December 20, 2020

Finance Shared Services: A Step-By-Step Guide

Finance Leadership
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The idea of finance shared services isn’t new; however, it is gaining popularity. With the ability to centralise services, potentially decrease a workforce by 30%, and lower overall operating costs, many businesses are considering implementing a finance shared services organisation structure. 

The idea is that instead of having multiple departments performing the same tasks in various locations, you’d instead have just one location where everyone works out of to accomplish said function. This is commonly seen for departments like finance, payroll, inventory, hiring, public relations and information technology.

We’ll cover how it works, from implementation to execution and all the important considerations.  

Financial Shared Services Challenges: The Journey Ahead 

To successfully implement financial shared services, you’ll require the right technology tools. It’s more than possible and highly likely that you’d be able to overcome the hurdles by adopting the right technology, but that first step can be a hurdle in itself. It’s not surprising that when a new technology is introduced to teams, there is some pushback. It’s beneficial to utilise organisational change management to smoothly transform the department and ensure the team is on board. 

Here’s a look at what you can expect when you evolve into providing finance shared services, as well as the ways by which the right automation tool will aid your organisation on the journey. 

  • Technology adoption: It’s likely that you’re already using a stack of technology tools to keep your finance department running. However, the mass deployment of a cloud-based solution for automating processes can be met with inklings of fear. It’s necessary to remember that automation solutions augment and enhance your team’s abilities; they do not replace the need for humans. When selecting an automation tool to assist on your shared services goals, you’ll want it to be user-friendly, secure, collaborative, easily implemented and scalable. 
  • Visibility: When moving one function as important as finance into a centralised location and out of all your disparate offices, visibility will be key. Stakeholders and employees in various locations will need access to the financial happenings within the organisation at any given time. That’s why a tool like SolveXia with access controls can offer the perfect solution. 
  • Data: There’s no finance department or shared services function without the use of data. Data comes from various sources and often needs to be combined and transformed to be valuable. A shared services model may make it easier to store data in one centralised location, but it will still require the ability to connect and pull data from distant sources. 
  • Security: Moving all financial services into one business unit can be a great upside for business, but it runs a security risk. It’s imperative to leverage a system that has bank-grade security so that you can rest assured all your customer and team’s data is securely stored and transferred. 

How To Achieve Best-In-Class Status

There are several best practices that are recommended to offer the most robust, agile and communicative finance function from a centralised location. These best practices can be categorised into two main tenets, namely: 

  • Process automation: When creating a major organisational shift, it’s important to balance high-level thinking with minute details. When approaching processes, especially with a finance team that is filled with important and timely processes, you’ll want to consider the big picture and not just the tasks. Upgrade your team’s functionalities by introducing an automation tool like SolveXia, which will allow you to easily automate processes by leveraging its robotic process automation technology.  
  • Accurate measurement: Furthermore, once you automate a process, you want to make sure that it’s working as you’d have hoped. This can only be guaranteed by measuring outcomes, which SolveXia can also do for you. You’ll be able to schedule reports and review real-time data analytics to keep track of KPIs at all times. 

The Cyber Future: Robotic Process Automation

The future of finance hinges on automation’s abilities. Think about this - robotic process automation (RPA) can model a human’s workflow through a one-time configuration. Then, it can enhance its own performance through machine learning. RPA is the most fit to handle repetitive, time-consuming and highly meticulous tasks. Doesn’t that sum up most of a finance team’s back-office duties? With RPA and machine learning, it means that you can set parameters for finance functions and automatically initiate workflows as required without having to lift a finger. 

To further the depiction, imagine that an outcome exceeds a defined threshold in exception handling. Machine learning makes it so that the system will start remediation automatically. With manual processing, this could take a team hours or days to notice in the first place, thereby costing the business both time and money. 

More often than not, a finance process is time-bound and so the consequences of errors or delays can result in a quantifiable loss that affects the bottom line. Through robotic process automation, you will inherently decrease costs and reduce risks while your team can focus on high-level analytical tasks to achieve finance transformation. 

Steps to Implement Finance Shared Services 

If you’re considering moving siloed departments by instead sharing resources, then you can follow the shared services roadmap. Shared services implementation can be accomplished by these following steps:

  • Define: As with any change or modification to a business’ operations, you’ll want to be sure that you have the goal clearly defined. Furthermore, internal and external stakeholders will need to be on board. It’s best to start by asking your team on the front line what could benefit from improving or changing with the introduction of automation tools. Then, once you have functions in mind, be sure to line these functions up to business goals. By doing this, you’ll be able to recognise where automation can be of use in the big picture. 
  • Analyse: Your business is operating “as is,” but your visions of the future possibilities are “to be” states. By outlining your current processes and defining benchmarks, you will set the groundwork to accomplish the next step in this roadmap - measurement. It is in this second step that you will be able to validate the adoption of automation technology to achieve a standardised and centralised methodology. 
  • Measure: With the ability to quantify current costs and productivity, you will be able to measure how operational enhancements will benefit the business. For example, you may notice through measurement that having your finance department spread out is causing duplicate work or processes to occur. Instead, with shared services, you could maintain governance, transparency and optimise processes.  

The Gap Analysis

Gap analysis brings to light the difference between what is actually happening versus what people perceive to be happening. It’s a way to showcase the need for change. Importantly, it's how you can prove that an automation solution can bridge the gap. This is required to gain buy-in from key stakeholders as adopting new technology will require investment in time, energy and money. 

Once you can define the difference between best practices and what’s currently going on, then you can decide what tools will suffice to improve the business’ processes. Additionally, it makes it easier to manage expectations and depict how a finance shared services model could be of use. 

Scaling Shared Services

At the core, shared services exist to resolve the fact that the same department is performing the same function in various locations, be it cities or countries. Each market may face its own share of challenges, regulations and considerations, so there is a lot to keep in mind when implementing shared services. 

To make it feasible, shared services must be made scalable, regardless of where your team sits. Software solutions make this possible by standardising procedures and providing audit trails so that all data and work is easily traceable. It also makes it easy to sandbox and test processes as you want to roll them out, so that you can mitigate risk should you need to adjust any steps. 

Auditing Technology

Centralising your finance functions will require a technology audit to be done successfully. This is because you’ve collected a lot of data and information across software solutions up until this point, but you don’t want to lose any legacy records. As you bring in a solution with APIs and the ability to connect to your existing technology stack, it’s best to first consider what you need to keep and what you can now get rid of. The technology audit answers this question and can show what functions you can now combine into one system. 

Wrap Up 

Finance shared services proves to be a big consideration for businesses that operate in several locations or are looking to expand. By granting your organisation the ability to cut costs and centralise resources, it could prove to be a cost-effective method of increasing productivity and scaling functionality. To properly transform into a shared services model, you’ll want to adopt a technology solution that can handle all your needs and provide transparency into the process. An automation tool like SolveXia can provide all this and more.

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