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Shared services – Roundtable Report

Rachel Anderson
, Head of Shared Services – Northern Rock
Robert Bull, Corporate HR Manager – Bechtel Limited
Chris Dale, Head of Employee Services – EDF Energy
Martha Desmond, Director of HR Operations – BG Group
Caroline Dyer, Human Resources Consultant – Standard Life Investments
Diane Field, Manager, HR Customer Services – Ford
Simon Lloyd, HR Director – Santander
David Long, Director of Shared Services – Virgin Media
Paul Madge, Director of HR Operations – Metropolitan Police Force
Michele Martin-Taylor – Head of Employee Services – Virgin Media
Ian Lithgow, Partner – KPMG
Mark Williamson, Head of People in Change team – KPMG

Shared services has often promised much, but equally often failed to deliver. As a result HR shared service centres are used to a much lesser extent, or exist as an expensive overhead, with little ongoing investment.

There is a realisation that the shared service centre concept itself was not the problem. More often than not, the complexities of HR were underestimated, resulting in lax planning and execution of a kind that was not seen in other transformation projects. So a new approach is now emerging that acknowledges the complexity of HR. It is based on deep understanding of the roles and service drivers within HR; using technology, shared locations and third-parties to truly optimise the HR service delivery.

The phrase “doing more with less” succinctly describes what this recession has meant to HR and the wider business. Contextually what has been the HR experience from our various sectors?

Simon Lloyd: As an organisation, Santander is very focused on cost but we’re equally focused on business imperatives, such as customer service. And we are very much a people business so there’s a number of different issues we need to be involved in, from the recruitment to development of our people, which is critical, but also the basics such as paying people correctly.

The police force is a target in George Osborne’ budget plans, what is the impact going to be at the Met, if you are going to be reduced in number?

Paul Madge: It’s unlikely to be good news for any public sector and I think HR has to be on the front foot in terms of making sure we can enable the organisation to do that. There are reputational issues to manage and we are now charged to provide soft landings to some pretty heavy messages. There is an upside to this as well. In terms of HR, our shared service centre is actually the kind of project that’s been held up to the rest of the organisation as the sort of project we need.

David, as a customer-facing business that’s publicly very much embraced outsourcing and shared services, what are the challenges that you’ve come across with regards to Virgin Media?

David Long: In terms of cost savings per se we’re on a journey to expand shared services, and bring more into it where it makes sense to do so, so in shared services, costs may increase but overall for the company we will achieve economies of scale. Jason Spiller: Reduction, consolidation and change – it’s not the time to be short-handed in HR is it?

Martha Desmond: Self-service, or manager self service, is something that we would like to invest more in. We employ a lot of engineers with specialist skills so we have to think what is good use of their time.

Ian Lithgow: I think my experience of it is that the portal is almost the front end or one of the interfaces for employees and managers. The portal needs to be sticky. So people go on it and want to return to it. Take policy on absence; you start reading it and it’s HR speak, too complicated.

David Long: That’s a very important point, we use brand and communication to help significantly with the wording and look and feel. We talked to HR about the content they wanted and also asked employees their views through engagement groups.

Ian Lithgow: It’s the employee centricity which is important. It’s my life, my career, however you want to badge it and brand it. That actually, I think, improves employee engagement as well and means employees will use the portal more often.

Mark Williamson: I think the big mistake that we learnt is that you don’t actually want to technology enable everything and that managers and your specialist employees are actually there to add value to the organisation in quite different ways. Creative use of technology combined with shared services is often the answer for this.

Ian Lithgow: I think one thing that is emerging , from discussions with HRD’s and CEO’s is that talent is going to be the biggest thing that we need to start focusing on and getting a talent pipeline and succession planning organised. Now, in the time of recession, people might be saying, ‘It’s about cost control.’ Looking forward, it’s around talent and identifying your next top performers and high performers.

Rachel Anderson: I don’t think talent and cost are necessarily mutually exclusive. If you spend a bit more to get a higher level of capability, actually you get so much more out of it; you avoid duplication, you have business partners that trust the shared services to do it, rather than doing it themselves.

