22 Years of SSON Excellence – SSO Week 2018 Review

Key people and trends onsite in Orlando this year

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So, what happened?

22 years of consecutive shared services performance. That's what the Shared Services and Outsourcing Week in Orlando, which took place over four days last week, was about. Anyone who, like me, has been attending for the last decade and a half cannot but marvel at the explosion of scope, activities, technologies, and sheer talent. Brad DeMent, Partner at ScottMadden and the ongoing Chair of this fantastic event (ScottMadden has led this event for nigh on two decades – there’s no one knows Shared Services as they do), provided a perfect summary in his key takeaways which we have posted online for you here

Brad DeMent SSO Week

ScottMadden's Brad DeMent – Conference Chair

Talent was, perhaps, the leading indicator this week. However much it appears to be all about automation technology these days (the exhibition room hosted more than 70 state-of-the-art solution providers, consultants, and integrators) what strikes me most is the people. Partly, that there are significant and solid long-term careers – the opening-night offered a drinks mixer for "old-timers" and "first-timers" to get to know each other – but there is also an influx of amazing, fresh-thinking talent that is leveraging all kinds of skills to reinvent shared services as the go-to source and enabler within enterprise.

Today's talent requirements are a long way from the HR or finance specialist of only a decade ago. This was made abundantly clear during the various site tours to predominately Tampa-based Shared Services Centers on Monday. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), for example, has a state-of-the-art and aptly named “Capabilities” center that is rapidly outgrowing its offices there, which is driving this long-established, traditional business in a very modern direction. The company has strategically "grown" by effectively becoming "smaller" and honing its scope in four key therapeutic areas. The center is, like many these days, 40% Millennial (under 34 years old), a trend reflected in the enormous and visible commitment to both economic as well as social sustainability in the local Tampa Bay area, as well as the current of collaboration that pervades the offices. Walls are decorated with examples of BMS’s awards in support of its commitment to women executives, working mothers, LGBT and diversity. "We know we haven't cornered the market on brains," explained Lee Evans, the center director, "so collaboration on every front is an important part of our strategy. Our role is that of a strategic operations accelerator, and that's something we cannot do in isolation." 

Indeed, the office is a microcosm of opportunities to learn across the organization. At the New Jersey HQ you'd have to drive across the campus to see manufacturing and R&D. In Tampa, the center specializes in solutions based on cross functional insights and understanding. Employees are jazzed up and highly interested in what their colleagues are doing, Lee said. They definitely don’t see themselves as a back office – more as an incubator and innovation center.

This kind of formal as well as informal integration is something the company actively encourages, explained Wayne Lewis, head of Communications and Community Relations, who led us around the premises. As the center has grown, specialist areas are now spread across different floors, but staff are actively encouraged to switch floors for their coffee breaks to interact with colleagues in other areas.

SSO Week Orlando

Talent was also apparent in the types of people sharing their stories with the 1000 delegates that came together in Orlando. One example came in the form of the Swiss Re ContactOne program co-lead, Gregg Feltham, Consulting Director, who accepted the Shared Services and Outsourcing Excellence Award in the category of Innovation. I had the opportunity to sit down with Gregg and ask a few questions about the ContactOne platform he and his team developed at Swiss Re, and was intrigued to find that as a career consultant he has done a wide variety of projects ranging from drug approval process redesign to funding for the arts to environmental protection of fish habitat.  

His latest challenge, after joining Swiss Re, a leading global reinsurer, was the design and implementation of ContactOne.  This one-stop-shop for roughly 200 services consumed by employees and line managers offers desktop and mobile access to information and online ordering tailored to the location-specific needs of individuals across 30 countries. (Gregg is now co-leading InformationOne, an enterprise-wide operational data alignment initiative that I hope we will hear more about next year.)

A different focus on career was provided by Deborah Kops in her workshop entitled "plotting your shared services career". The session was based on a survey which probed into individuals networking capabilities, how they solved their roles and their skills, and how mobile an approach they are taking to managing their careers. What emerged was a truly fascinating set of four different personae – the Leader, the Adapter, the Interpreter and the Expert.

SSO Personae

Based on her analysis, Deborah shared that people in shared services are relatively mature and have been with the organization a long time, but are fairly new to the shared services itself. They are most often transferred in from the business and “voluntold”; and work in large enterprises but believe they thrive in smaller ones. They see themselves as transformers who can work globally and virtually – yet their risk tolerance is not high. They have space to innovate and make change, and want to learn and experience new things, but, crucially, they see themselves leveraging these learnings outside of shared services in the future – because they feel blocked and can't advance. They actively cultivate meaningful relationships, and prioritize a large LinkedIn network, but, significantly, they do not have a thought leadership profile in their shared services industry.

