Article by Dan French, CEO, Consider Solutions.
There is little doubt now the Global Process Owner is emerging as a leadership role with a sales focus on people, process, and change, just as the early Shared Services Leaders found.
I was lucky enough to be invited, attend and share experiences at the 2017 North American Global Process Ownership Summit, chaired by Susie West of sharedserviceslink, on a rainy two days in Chicago at the end of May.
The Global Process Owners (GPOs) that attended represented a broad base of global and North American businesses. A few had been running with the GPO concept for a decade, many for 2-3 years, and some were just starting out.
The agenda was highly participative, with presentations from subject matter experts, GPOs sharing their organization’s experiences and journey, nicely spiced up with roundtable group discussions on various GPO-related topics.
The agenda included sessions on innovation, process blueprints, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) & Machine Learning, GPO implementation, global standardization, identifying and overcoming barriers to becoming an effective GPO, and process improvement technologies and techniques. Most sessions were focused on the GPO discipline itself, while some were specific to the classic finance end-to-end process cycles of Order-to-Cash (O2C), Purchase-to-Pay (P2P), and Record-to-Report (R2R).
Some of the discussions reinforced my views, and many challenged them. I came away having learned a lot and appreciating many different perspectives. The key to progress starts with understanding!
I thought I would summarise the key things I learned, or reinforced, during the summit. Feel free to agree, debate or disagree...
THE ‘WHY’ AND ‘WHAT’ OF THE GPO
- What is the catalyst for the Global Process Owner? Why have one?
- It is clear that some of the key drivers in creating the role are major strategic process events: Shared Services introduction, new ERP implementation, and the SOX compliance mandate were three that came up. If you don’t yet have a GPO focus, you need to get the answer to ‘why’: what business outcome are we promising the executive team and our stakeholders? This is, in itself, quite a task.
- What should be the role of the GPO?
- Process Visionary or Process Operator, To-Be vs. As-Is? Can the GPO be both responsible for today’s As-Is process and tomorrow’s To-Be process? There is no simple answer, and it seems to depend upon the answer to the first question. In terms of human qualities of an effective GPO, there was more consensus - Alignment, Accountability & Trust are key.
- What should be the scope of the Process being GPO’d?
- ERP scope or genuine business scope? Many, if not most, organizations tend towards the former, relating in a large part to GPO genesis as part of an ERP implementation. However, it was clear that an effective GPO needs to take a genuine ‘end-to-end’ process, rather than just system, view. We need to define scope, start and end, but there is little point in building a vision of the future ‘Order-to-Cash’ process without understanding the nature and direction of marketing and customer acquisition in the organization.
THE ‘HOW’ OF THE GPO
- How to make the business case for Global Process Ownership?
- This relates to the previous points, but is a key question. Some GPOs struggle with the challenge of being a part-time gatekeeper. This is obviously not healthy, but, without a compelling case for action for each Global Process, we get what we deserve. We must focus on the key business outcomes that matter. One example shared privately was that of a P2P, or, more correctly, a Source to Pay GPO, whose role was defined not on incremental efficiency gains in the process, but by the higher prize of ensuring that the contractual outcomes of Sourcing and Procurement delivered follow through, and show measurable savings in business operations. This was a large ticket outcome with clear focus.
- Human Factors prevail in implementing change.
- Surprised? No, I thought not. But we had healthy roundtable discussions that returned to this topic several times. The GPO faces some natural human behavioural / psychological barriers. We don’t like other folk messing with ‘our stuff’. We discussed some excellent tactics in winning hearts and minds, which all take effort. There is a lot of evidence that, by FIRST asking questions of the countries, regions, and operations 'what is best about their current process' as well as 'what is challenging them', great strides can be made. One delegate shared their use of ‘Human Centred Design’ psychology with an As-Is process review approach using “Rose, Thorn, Bud” thinking. The process was successful. Ask the regions before deciding on your strategy – don’t assume the HQ territory is representative of best practice! An introduction to the approach can be found here.
- Stakeholders, participants, and change management.
- We all know we need to identify them, but it is not as easy as we might think to find them all in a large, global business. Invest time in understanding stakeholders, and not just the existing ones. Consider those who might be impacted around the world. Spend time to understand who the process participants are. Map them out. It’s worth the effort! Stakeholder management and ‘making change happen’ are closely linked. The insights here coalesced around the need to invest in stakeholder and participant identification, relationship, and communication, as well as those other soft skills relating to the human factors of change, summarised above.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE GPO
- “Eureka” – Innovation is not a bath-time experience.
- We all are primed to assume that innovation is some magical, divine innovation. Based on quotes from Einstein and others, we were reminded that innovation is an activity that requires practice and persistence. Start every day with a blank sheet for new ideas. Practice and develop the capability to interconnect other people’s ideas and experiences with your own. The definition of insanity is, of course, doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results!
- The ‘G’ Word.
- Globalisation - A global context and mandate needs a global approach. Equally, the devil is in the detail. We talk easily about process excellence and agility. What do these terms actually mean – we need to be clear on desired outcomes. A particular region may feel that their local process excellence and agility is predicated on a local approach. They may even be able to prove it! How do we manage the potential conflict with a globally consistent approach and the benefits that may give in terms of strategic flexibility?
- RPA and Machine Learning
- It was a healthy indicator that the topic of Global PROCESS ownership was not subsumed within a technology debate as can sometimes be the case. However, we learned that 9% of GPOs are in productive usage with RPA. Despite the ‘buzzword bingo’ of the global technology marketing machine, we learned that RPA and Artificial Intelligence (of which Machine Learning is a sub-discipline) are very different things, and should not be confused or conflated. RPA is about integration disparate applications to eliminate redundant re-keying efforts, whilst Machine Learning is a way of developing software without defining procedural rules, rather by learning from the patterns and behaviour of large bodies of data. RPA offers productivity increases in transactional tasks, whereas Machine Learning offers us new types of insight to more complex topics. Both technologies have potential for major impact for the GPO, but only as delivery techniques. As GPOs we should be focussing on business outcomes, for which these, and other, technologies can be optional delivery technologies. As a leading RPA case study organization told us, “RPA is about fixing the potholes in the road. Do not confuse it with building the new highway”.
- The Importance of Numbers.
- ‘The Three As’, as in "ASSESS, take ACTION, APPLY lessons” was an instantly memorable process approach, as were the 6 qualities of the GPO: Thought Process/Vision, Business Experience (not just knowledge), Social Skills, Leadership, Driving Results, and Problem Solving! Oh, and these 10 lessons all reminded me of the power of numbers on memory and learning. Associate important sets of facts with numbers and they are easier to recall coherently!
I am sure there are other lessons I have missed, but I believe the evolution of the Global Process Owner, or any role, requires us to understand, internalise, and learn from experience and insight.
As a GPO, you are tasked with concurrently telling the story of change, running agile programmes to drive change, leading your team, managing up, managing down, managing across, convincing some stakeholders that the end-to-end process actually matters, convincing others that we are not going to create a ‘process nirvana’, promoting innovation in one breath, whilst trying to stop too much investment in shiny but ineffective technology distractions on the other, all the while being seen as ‘overhead’ and a potential threat to other leaders in the business.
It’s a breeze being a GPO...
Thanks for reading.
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