Ian Lithgow: We’ve got to think about recruitment and what’s the future of our organisation in 15-20 years time?’

Simon Lloyd: I agree and back to the system piece, there seems to be a view that to do succession planning properly, people think that you need a system. Whereas I believe you need to start by assessing the talent that you’ve got, which, from my point of view, is for HR and business departments work together on.

Ian Lithgow: It’s the culture of the organisation. It’s very similar to performance management. We want to make sure that we keep the right people in place and get rid of the poor performers or manage the poor performers to the right outcome, whatever that may be. As a consequence, we’ve got a performance management process. Here it is, there’s your process, go use it.

There is no guarantee that a system will work?

Diane Field: Ten years ago we centralised the Ford of Britain Shared Services for salaried employees. We pulled in personnel, bringing good experience from various areas, rather than looking for specific skill to match the service required.

And in more recent times, have you had to adapt the HR structure in order to cope with the extra pressures and challenges which the recession has brought on?

Diane Field: The main pressures for me personally have been the separation of companies that previously came under our umbrella and have been sold off to best position Ford for future success. We integrated them into our systems and now we’ve been heavily involved in the separation process.

But that’s very typical of the fact that all businesses are prone to change on a regular basis. So that poses the question, how can you be sure that what appears to be the solution will be flexible enough to change?

Mark Williamson: The recession from HR’s point of view is quite a multifaceted challenge depending on what organisations you’re in. So the demerger situation again is not unusual for many organisations and actually trying to split shared services out, trying to split the HR technologies out, even deciding which employees stay and which go is a huge process from HR’s point of view. So I see those challenges, I see the talent challenges we’ve been talking about. Clearly in some parts of the private sector now we’re getting more merger activity, so that’s happening, and we’ve got all the challenges that Paul talked about from a public sector point of view. So I think it’s a myriad of challenges for HR functions; probably more at this point in time and a broader range than I’ve seen before. And from a structure point of view, my feeling on this is pretty unequivocal. If you’ve got real clarity about what your people strategy is and therefore what your HR strategy is, then you base your HR structure and your HR operating model on that to deliver on your strategy.

Ian Lithgow: I think the other aspect to consider is that often shared services or a service centre is set up and people are put into it. Often all you have is group of people, for example a recruitment team, a performance management team. In my view you actually haven’t really put a service centre in; you’ve put in model that has resources grouped and more centralised. What hasn’t happened is some of the multi-skilling, process change and improvement as well as driving flexibility in terms of people being able to move from one type of HR transaction to the next.

Michele Martin-Taylor: Flexibility comes with time. I think when you have to set up your operating model, you need to build something that has a common framework in terms of both your contact and transactional strategy. You have to do your administration and you have to be able to either answer the phone or manage the email traffic and it’s essential that your model is flexible enough to add additional services within that same framework.

Robert Bull: We set up a centre in Arizona and that’s the centre of the shared service universe and actually it’s the only facility we have in the entire company that has no contact with the business. It’s not their fault, but to me, educating the people who work in the service centre, whether they’re in finance, HR or IT, its about what the business purpose is.

Caroline Dyer: I would echo that – working in an investments company where HR services and shared services, sit in the Life and Pensions company, at critical times in the employee lifecycle you’re trying to necessarily attract people from financial centres around the world.

Martha Desmond: I think it comes down to the calibre of people that you’re recruiting. It isn’t purely an administration job. You do need people who understand the business context and have a more commercial approach to HR.

Robert Bull: I would agree, we’re ten years into this now, and the reason for going to Phoenix, Arizona, was lower cost and a flexible workforce in US terms. However we found we should have recruited more skilled people.

Would you say that HR is the motivator to actually come up with a better solution?

Robert Bull: Businesses are very much the kings, and so the platform for our shared services is entirely a business efficiency model based on, in our case, SAP and Oracle. And that was the entire platform for doing this. But there is a limit to how much the businesses can take because they naturally want to control everything.

