Trends That Will Shape GBS Maturity in 2021

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Manoj Kalra

2020 will be remembered as a year that brought a paradigm shift in the way we live and work. While the pandemic is still at large in many parts of the world, we have found a way around it (as we always do) by recreating our processes digitally to ensure business continuity.   

The new normal poses a new set of challenges. Employees are learning to coordinate in isolation from each other, and organizations are coming up with newer ways of improving engagement and outcomes. At the same time businesses are combatting the problems of the pandemic by leveraging technology to collaborate, automate, deliver and monitor.

Across shared services functions, I have seen physical processes being migrated to the digital medium, while others have been automated completely. Retaining the people-process-technology dynamic at the center, the management and delivery of services went completely virtual.

In 2021, the effect of the disruptions from last year is expected to continue. As a result, we will continue to leverage new tools and technologies to optimize workflows, monitor processes in real-time, manage integration and deliver value.


“We will continue to leverage new tools and technologies to optimize workflows, monitor processes in real-time, manage integration and deliver value.”


I believe the following technology trends will shape the shared services function in 2021:


1. RPA – the great optimizer

The revolutionary ways in which Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is handling business processes is promising. Shared services units stand to benefit immensely from RPA as it improves efficiency, reduces costs and increases ROI. This gives organizations the opportunity to shift their workforce to higher-value tasks, as RPA takes care of low-value repetitive tasks. Not to mention, it does away with errors, so the output is near-perfect.

In SSON’s Q4 2020 Shared Services State of the Industry Survey, when asked about their current stage of automation, 31% of respondents said they had implemented automation within the last three years, and 30% said they were at the ‘proof of concept’ stage. However, 34% had already scaled automation, some also actively digitizing data and integrating AI/ML capabilities.

As the data shows, shared service centers have already started leveraging RPA, realizing its potential to provide a new competitive advantage to the business. While usually the investment-repayment on new technologies is estimated to happen over a few years, with RPA this is reduced to a few months. This is especially significant, considering the world is just beginning to recover from the pandemic. So, it is only natural that the RPA adoption trend will continue to grow in 2021 and the years ahead. The next step is to infuse AI, to broaden the gamut of processes that RPA can handle.


2. Predictive Analytics – giving a strategic edge to shared services

The global predictive analytics market is forecast to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 24.5% from USD 7.2 billion in 2020 to USD 21.5 billion by 2025. The growing focus on digital transformation, adoption of big data/AI, increase in remote monitoring owing to COVID-19, and the need to forecast future financial scenarios… are expected to significantly drive the adoption of predictive analytics.

Shared services organizations stand to reap immense benefits leveraging predictive analytics. Using data from multiple departments – Finance, Procurement, IT, HR – organizations can perform cross-functional analytics.

With data-driven predictive analytics and insights, businesses can drive cost-effectiveness, efficiency and better output. Working for almost a year in the pandemic-rendered new normal, businesses are now looking towards predictive analytics to combat uncertainties and make agile decisions. They want to pre-empt internal and external risks, relying on robust models designed on the foundation of analytics.

In SSON’s survey, 61% of respondents said that the data analytics in their organizations was still ‘basic’, while 27% said they had sufficiently competent analytics. Only 8% had capabilities for complex event processing and neural networks.

2021 is expected to see more shared services organizations deploying predictive analytics for operational efficiencies, valuable insights and future-proofing. Existing adopters will climb further up on the maturity ladder. Powered by advanced technology and analytics, shared services will continue to grow towards becoming more of a strategic partner to organizations.  


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3. Artificial Intelligence – our torch into the unknown

As society and businesses continue to function in a more hybrid world, AI will increasingly be at the core of business transformation. 2020 was a unique year as regular physical patterns of business and commercial activities were disrupted, leaving only digital data and analytics to go back to for insights. In 2021, organizations will increasingly rely on AI to get a pulse on customers and predict customer behavior.  

AI is now poised to take care of routine IT problems through its latest auto-healing and correcting capabilities that work against common malfunctions. Newer capabilities of AI, which are already being used by some organizations, are facial recognition and natural language processing. These are especially useful in finance and healthcare industries and their adoption will continue to climb in 2021.

For shared services organizations, AI can mean automation beyond RPA. Using cognitive AI and analytics, organizations can use unstructured data and handle complex marketing, finance, accounting and customer service processes with automation. According to a research by Oracle, 8 out of 10 businesses had implemented or were planning to adopt AI as a customer service solution by 2020.

Ultimately, these developments will help companies achieve ‘hyperautomation’ and make them more agile and ready to navigate unprecedented challenges. As AI makes its way deeper into our businesses and lives, this year will see more organizations creating guidelines for the responsible use of AI and a governance framework.


4. Digital transformation – The way of the future

In SSON’s COVID-19 Impact on Global Service Delivery Models report, on the subject of the impact of COVID-19 on global business services, 29% respondents felt that GBS models will need to become increasingly digitized.

Digitization enables a shared services unit to improve on existing services as well as expand on them. This quality-quantity output is a result of redefining end-to-end processes using digital tools. Data-driven actions flow across these processes to create targeted results. This way, the processes can be continuously optimized as all scenarios are analyzed to identify gaps and errors, and shared services units can create better results for their organizations in terms of operational efficiencies and cost-savings.

Having a completely digitized ecosystem also allows for more innovation. So, while going digital may have been a slow process before the pandemic, it is now becoming critical. This augurs well for shared services as it grows from a support function to a strategic partner for organizations and is supported by SSON’s survey, where 41% of  respondents see GBS becoming more important as a business services model, as a direct impact of the pandemic.  



While the last few years have seen the emergence of these trends, the pandemic has accelerated them manifold. Thus, we are now at a point of leap. And taking the leap is no longer a choice, if one wants to be future-ready.

It is more a question of ‘How soon?!’  


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