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Collaborative Research: Smart Use of Peer Networks to Improve Efficiency and Spur Innovation

On my article about Social Shared Services, I examined the possibilities of adopting social media practices and social collaboration toolsets as part of the shared services offering and communication channel. The “social media adoption model” I referred to does not apply only to shared services organizations but also to any other services organizations looking to harness social media.

If you read my article on Social Shared Services, I cited  “external collaborative research” as one of the six components of the social shared services model. It refers to the interaction of organization’s members with peers in other companies through “social” media and collaborative channels. This interaction results in collaborative research, benchmarking, enriched studies and shared best practices. This artcle aims to give a concrete example of how organizations can participate in forums and collaborate with external parties.

Peeriosity, an Example and Success Story

There are existing platforms in the internet that allows “social” or collaborative engagement using advanced Web 2.0 toolsets. Take for example, the website Peeriosity. It is already used by many shared services organizations and companies worldwide. Peeriosity uses innovative platforms to enable collaborative communities and facilitates the sharing of experiences and best practices. This type of collaboration brings together a broad number of individuals with different areas and levels of expertise. When collaborating with peers, you want a wide selection of qualified individuals to work with. This platform allows organizations to engage peers beyond their internal ecosystem and to participate in forums, webcasts and research. Each research area includes live webcasts featuring leading experts and recognized peers on key topics. Participants can actively ask questions and share their perspectives and experiences.

The tool in Peeriosity that I best like is  iPolling. If you have an idea or a problem in your office environment, you typically look for co-workers within the company to discuss it. It is the same with iPolling except that you can confer not only with your co-workers but also your peers in other companies. With iPolling you can create your own poll in just a few minutes. Peeriosity then professional reviews it and distributes it to peers who have the most interest and experience in your specific topic. Poll results include a summary chart and the underlying detailed results. I think it’s a great way to get feedback from your peers about topics you care about and engage them in direct poll discussion and comments.

Benefits of Peer Networking and Collaboration:

Here are some benefits that I see for companies participating in cross-company and cross industry collaboration:

  1. Organizations can construct and enrich innovative ideas by leveraging the diverse and expansive expertise of the collaborative network.
  2. Attain benefits of scale through effective collaboration with peers across geographies and across industries concerning a topic of interest.
  3. Drive continuous learning in the organization by allowing its members to participate in webcasts and online forums.
  4. Maximize collaborative research efficiencies and reduce consulting costs.
  5. Drive employee engagement and performance by optimizing flow of good ideas.

Interaction with an “extended” peer network can have a profound impact on creating a learning organization that can adapt, collaborate and innovate. I view new collaborative platforms like Peeriosity and other similar services online as an extension to collaborative channels already available to you. This is the same type of engagement you would experience when attending annual industry conventons and personally meet professionals in the same industry or practice. I personally don’t believe these types of platforms are possible replacements for traditional conventions, forums and training programs but instead, it allows you to continue the same level of meaningful interaction with your peers long after the event.

I will leave you with the following questions: Is it time for your organization to adopt social networking practices and tools? How can you build a more collaborative and innovative organization? How can you promote patterns of collaborations that will allow your organization to become more efficient, innovative and engaging?

Image courtesy of www.peeriosity.com

Social Shared Services – Implementing Social Media in Shared Services Organizations

Traditionally, the development of a shared services group within an organization was a result of the need to achieve cost reduction through economies of scale, centralization and process standardization. Starting in the late 1980s, large, decentralized companies consolidated basic transactional processes — such as accounting, payroll, accounts payable and purchasing — and charged business units back at cost. As business units increasingly recognized the benefits of bringing together services in an internal service provider, the functions of shared services grew over time. Advancements in technology and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms enabled the shared services to link remote businesses and develop its end-to-end processes.

Businesses today drive even more value creation from shared services, through functions like process management, knowledge management, product and service innovation, project and portfolio management, and business performance solutions. This allows the business to focus on its core activities. Organizations that have a mature shared services group continually evaluate other services as to whether they fit a shared services model. The objective of this article is to examine the possibilities of adopting social media practices and social collaboration toolsets as part of the shared services offering and communication channel.

The exponential growth of social media has had a profound impact on the world’s businesses. Companies can no longer ignore the persistence and expansion of social media platforms. The growth of social networks and tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others, has revolutionized the way we interact with our customers, peers and providers. But the question of value is often brought to the table when looking at these same social tools from the executive level — i.e. how can social tools be leveraged in a shared services organization?