Mark Williams: Have you got a dual technology platform both for SAP and Oracle? It’s more how your shared service centre runs if it’s got dual technologies that it’s utilising.

Chris Dale: We too have a dual technology platform. EDF Energy acquired British Energy about 18 months ago and inherited an Oracle platform, whereas we’re SAP by history. Part of our challenge is running a parallel shared service offering, depending on which part of the business you work in and which platform you work on.

What are the key failings in delivery from an HR perspective?

Chris Dale: Business units are king. We have five business units that have their own separate MDs and HR structures. We have three or four different expense systems as a consequence of just accommodating the businesses’ requirements. But for me, it’s about getting out of that and saying actually what’s right for the business in totality and recognising people.

Ian Lithgow: I’m more struck on people talking about HR BPs. When I was an HRD I’d sit there and say, ‘What does an HR business partner do?’ and, ‘What is different about them?’ You often just find somebody has been rebadged as a business partner. How do you make an HR business partner substantially different from what they may have been doing before, which is an advisor or a generalist?

Rachel Arnold: I think for me it’s the pro-activity. A business partner is going out to the business, looking for what the business needs, rather than reacting to, ‘This is the question I got this morning.’ And again, that’s a different profile of individuals. Martha Desmond: I interact most of the time with our senior executives and my direct reports sit as part of leadership teams who are discussing, not only the day-to-day matters, but the longer term strategic issues. For me this makes them genuine business partners.

Mark Williamson: What are the boundaries between HR shared services and the rest of the HR organisation? Quite often I see the boundary role being something around what we might call operational HR or case management type roles. And whether that sits within the wider HR organisation or within shared services is quite important. And I think as you develop your models it’s an important debate to have with the organisation. Clearly there are pros and cons for either and it depends on the organisation.

Do you think fundamentally it may be the fact that HR has broadened its remit to such a great extent that it’s actually diluted its impact?

Mark Williamson: Possibly. Where I think this can be the case is where business partnering has been poorly executed. And yet I think that is the area of most opportunity for HR really to add value to the business. In pushing into business partnering has HR potentially taken its eye off the ball for some of those ER type areas? Yes, I think it has.

Ian Lithgow: Some of the blame lies with HR because what we said to the business is, ‘Right, we’re going to be aligned to you. We’re doing to be HR business partners. We’re going to be able to provide strategic input. People in HR sit there and think, ‘What about the transactional activity’ ‘Are we going into a servicecentre’? Often the belief is that they end up working in a call centre. Consequently their reactions are that they don’t want to be involved with working in such an environment – that’s not what they came into HR for.

Martha Desmond: One of the things we’ve managed is to create progression opportunities for our HR. Individuals come into the business as HR administrators, but quite a few of them are able then to move into the advisor roles and then move on from there.

Chris Dale: Pivotal parts of getting this right is having the HR community on board with what you’re doing as an organisation and the move to shared services. Because the people who bring it down and reduce the castle to rubble will be the HR teams, if you don’t get them on board straight away.

Diane Field: That’s a decision that we made a few years ago that we would not include graduates in the HRSC as part of their individual development within HR.

It does sound as if HR has painted itself into a corner, or certainly opened itself up to some questions. Is it something that HR needs to address?

Ian Lithgow: I think on that point HR for a long time, has focused on how many people have they got? What’s our ratio of FTEs to HR etc as well as costs. That’s very useful information but it doesn’t tell you whether the quality of service is any good? Furthermore, what does it mean to the business? What does the business want?

Simon Lloyd: It’s what levers you can really pull to drive performance; that’s the key piece. In terms of metrics and benchmarking, there is a need for care.

Robert Bull: From a business HR perspective, I’ve been on both sides and you almost resent the shared service telling you how good your department is, in terms of the interface, when actually it’s probably not that good in terms of the interface, and it’s actually your problem, not the shared service.

How do you introduce structure in order to accommodate the operation and do all the transactional activity, combining shared services with centralised HR?

