Expert Insights

SSCs: are companies missing the bigger picture?

Shared services centres (SSCs) have been used successfully by businesses to streamline back office functions and save money. But could they do more? Could the SSC extend its portfolio to wider business services to drive performance and growth? Business services design and management expert Phil Lambert believes so.

After riding out the storm of the global economic crisis, companies are turning their attention to growth. Yet while many explore untapped potential in their sales or operations teams, how many are thinking about their SSC as a catalyst for a brighter future?

Phil believes that the potential for organisations is huge. “The holy grail for an SSC shouldn’t be about simply saving money, it should be about creating a business services function,” he says. “Yes, cost is vitally important but an integrated SSC can be a real platform for corporate change. Not enough businesses are grasping the opportunity to separate out strategic work, business-facing decision taking and transactional delivery. This three-way split can be applied across all functions of the business.

The holy grail for an SSC shouldn’t be about simply saving money, it should be about creating a business services function

“By removing the transactional elements from your front-line operating units, the end-to-end process becomes much more streamlined, with the appropriate highly skilled subject matter experts doing the parts of the process in which they excel. I hesitate to define this as a client-supplier relationship because it needs to be more than that: a highly mature working relationship with a clearly defined set of interdependencies ensuring quality delivery along the process chain.

“Focus on everyone’s contribution will mean slicker delivery at the transactional end (SSC), higher value output for the business and more time and space to address business issues (front line and business partner) and certainty for the head office that corporate policy is being delivered (strategic).”

Service culture

A good example of this is customer service. Excellent customer service is closely aligned with client retention, service improvement and new business growth. Phil recalls that during a public sector assignment he brought complaint handling into the SSC. “We were getting hundreds of complex complaints copied all over the place, including to various ministers, secretaries of state and even the Prime Minister. We created an SSC complaints-handling function within the centre that allowed us to bring rigour and professionalism, ensuring complaints were handled efficiently and consistently while recognising the interests of all stakeholders. Those handling complaints grew as highly skilled communications experts with the ability to craft quality responses while providing the business with data and insight to grow and improve.

Ultimately this inspires a service culture, with dedicated functions within the SSC meeting the needs of their customers, whether internal or external. This in turn drives a high-performing culture of clear targets, better processes, clear feedback channels and continuous improvement, which demands upskilled staff through training and qualifications. All of which, of course, contributes to overall better business performance.

Strong sponsorship, good communication

For companies thinking of transforming their SSC, Phil says that the first move should be understanding exactly what would work best for them and how it would fit into their corporate culture. But regardless of what you move into the SSC, he believes there will be hostility: “If you’re a local MD, or business unit head you’ll probably feel uncomfortable seeing the support or back office functions removed. So there are two secrets to successful transformation: strong, committed executive sponsorship and clear communication to win hearts and minds. I’ve seen this type of change fall short of initial expectations because business sponsors were not fully committed to driving the programme as hard as they could.

“Also, you can’t allow performance of support functions to dip when a function is put into the SSC. The overwhelming expectations of the business will certainly be that process performance will improve. Sure, there will be an element of tolerance during the transition but it will undoubtedly be a short honeymoon! Therefore business must invest in process and process excellence, in continuous improvement and staff training and engagement.

“Get it right and your SSC will contribute more to your business than bottom line business case projections. It will become a true business services provider that’s professional, respected, engaged in end-to-end service delivery and which will inspire a high-performance culture that everyone in your organisation finds infectious.”


  • Shared services centres have the potential to be business services centres.
  • Anything transactional can work in the SSC.
  • The SSC should drive a high-performance and quality service culture.
  • SSC transformation demands strong executive sponsorship and inspiring communication

Phil Lambert

Phil Lambert has board-level experience across multiple industries, and has been involved in largescale business transformation projects in both the public and private sector. He has vast experience and expertise in SSC management, process redesign, e-enablement and customer services initiatives.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.