Forward-looking companies have started to embrace Web 2.0 practices and technology to encourage innovation initiatives. Can organizations like shared services take advantage of similar developments so as to enable and improve their function as an internal service provider to the business? How can shared services leverage new collaboration tools and Web 2.0?

Shared Services — Four Adoption Points

I see four areas where shared services can utilize social media: (1) Engagement, (2) Knowledge Management, (3) Support, and (4) Internal Customer Relationship. If you are already thinking of implementing Web 2.0 practices in your organizations, here are possible adoption points:

  1. Engagement — Engagement means enabling a community for your internal customers where they can freely interact with you and with each other. We are used to linear and traditional engagement with our internal customers. We communicate with them through traditional media like email, phone or personal visits. Think about the advantages of being able to talk to your internal customers in community groups where the best way to engage them is to communicate with them openly. Your role becomes that of a facilitator, leading the community engagement, which, in turn, results in value-creating collaborative outputs.
  2. Knowledge Management — As shared services, we keep track of process documentation, how-to’s and training materials. We keep these documents in certain locations for easy deployment to our internal users.  Sometimes we enable portals to publish them and they become directly accessible to internal customers. Knowledge Management, the “social” shared services approach, is ceding control of this documentation to power users and the users’ communities — much like Wikipedia allows us to change its content collectively. The role of shared services now is to ensure the quality of the updates, edit content when necessary, and provide feedback to the community.
  3. Support — This is not intended to replace existing support groups. ‘Social’ support is just opening up a collaborative support channel — the ‘community support services.’ When end-users have questions, they can post these in a community and anybody can answer. Additionally, shared services support personnel can engage these end-users directly. Expert users and even regular users who are members of the community can also assist by providing links to how-to’s and wikis already available in Knowledge Management. If the questions and the answers are worth documenting, someone will update the how-to’s and wikis so everyone can have access to the latest version.
  4. Customer Relationship — With social media, customer relationship management (CRM) becomes open and collaborative. Social CRM extends beyond traditional CRM by focusing on people and collaboration. Processes covered by traditional CRM and will not be replaced — social CRM in a way supports CRM by focusing on meaningful engagement, on content and conversations. For shared services, going social on CRM is equivalent to interacting with customers through communities, wikis and blogs; enabling customers to critique the services; encouraging customers to share ideas and creating platforms in partnership to improve value creation.

‘Social’ Shared Services Model — Six Components

‘Social’ shared services are existing shared services organizations that embrace social media practices and the Web 2.0 platform to increase the efficiency of the network’s value. An added principle of ‘social’ shared services is enabling the power of ‘participation’ and ‘people.’ The core function of shared services that go ‘social’ remains the same — to deliver transactional and other non-core services to the business units. The main differentiation is the culture and practice of open collaboration with internal and external entities using new collaborative Web 2.0 tools. ‘Social’ shared services enable the communities and facilitate conversations with business users, thereby creating new ‘interaction points.’

Six Components of the ‘Social’ Shared Services Model

Collaborative Shared Services Portfolio — New channels enabled during the implementation of the ‘social’ shared services model. In a way, these new channels facilitate new forms of service offerings —these are the shared services social CRM, business peer groups, knowledge and content management and facilitation services.

Enabling Technology — These are the Web 2.0 platform and applications available in the market that support collaboration, enterprise knowledge management and integration. Web 2.0 toolsets, including collaboration and productivity tools, use these technologies to help businesses deliver applications more flexibly and cost effectively.

Adoption Strategy — Implementing the Web 2.0 toolset is the easy part. The main challenge is the adoption process. Adopting social media in a business setting is a cultural change process. Not everyone is used to this way of working and the implied new collaboration practices. There should be a strong strategic principle that guides shared services through social media adoption and thereby ensures the chances of success. This adoption process does not have shortcuts; it can’t be forced upon employees.

Governance — Web 2.0 tools are equipped with powerful communication and dissemination technologies that may be difficult to control. To mitigate risk, the first thing that the organization should establish in this initiative is the governance strategy. Governance strives to bring order and sustainability to what would otherwise be a chaotic environment of ad hoc communication and information dissemination. This governance will include community policies, rules and regulations and community structures.