Mark Williamson: Business partners, case managers, shared services and technology must be embedded in the context of the business.

Rachel Anderson: I also think you need a certain amount of stability in the service centre, and people need to know the policies and then bring that capability, rather than move on.

Diane Field: At Ford, graduates rotate every six months as part of their rotation and development process, as they’re working to achieve their CIPD qualification. I agree that you need stability in a shared service but I think it is useful to have different skill sets within the team, and therefore it would be useful for a graduate, for personal development, but also for the skills they bring to the Shared service.

Martha Desmond: My experience is that at my previous company, we had a similar set up, where our HR graduates did a number of placements during a two year period. We tended to put them into the shared services on their second placement.

Diane Field: Shared services are a totally different environment from HR core business. When I moved into the shared services environment seven years ago, I was surprised at the operational side.

Do you think that’s because HR’s moved away from transactional duties and is more strategic-thinking?

Diane Field: HR has totally evolved over the last 20 years, as HR professionals we are now placed in a more strategic role within organisations.

Robert Bull: I have a different take on it – most people in HR I really believe are generalists. Some obviously rise to the talent top, maybe because they have extra special skills in comp or in development, but most are really what I would call generalists. And I’m not sure today whether the HR service centre professionals are part of that family.

David Long: I make sure that as far as possible people understand the whole end-to-end and they’re not there to just do admin; they’re there to advise the business on how their processes could be made more efficient. I think it’s very easy for people to fall into the trap of saying, ‘Well, shared services is just an administration and support centre”.

Ian Lithgow: A lot of people do put graduates into the shared service – let’s call it the front line, the first point of call, whether it’s a true shared service or a service centre – after they’ve had a role in the business, a front-line role. Because they better understand some of the business issues, so when somebody calls in, rather than asking a question by rote, they can actually ask the right question. I have experience of situations where individual’s might call in with a question, however the questions is not related to their real underlying problem. It’s the person at the end of the phone who actually has to ask the right type of questions to provide the right answer back to the individual.

Martha Desmond: The other thing for me is about making HR processes fit for purpose, there is a tendency to over-engineer things and spend an awful lot of time agonising over small details.

David Long: I’m probably going to be completely irreverent here but from a finance background one of the things I’ve noticed with HR is often people take quite a long time to come to a decision compared to the way we operate in finance.

Robert Bull: On a positive note, this makes you think a lot. As we’ve gone on this journey and we’re almost being a little too negative, the positive side is just think what we’ve achieved now in terms of our employee self-service. In our case, it’s mine but I’m sure everybody around the table has something similar where you’ve got your online payslips, your benefits information, your training transcripts. It’s just a fantastic step forward. So we actually can’t go back! We can improve, but we can’t go back.

Ian Lithgow: We can improve. I think what’s really interesting is when something like this model is implemented, the first time customers might say, ‘That’s fantastic – I’ve got the information back, it’s taken me five minutes; before it used to take me 25 minutes.’ Those that have been successful have ensured strong change management as part of the implementation. One successful change approach has been the concept of a day in the life of; this describes what’s it like now? And compares to what’s it going to be like in the future? This is useful because many line managers say to HR, ‘Well, all you’re doing is you’re giving me your administration to do.’ The counter argument is currently people have got to fill in forms. You’re just going to complete them electronically now.

David Long: I think the key for us is that we didn’t previously have a formal contact centre for HR administration. The number of heads that we put in there is not particularly significant; the cost is actually a minor part of this overall service offering and for that small amount of cost we’ve all of a sudden given 13,000 people an extremely powerful place to go and get help.

I imagine the most important thing is equality of access to shared services – how do you guarantee that all of your people have pretty much equal access to those shared services?

Chris Dale: We’ve got people that lay cables in the streets and then we have trading and sales guys who deal in energy globally and buying energy in multimillion dollar deals. So dealing with those in a service centre is a very different approach, and part of the growth of the individuals inside the organisation is understanding that actually, you’re providing the same service.