In the era of personality and cult, this, perhaps, speaks volumes.

For whereas the survey respondents said they identified most strongly with the brand of their company, true careers are based on thought leadership and transformational leadership of the kind that requires personal recognition and branding. And this is where we see an obvious gap. Practitioners need to be doing more to promote themselves and their career – publicly as well as internally. The conference, obviously, is a perfect place to put that into practice (so is online at ssonetwork.com, where we actively encourage practitioners to share their stories, their challenges, and their leadership). A simple online search highlights lots of agencies that can help you, if your own resources just aren’t there.


One of my personal favorite moments was the session given by one of the ‘stars’ of the GBS firmament – Procter & Gamble – in the guise of its President, Julio Nemeth.  Julio reminded us that Moore's law (the idea that capacity doubles every 2 years) should have real life applications to shared services. And yet, despite the fact that most GBS are connected with collecting, storing, transforming and recording data … Moore's law is still not obviously at play. Specifically at P&G: After 14 years Shared Services, Moore's law would indicate a service value of 512 times the original. Instead, it has increased by only 5 to 6 times at best, Julio said.

Julio Nemeth SSO Week

Julio Nemeth from P&G – GBS


If you are struggling to follow this, the example he shared was the iPhone 5S, which, had it been available in 1991, would have cost the equivalent of $3.6 million [for the real nerds among you, that's $1.5 million for memory; $600 million for processing power; and $1.5 million for connectivity]. Given that you can buy that phone today for around $300, the 12,000 times price change reflects Moore's law at work.

The way to get there, Julio says, is by unleashing digitalization (P&G has developed a Next Generation Services team to drive this forward, under Tony Saldanha). Today at P&G, digital engines are running software that are controlled by individuals who act like analysts. Taking Accounts Receivable as an example, machine learning is being leveraged for invoices in dispute with the result that 50% are now cleared without human touch points. Julio believes 90% clearing without human engagement is possible. The remaining 10%, he says, represent a tremendous opportunity to reclaim money owed to the company. In fact, here is where the high returns really are, as these were otherwise neglected. With some of the next-generation solutions already at play, including blockchain to provide complete transparency on invoices and processes, Julio predicts a doubling of performance in three years.

Digitalizing the Customer Experience

If there was one theme at play it would be the digitalization of the customer experience. That is where this is all going. And whether that incorporates examples of leveraging artificial intelligence for candidate sourcing, as per Karla Younger at The Coca-Cola Company; or driving real-time visibility over inventory, as per Levi's; or ensuring a logistics chain via blockchain as at P&G, the workplace is being transformed and the new workforce is leading the way.

Mastercard's leadership team reminded us that the reskilling challenge we are facing goes way beyond shared services, and is a global problem. The new emerging jobs require new skill sets, which are not necessarily transferable from old jobs. According to a recent Stanford study that was mentioned, most of us will experience an entirely new job, along with a brand new set of skills, three times in our lifetime [I'm on my second only]. For BPO's, it's not so much a death knell as a doorway to a new world of freedom through digitization.

Symphony Ascension

The Exhibition Hall was a happy place #Symphony #Ascension

Data’ is the new gold. In fact, it plays a new role in not just enabling much of the automation currently promised, but also business intelligence and insights. Companies like Mastercard are leading the way with newly created Chief Data Officer roles. More will follow. Perhaps Chief Service Officers, to protect and ensure the customer experience. If you want to make sure something gets done, Brad DeDent remindsed us, make it someone's job!

I’ll be sharing other insights over the weeks but let’s close off with the 2018 North American Excellence Awards winners (Awards were sponsored by ISG, who have been supporting best practices through these industry awards for many years). We’ll be sharing their actual applications online, so you can use them as benchmarks, once we’ve confirmed with the winners, but in the meantime, they are listed below.

These winners were announced during an elegant Gala Dinner, complete with side-splitting comedian to warm us up, and presented by our ‘excellent’ judging panel (to whom, as ever, a huge thanks is owed).

Judges North America SSON Awards 2018


Excellence in Process Improvement:
Winner:                Flex
Runner Up:         Swiss Re

Excellence in Culture Creation:
Winner:                Rolls Royce
Runner Up:         HP, Inc.

Excellence in Value Creation:
Winner:                Johnson & Johnson
Runner Up:         NY State Office of General Services

Excellence in Innovation:
Winner:               Swiss Re
Runner Up:         Lockheed Martin

Excellence in Automation (Awards sponsored by Automation Anywhere)
Winner:                UPMC
Runner Up:         MasterCard