Performance — Similar to shared services’ traditional service offerings, ‘social’ services portfolios also need service level definitions. Examples include how a shared services staff member is expected to answer a support question in a community blog, the performance of shared services in community facilitation, etc. The objective is to measure the effectiveness of the new set of services. Part of the goal in performance monitoring is to draw up continuous improvement initiatives.

External Collaborative Research — Why do it alone when you can participate and collaborate with peers? Innovative platforms and collaborative communities leverage technology and facilitate sharing of experiences and best practices. This type of collaboration brings together a broad pool of individuals with different areas and levels of expertise. This is the component of the ‘social’ services model that branches out beyond the internal ecosystem of the service organization and the company. 

Conclusion

The ‘human network’ is an adaptive entity and it is constantly learning. It is happening already in consumer communities — why can’t it work internally, in service organizations? Today’s service organizations are under pressure to give business users access to information on-demand. Internal customers are more fickle and demand a different kind of response: more flexibility, greater innovation, more attention, etc.

Social media and technology are rapidly changing today’s businesses. This creates pressure on organizations and on the people in them to constantly adopt. Is it time for shared services organizations to adopt social networking practices and tools? I think you can best answer that question. Some businesses have already started looking into Web 2.0 adoptions. I think it’s just a matter of time before social media practices and the Web 2.0 toolset becomes more prevalent in organizations globally. ‘Social’ shared services will be able to support and promote a globally integrated virtual enterprise and extend the discovery and use of expertise across an entire ecosystem. Web 2.0 technology will help shared services bring together interaction among people, information and data to drive new opportunities and to foster communities.

View full PDF version published in Shared Services and Outsourcing Network >> Social Shared Services.

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Six Things to Know about Shared Services

1. Convergence 

Shared Services is the convergence of a company’s essential business functions to an internal service provider as opposed to outsourcing it. Shared Services Organizations (SSO) or Shared Service Centers (SSC), as they are often called, ensure the delivery of required services to the business as effectively and efficiently as possible. The most common business support functions integrated to Shared Services are Human Resources, IT, Finance, Procurement, Office Services and Legal.     

2. Cost and Quality 

Shared Service is more than just centralization and is different from outsourcing (or the use of an external third party).  Some successful Shared Services Organizations are managed as a business — providing efficient and effective services at a cost and quality better than other alternatives.     

3. Business Value Creation 

Traditionally, the development of a Shared Services group within an organization was a result of the need for cost reduction through economies of scale, centralization and standardization of processes. Businesses nowadays drive even more value creation from its Shared Services out of other functions like process management, knowledge management, product and service innovation, customer solutions, project and portfolio management, and business performance solutions among others. This allows the business to focus on its core activities.     

4. Integrated Business Systems 

Most Shared Services Organizations rely on an integrated set of electronic business processes, technology and IT applications —  usually anchored in a major piece of enterprise resource planning software. This integrated business system standardize and automate Shared Services processes, thereby increasing reliability, decreasing operational cost, and ensuring quality.     

5. Organizational Transformation 

Shared Services implementation entails significant executive management sponsorship to carry out needed process and organizational transformation as its implementation may require changes in processes, roles and work practices.     

6. Service Level and Performance 

Shared Services make use of Service Level Agreements (SLA) to establish an accord with internal customers. SLA quantifies the target quantity, quality, and cost of services in a period of time. Shared Services make use of benchmarking and measurement of strategic, tactical and operative key performance indicators to drive performance improvement.     

       

If you are looking for a book about Shared Services, I would recommmend Shared Services: A Manager’s Journey By Daniel C. Melchior. This book is a fantastic and a very enjoyable read with its unique story-like style. The dialogue between the characters explains many concepts and allows readers to understand why take certain decisions. It presents the realities of living the journey of implementing a shared services  organization. It provides excellent insights into the methodology behind managing day-to-day Shared Services operations.

 
If you are interested in learning more about Shared Services and want to collaborate with other Shared Services professionals, you can visit www.ssonetwork.com. It is the website of the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON), the largest and most established community of shared services and outsourcing professionals.  SSON provides a lot of references, tools and collaboration opportunities on Shared Services and many other related to it. I am a monthly contributor to SSON.       