Michele Martin-Taylor: I also helped set up HR Shared Services at TFL, so if you can imagine we had train drivers and station assistants etc and it’s about having the flexible contact strategy; so not insisting that everything comes in through selfservice, highlighting that it’s okay to pick up the phone, and having the relevant hours of opening. HR shared services had extended opening hours – eight until six because, we felt that was appropriate at the time.

Ian Lithgow: And there’s actually language variations as well, people for whom English isn’t their first language.

Mark Williams: It’s about making sure that you’re lining those up with the needs of the customers in this overall. And if you do that effectively, you are going to be able to hit the vast majority of the customer base. You’re actually reflecting their needs as opposed to what you think their needs are and you’re then designing something that’s going to deliver the service for those needs. It won’t necessarily give you the cheapest solution, but most of the time it will give you the most valuable solution with the highest cost-benefit.

Simon Lloyd: We’re about to harmonise all our terms and conditions, and will write to people individually, because if you publish on the Internet alone or send an email, there is a good chance a number of people will not see the changes. Something like this is so important for a number of reasons, to accept some extra cost to ensure that you communicate properly.

What is the merit of discrete packages of activity?

Ian Lithgow: There seems to be a trend around things like discrete process outsourcing if you look at it in terms of shared operation and HR operation, it’s easier to get your hands on. It’s almost a case of ‘rather than trying to boil the ocean’, doing a big HR transformation, although I think you do lose a lot of the benefit of end to end processes, because HR, in my view is something where you don’t pull a bit out, it’s not modular. One piece has an impact on another process for example recruitment will impact performance management.

Rachel Anderson: I’ve seen an example where a company went from an end to end outsourcing, to an RPO. And particularly in the RPO space, that was to get that specialist knowledge that we really can’t get. I think recruitment in terms of access to talent pools, knowing how to get the right talent to meet the business requirements, you can’t get them an end to end transactional provider as well, as much.

Ian Lithgow: We’ve got SAP, we’ve got Oracle, we’ve got SAP and Oracle and everything in between. But a lot of organisations are still looking at best of breed application. And I’m not saying Oracle and SAP are not best of breed, but best of breed point solutions, and then gluing that together with middle ware. And that’s a very technology enabled approach.

Is that not a modular solution to something which, you’ve said, isn’t modular?

Ian Lithgow: I think there’s a difference between the process and the technology that supports that process. So you don’t need to have, necessarily, one system to support the process. What you want to have is an end to end process that, in theory, should be streamlined. Ideally, you want to standardise, simplify, automate and eliminate unnecessary aspects of the processes, but have something end to end, which flows through.

Martha Desmond: When we first implemented SAP we had an aspiration to have all our HR process hosted on SAP. We have now moved in a different direction. We realised that there are some very good stand alone systems which offer us more flexibility and fit our business requirements better.

Robert Bull: We have gone on to that. We introduced SAP HR, for all the transaction and financial reasons that we’re all familiar with, and over time it’s proven to be a good input tool, but an inadequate output tool for our organisation. We have what we call the bolt-ons, which we’ve lived with for the last ten years, and so our major investment, which we’re just going through at the moment, is to consolidate all of those into one product.

Michele Martin-Taylor: From a shared services set up perspective, one of the key things is getting the workflow management/CRM tool to work for you. Organisations can either choose to adopt SAP or Oracle CRM, or you can go down the bestof-breed route. We’ve gone for a best-of-breed bolt-on with an interface from Oracle, because it just allows you so much more flexibility.

Chris Dale: Employee self service and manager self-service using SAP back at the end of 2009, and we’re already in conversation with alternate providers for bolt-ons.

So does that mean there’s a sub provider that’s specifically looking at ways of integrating with existing systems. Is that the route forward?

Chris Dale: Yes, it sounds like Success Factor’s broken the mould for doing something like that.

Robert Bull: They out-performed SAP in the evaluation. I wasn’t personally involved, but we intuitively wanted to extend with SAP or take more of the output services that they provide but they we not successful in winning the contract.

If you’re in a situation where the business changes quite quickly, what is the best way to make sure that you’ve got a system in place that’s going to integrate with changing needs?

