Financial Shared Services and How to Avoid the Inefficiency Trap
In large corporations, it is becoming increasingly common to find multiple finance functions amalgamated into one financial shared services centre.
The shared service approach provides a centre of excellence within large businesses, but according to Andrew Hayden, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Winshuttle, the challenge finance organisations often face is how to successfully transition separate business units’ processes and data into one single set of systems, and it can be an onerous process which, unless handled correctly, could result in less efficiency, not more.
The shared services model can help corporate finance teams meet their efficiency targets but avoiding the inefficiency trap caused by moving and transforming financial data into one place is essential if the business is going to meet strict efficiency targets.
Beyond ‘lift and shift’
When an organisation decides to move to a centralised shared service approach, the first step is usually to pull existing financial processes out of the hands of disparate accounting functions and business subsidiaries and pass them all into the new central function. Adopting this new structure typically means one team now handles all financial transactions, but they are still using a variety of systems – from spreadsheets and homegrown software to individual accounting platforms.
Implementing shared services requires a high degree of change within the business, and so it makes sense to maximise the benefits of doing so. This can only really be achieved when the actual financial processes themselves are streamlined to one central financial platform, quite commonly SAP.
A significant part of this system consolidation is the movement of data from A to B. Moving huge volumes of data manually is slow and time-consuming, and one approach that some shared service centres are adopting to significantly speed up operations is robotic process automation (RPA).
RPA in action
Here, we look at how SAP-specific RPA software solutions helped organisations including Vodafone, Anglo-American, and Novacon successfully streamline data in their shared financial services environments.
Vodafone decreases transaction processing time
At Vodafone, the shared financial services centre now handles the bulk of the organisation’s financial management, processes and transactions including fixed assets, Purchase to Pay, Record to Report and General Ledger.
Handling considerable volumes of assets within one SAP database proved challenging in this dynamic and frequently changing environment. In one area of the business, Vodafone had nine million assets and 100 thousand postings per month, which would typically take six months to process.
The task of doing so included using five different SAP screens and two different transactions, so a 100-line item record would take up to 60 minutes to process manually. To drive shared services efficiency, Vodafone used an SAP-specific RPA solution. It automatically posts data to SAP via Vodafone Excel workbooks, eliminating data entry through the SAP GUI and reducing the processing time to 15 minutes.
“The system works very well for us,” says Peter Barta, Asset and Project Accounting Team Leader, Vodafone, adding “our complicated processes are handled in fewer steps, which reduces time spent on complex postings and allows us to avoid any internal IT debt.”
Anglo-American increase efficiency savings by 80%
Anglo-American needed to implement a global shared services project to optimise business processes through common procedures. This required thousands of entries that needed to be manually processed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This repetitive and time-consuming task needed an effective solution without increasing resource capacity.
By choosing an SAP-specific RPA solution, Anglo-American was able to overcome these challenges without needing to employ specialists to transfer volumes of data. Procedures that would normally take a week now take only a day to process, increasing efficiency savings by 80%.
Novacon prevents data entry errors before they happen
Novacon, a lean management data company, faced challenges with data and process accuracy when working with a large shared service centre. Using an SAP-specific RPA solution it validated data entry against all business and SAP rules, preventing errors before they happen with a rate of 99+% accuracy in SAP. This also enabled a shorter development time of two months and at a lower cost compared to generic RPA technology.
Without doubt, shared services centres offer significant potential for finance to become more efficient, but it must be approached correctly, especially when it comes to the transference of data. Otherwise the organisation could find itself stuck in the inefficiency trap.