Business Process Outsourcing Lifestyle in the Philippines

December 11, 2009 9 comments

I’m home! I thought it would be appropriate to write about the Philippines while I’m in town. It’s been 2 years since my last trip here. A family occasion gave me the opportunity to visit home this close to Christmas. I surely miss the vibrant colors, vitality and noise of the streets filled with jeepneys. I miss the company of friends and family. I am currently at a local coffee shop right in the heart of Metropolitan Manila’s business district – Makati. Like so many others, I come here mainly to connect to the internet and the coffee is just secondary. 

I am part of a Shared Services organization based in Florida. Due to a scheduling conflict, I am tasked to work during the first two weeks of December even though I am in a different time zone (13-hour difference).  Indeed, technology has broken the barriers to work and collaboration. Something that – decades ago – one can hardly imagine doing. I work nights (usually until 1am) to catch-up with the US Eastern Time zone. 

It is not as if I am the only one working the night shift in Metro Manila and in many major cities in the Philippines. I am comforted by the fact that I work at the same time as thousands of service agents and consultants providing services to the US and Europe. In Makati, it is pretty common to see heavily lighted high rise buildings at night. After all, the Philippines is one of the main centers of business process outsourcing (BPO) and shared services in the world.

The Philippine BPO industry provides a wide portfolio of services that not only include traditional voice and IT services but also higher value services such as finance, IT programming, engineering, medical transcription and architectural services. 

Business Process Outsourcing 

According to Tas, J. & Sunder, S. in a journal entitled Financial Services Business Process Outsourcing published in 2004. 

“Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a form of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business functions (or processes) to a third-party service provider. Originally, this was associated with manufacturing firms, such as Coca Cola that outsourced large segments of its supply chain.”

BPO can be categorized into two types—front office and back office outsourcing. Front office outsourcing is typically related to customer services and contact center services while Back office usually refers to support and administrative functions such as human resources, finance and accounting. 

Based on service location there are two types of BPO—Nearshore and Offshore outsourcing. For example, relative to United States, BPO service providers in Mexico can be considered a nearshore outsourcing as compared to BPO services provided to US companies from Asia Pacific countries, like the Philippines. 

Why Philippines is a First-rate BPO location 

Amid the global economic crisis, the BPO industries in the country have remained strong in 2009. Industry experts in the Philippines expect 35% growth this year. According to the Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPAP), the biggest organization of outsourcing providers in the Philippines, the outsourcing industry will earn about $12 billion to $13 billion and employ close to 900,000 people in 2010. 

The Philippines has remained one of the most ideal locations for companies who outsource business processes and services. Filipinos are known to be highly skilled, hardworking, dedicated and loyal. There is a known Filipino trait called “malasakit” (in local Filipno language) that means genuine concern and care. Filipinos are known to exhibit this quality in the workplace. Skills and hardworking attitudes guarantee strong performance and productivity, while on the other hand, dedication and loyalty translates to better talent retention, less training costs and experienced service personnel. The Philippines is also considered as the location of choice due to its less expensive operational and labor costs, as well as having an English-speaking workforce (the result of English being the main medium of instruction in schools and universities in all educational levels). The Philippines, with the help of the Government and private sectors, has also developed a competitive infrastructure in terms of telecommunications, information and technology. 

UK body proclaims the Philippines as World’s Best BPO destination for the 2nd time. The Philippines has won the 2009 Offshoring Destination of the Year category at the 4th National Outsourcing Association (NOA) Awards held October 15 at Park Plaza Riverbank in London. The Philippines bested Egypt, Malaysia, Russia and Sri Lanka among others. This is the second time that the country bagged the prestigious award category. The first time was in 2007. This was reported in a press release by BPAP last October 2009. 

BPO Lifestyle 

A lot of top multinational companies have service centers in the Philippines—Caltex, Citibank, HSBC, Procter and Gamble, Deutsche Bank and Dell, to name a few. It’s common for an individual to have at least one close family member who works in BPOs and services centers. It’s just that so many Filipinos nowadays work in BPO-related industries across the Philippines. My new sister-in-law, for instance, works in HSBC service center and my brother used to work there too— it’s where they met. This goes to show that indeed, business process outsourcing, offshore call and service centers are now part of Filipino lifestyle of service. We are known for our service— not just in BPO industries but in many industries— not just in the Philippines but around the world.

