. To answer your second part of the question, yes, once the course is completed successfully, participants are granted SSOP (Shared Services and Outsourcing Professional) certification credentials.

Barbara Hodge: How do you track learning?

Jim Bergman: Every time a module is completed, the system will note that the module has been completed.  In addition, the participant will need to successfully complete an automated online quiz to pass that module and move on. We have set the module quiz pass rate at 80% and above. .

Barbara Hodge: What do you think the greatest benefit of this program will be for the shared services and outsourcing marketplace?

Jim Bergman: I think there are two key benefits. Firstly, this program sets the bar for any individual working within an SSO environment. A lot of people who are today working in shared services have moved up through a specific function. Their career to date has not prepared them for a shared services environment with its associated customer service expectations, governance issues, reporting requirements, etc. This program effectively enables them to fill that gap. In addition, every competency contains a "shared services" and an "outsourcing" module, which deal specifically with how specific skills link to each of these environments. We have specifically chosen not to focus on functions; those require specific knowledge that is readily available inhouse. What is not readily available inhouse, is how a shared services model integrates the array of skills into a holistic skill set. That is what we are developing. We expect many organizations will make this program part of a new SSO recruit’s onboarding process.

A second benefit is that shared services/outsourcing skills will become more globally portable as we roll this program out across the international shared marketplace. This supports talent flow across geographies and encourages a standardization of skill level and support capability, no matter where someone is working. If you look around, every "serious" industry has set its own training and accreditation standards. Think Accounting. Think HR. Think IT. Shared services is no different. What is amazing is how long it has taken for us to get here.

A third benefit I might add, and one we did not expect, is that the supplier market will become more savvy regarding shared services, and therefore be able to better match their services to their customers’ requirements. We’ve seen a lot of interest from companies that provide services to shared services organizations, wanting to put their staff through this program.

Barbara Hodge: A complaint I’ve heard consistently, for many years, is that lack of standardization in terms of staff skills means that salaries differ widely. Do you think we’ll see a domino-effect of salary levels coming more into line? I know that many of the folks running FSSCs are pulling their hair out trying to convince senior management that a finance shared services practitioner is not comparable to a standard accounting role.

Jim Bergman: We are not promising anything, but I’d certainly hope that the breadth of this training program would help shed light on the extraordinary scope of work taken on by people working within a shared services roles. The skill sets are broader and require a more in-depth business partnership approach. We certainly expect a greater understanding of shared services role requirements as a result of this program.

Barbara Hodge: Thanks for the update Jim. I’ll look forward to profiling our first graduates – and hearing how they are using these new skill sets.

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About Jim Bergman
With extensive contracting and negotiation experience in outsourcing and various other types of commercial contracting, Jim Bergman serves as Vice President of Learning and Development for IACCM a global association focused on the effective development, creation and implementation of leading contracting practices. Prior to joining IACCM, Mr. Bergman was a contracts attorney for a Fortune 500 petrochemical corporation, Amoco Corporation, and was responsible for legal and negotiations support to the procurement staff. He supported multiple locations globally, where he addressed strategic sourcing, outsourcing and legal issues concerning services valued at more than $1 billion annually.