Simon Lloyd: I guess luckily we had the same provider. Slightly different systems, because Alliance & Leicester had Oracle and Santander had Peoplesoft. But we do have other systems that sit outside Peoplesoft, and to me, the critical issue is how the systems talk to each other and interface.

Don’t you just wish you could just wipe the slate clean and start afresh?

Mark Williamson: You can’t wipe the slate clean. I’ve been around in the systems area, as well as the HR area, for probably more than twenty years now, and certainly in the early part of that, there was an element of saying, well, we must be able to just define what the requirements are going to be, build the systems for them, and then that will be fine. And that, actually, was something that was pervasive for quite a few years. I think there’s also an element in the systems world, of trying to make things neater; I wouldn’t say simpler, but neater in terms of the application architecture. I take a different view. I take the view that the important things are the services that are provided by the systems, and how they are used to add value within the organisation, and how it’s used to deliver for the customers of your organisation.

So if you were all to collectively be either side of a whiteboard, Rachel, from a business that’s been through a great deal of change recently, what would be your ideal solution?

Rachel Anderson: I think it is something that gives you the flexibility and I think for me, to go back to where we started right at the beginning, don’t get distracted by thinking a technology implementation is going to fix your problems, it’s better to get the best out of what you’ve got.

And what about educating people who are coming into shared services?

Rachel Anderson: I think for me it’s key that actually, they see the service as an holistic piece, and to me, putting modular service in is quite dangerous because it gets people to think in that blinkered way, which is not really where I think HR ought to be.

Is that possible, a more organic or holistic view?

Rachel Anderson: I think so; the main question is what is the role profile that allows you to do that, while delivering an administrative and transactional service.

Robert Bull: There are a lot of people round the table that obviously have more in a shared service environment than I’m used to, but if we take the transactional part, HR is a bit more complex than that, but the transactional part, we’ve come a long way on that, and it’s almost you can’t go back.

Paul, would you agree with that, you’re currently dealing with decreasing numbers in terms of HR on the ground?

Paul Madge: What we’ve got to do is try and build resilience at the centre and one of the things that concerns me is the more cellular approach, doesn’t help that situation. Also I think, in terms, of if we think about career pathways and things for members of that workforce, I think it will also make it much more difficult.

Martha Desmond: One of the things for me also is also consistency. Rather than tweaking, we often go for full scale re-modelling. For me it is important to leave HR processes in place for a period of time so that line managers and employees can get used to them. The business appreciates the fact that you’re just making minor changes or improvements.

It seems to be that there’s an awful lot of fragmentation across the piece?

Mark Williamson: Going back to one of the points from earlier on, which was around people strategy, HR strategy and HR operating model. If you’ve got that defined effectively then I do believe you can plug services into that to a certain extent, be that software as a service, be that the RPO type routes etc. The key thing is you need to be absolutely clear on the service you’re delivering to your customers.

Simon Lloyd: I agree, and I think there is a continuum that says, where do you draw the line between HR and HR shared services, or is it actually all part of HR? In my view it’s all HR, because the business does not care.

Mark Williamson: I think in your role as an HR director, it is around that integration of service that HR delivers to the organisation. And then it’s your decision then, Simon, as to where do I source that service from, but it has to be a united and consistent front and service for the organisation.

Has the perception of what HR is expected to deliver significantly altered, or has HR made a rod for its own back?

Simon Lloyd: At the end of the day, the business still wants HR to deal with a number of its people problems. As long as it does that, then you have the opportunity to do more.

How can activities such as case management can be provided differently?

Mark Williamson: I think this was at the nub of how the boundaries or the perceived boundaries between shared services and operational HR work and our initial conversation there. In my experience, I’ve seen case management within shared services, within operational HR units within the business and within the business partner role, e.g. ‘junior business partners’. So there’s a whole variety of ways.