Image of Makati Skyline courtesy of Wikimedia.org

Keep it Simple- Build a Little, Benefit a Lot

September 11, 2009 2 comments

Typically, big companies invest one percent to four percent of revenue in IT. This investment is usually spent on integrated business model implementations, continuous innovations, and day-to-day IT operations. There must be a way to assess and take full advantage on the return of these investments; otherwise, IT organizations cannot move from being cost centers to value centers. Optimizing the value of IT is a top priority in today’s tough economy. Companies rush to reduce IT operating cost and IT capital expenditures mainly because of falling revenue sources. 

Many companies are so focused on evolution in order to always be steps ahead of competitors. They, at times, push themselves hard through IT implementations and afterwards, fail to take advantage of the benefits. They resort to old habits, making change process difficult to achieve. 

Keep it simpleOnce you implement new systems and processes, you need to aggressively drive value creation from it. Peter Weill, in his book IT Savvy wrote, “The firms that are best at this start driving value early. If you start driving value early as you take the first small steps towards building it, you will reduce the disruptions of major transformation. The goal should be—build a little, benefit a lot; build some more, benefit some more; and so on.” 1 In other words, keep it simple! Now is probably the best time to resort to this time-tested principle where investment is placed only on IT solutions that are cost effective and that deliver better value and greater performance for the business. Below are just some key initiatives that can help organizations maximize value of IT in a company. 

Define Clear Strategic Vision 

The first step is to have clarity of strategic vision for each of your IT portfolios. Executive managers in Steering Committees have the responsibility to clearly define the main business objectives of projects and portfolio of projects. They are the ultimate architects for the organizational transformation that will happen. The objectives that they define will guide IT project leaders in their decision making and will help them prioritize business requirements. 

Maximize ERP systems 

Most big firms implement a digitized platform anchored on a major piece of purchased enterprise resource planning software such as SAP and Oracle. Implementation should be kept within the standard configuration as much as possible. This is a difficult challenge though. Of course, some business requirements cannot be addressed by standard functionalities. They will have to be developed or coded to change standard functionalities of the application to suit business needs. The challenge is to keep the balance between benefits and costs of these developments. Keeping solution within the platform configuration standards will reduce consulting cost, configuration and development effort. In the long run it will reduce cost of IT operation and application support. Additionally, companies can leverage on continuous evolution of those ERP platforms whenever new releases and versions become available. They can change to the new version without lengthy and costly upgrade process. 

IT Infrastructure Consolidation 

Data center consolidation is a major focus of many organizations today. According to Computer Economics, in 2008, 76% of organizations had some level of activity in the area of data center consolidation.  It is one of the most essential ways to lower the cost of IT operations. Bigger data centers are simply more cost-effective on a per unit basis. Therefore, for many organizations, consolidating multiple data centers into a single facility should be a primary strategy for cutting cost. Additionally, this consolidation effort can also result to mitigating risk and improving service levels. Concentrating computing resources into one or a small number of physical locations can boost the productivity of IT assets and personnel. It will also simplify IT operations management. Most organizations will realize quantifiable returns from such efforts. 

1 Weill, Peter. IT Savvy: What Top Executives Must Know to Go from Pain to Gain. 2009.

 Simple Processes

10 Things You Need to Know About Shared Services

  1. Shared Services is the outsourcing of essential business functions to a centralized support organization.
  2. Most successful Shared Services run its organization as a business, providing efficient and effective services at competitive prices to its internal customers.
  3. Shared Services relies on an integrated set of electronic business processes, applications, information and technologies usually anchored in a major piece of purchased enterprise resource planning software.
  4. Shared Services implementation requires significant executive management sponsorship.
  5. The most common essential business support functions outsourced to Shared Services are Human Resources, IT, Finance, Procurement, Office Services and Legal.
  6. Shared Services focuses on value improvement more than cost reduction and on deliverables more than activities. Shared Services values customer service and alignment.
  7. Shared Services uses Service Level Agreements (SLA) to establish an accord with internal customers. SLA quantifies the target quantity, quality, and cost of services in a period of time.
  8. Shared Services makes use of benchmarking and measurement of strategic, tactical and operative Key Performance Indicators to drive incremental performance improvement.
  9. Shared Services locations can be on-shore, near-shore or off-shore although near-shore and off-shore are more associated to outsourcing.
  10. The value of Shared Services for an organization grows over time – from short-term to medium-term benefits of cost reduction and reengineering for productivity enhancement, to long-term continuous improvement and integrated strategic service delivery.

Shared Services

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