Ian Lithgow: The question to ask is, when is a case a case? Because a request might come in, which is, “it’s the fiftieth time we’ve had this request, for example when am I going to get paid, because it’s Christmas – what day is payday?” Is that a case? No, not really in my view. But other people might say it is. Then you’ve got, at the other extreme, a business unit manager, for example, wanting to have a project which is related to people related to how he can increase the pool of potential new recruits in a certain function and a certain skill. Is that a case, and who deals with that?

Michele Martin-Taylor: There are two different terminologies for this, are we talking case management, as in queries and pieces of work, or are we talking about discipline, grievance? If we’re talking about case management -discipline, grievance, etc., at the end of the day, they are end-to-end processes. It starts with someone doing something and it ends with a particular action, and there are a series of steps that you go through.

Chris Dale: Issues filter in and become cases. Basically, that’s how it works, the day-to-day grievances, the complaints and it’s just a case of working out how that can be processed.

Michele Martin-Taylor: The other side is the case management tool, which manages all your queries and work, but again, disciplinary or a grievance is just a more complex piece of work.

Carolyn Dyer: I personally would be reluctant to give up what I would call cases to a shared service environment, because everything is inter-related.

Martha Desmond: It isn’t about keeping you out of the loop, it’s about making sure that you’ve got the information you need about the various areas of the business.

So are you suggesting that the relinquishing of control is a concern, in terms of giving case management to outsourcing?

Martha Desmond: I guess my personal view is I wouldn’t tend to outsource disciplinary/grievance activity. I would put it into shared services, but not with an external provider.

Rachel Anderson: I would question that there’s a difference between shared services and outsourcing. Why would you be comfortable putting it in shared services and not comfortable to outsource it?

Michele Martin-Taylor: I think it depends on who your outsourcing partner is, where you’re proposing to outsource it. A number of companies have outsourced that kind of activity, then brought it back in-house, because of the rigidness around the service that’s been provided.

Chris Dale: Looking at our service provision, we’ve adopted a ‘biting off small chunks’ approach. One of the areas that we’ve got employees ringing in about was conflicting information from field HR on maternity/paternity/adoptive leave, and parental leave, which we now provide from shared services.

What is the best methodology and tools required for consolidating, disseminating and reporting various sources of data?

Robert Bull: As a data management officer for my organisation, it’s kind of a job that you get, and you wonder what it means and what the exposure is. In my experience, if you have the right systems, processes and subject matter experts, it seems to have passed fairly innocuously, over the years.

Ian Lithgow: In some respects, we need to look at it from the point of view of different levels of data. For example there will be employee specific data, and there’s basic HR data which is held in the system. Then you go to the other end of the spectrum, which is what management information is required, and what are some of the key management information drivers and outputs, that will drive the business and allow leaders to make decisions. It’s really understanding this. It goes back to the point that Mark was saying earlier on today, which was if you’ve got your business strategy and you’ve got your people strategy and then your HR strategy, from there you’ll get a line of sight between. Then appropriate management information can actually start showing you the link and impact on business strategy of different actions. So if we do various things from an HR perspective, we can see how that impacts the business strategy.

Rachel Anderson: I also think it’s about HR shared services having a broad understanding of what HR does outside of the immediate sphere of shared services; so they’ll know, for example, performance data might come from a different area of HR, but they understand what there is and where to get it and it’s importance to the business.

Does that go back to the situation of it not being in a cohesive place, that you can’t actually bring all the strands together?

Rachel Anderson: I almost think by definition it’s never going to be in one place, even with a fantastic SAP system, there are always going to be things that are somewhere else.

Michele Martin-Taylor: I think the data can be in different sources, however if you’re designing your shared services model or transforming it, it’s about making sure that you have a team that has the ability to pull all those data sources together and then present that one picture to the strategic business partner.

Diane Field: I agree with that and that’s one thing that we’re improving on continuously, in the HRSC. We have the ability to pull together from different sources a complete dossier of individual’s employment with the company. Dashboards of service levels etc. I still think we’re on a journey with reports, but we now have the infrastructure in place within the organisation to handle the majority of requests.

David Long: It’s a balance between centralisation, which is a good cost saving initiative and helps you with your strategic road map, versus, we just want to do some simple reporting, please.

Chris Dale: I’ve got a team of eight who are dedicated to reporting out of SAP and Oracle, using Business Warehouse as a tool. And they provide over four thousand reports on a monthly basis, most of which are standard, but even then you get a bit of bespoking. So we have the reverse situation.

Martha Desmond: We’ve moved to Business Warehouse as well, where managers can go in and they can pull out their own reports. We’ve got a suite of standard reports which are easily available and this saves us having to run loads of individual reports.

If you could all start with a clean slate, how would your shared services set up look?

Rachel Anderson: For me, it would be skills and talent, but it would be about having a higher level of talent of administrators who are capable of multi-skilling, who understand the business needs, who can think about that MI, how can I drive business performance, rather than just provide information? So for me it would be about the profile of the individuals.

Michele Martin-Taylor: I think for me, every organisation’s different, so and the culture of every organisation’s different, so I think the model must be adaptable. I think there is a common core framework that, in terms of your contact strategy, you have to have a contact centre, you have to have your administration, and then it’s about the value add services that you have within that.

Robert Bull: I think as a process company, as a six sigma company, I would have to agree with everything that’s going to be said in terms of quality and process, but what I also concentrate on is the 20 percent and the 80/20 rule, that is applicable to HR issues.

Carolyn Dyer: It’s an interesting one to reflect on, thinking about the dynamic between business partner and HR shared services. If I were to write the script it would certainly be about the talent and about raising the profile of people in HR shared services, so that they become more integrated and familiar with what happens in the business.

Martha Desmond: I think it’s that human side about maintaining that pragmatism; you’ve got processes and policies but we are dealing with human beings. It’s not just about transaction, there is an emotional connection.

Paul Madge: I think without having heard the output of the budget, I’d start off with something fairly fundamental. I’d like us to be able to give the organisation the service that it actually wants and needs, rather than the service that we can afford to give it, and I think that’s how things, particularly in the public sector, have shifted recently, and I suspect more so as of today. It will be a compromise, and that’s what concerns me.

David Long: Well, I suppose the key thing for me is customer services really, that’s the most important thing to think about. Coming from a finance background, you’re often focused on delivery to a smaller subset of the internal community. But with HR shared services this is about delivering a service to the whole company, not just to HR, but to every single person in the company, and you really need to understand what they want.

Is there a danger of being too close to the detail, should we not stand way back and look at the whole picture?

David Long: You don’t go into a board meeting with a great big strategy which says, I need to spend five million pounds over the next ten years and build a great big service centre.

Chris Dale: The pivotal part is what the HR model should look like, and people buying into it and having the governance structure around it – this is what we do and this is how we do it. Then tying that in with the fiscal and financial accountabilities that we should carry as an HR community which I’m not sure we do all the time.

Diane Field: Just driving continuous improvement, really, and raise the profile of the HR service centre within the organisation. I think we’ve got the right tools and team. But I’d like to see further improvements going forward.

Mark Williamson: The operating model for me is the key. Have clarity on that. But I think on the point around what does good shared services look like, then, to have the flexibility to be able to add services is important. If you are successful with your shared service delivery you will be asked to add more services to it. So, for me, that’s the key. Get it founded in the needs of the business and then have the ability to expand the services that it provides.

Ian Lithgow: I think it’s something around HR scaleabilty [ph] and being very allied to the business. I was just writing some things down here being allied to the business so at the end of the day the business says, that HR service is fantastic, and the business partners’ are brilliant, and I want another one, and I’m willing to pay for them. So actually, rather than sometimes being seen, as I have heard before HR is a tax an internal tax HR is not seen as that. It’s actually, you are giving such a great level of service, you are driving the business strategy that we need more of you and we’re going to pay for it. Because you’re really driving change here, and you’ve fundamentally altered the way we think, and you’ve got the right people in place, and you’ve helped us devise our people strategy for the next five or ten years.

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20 June 2024


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