Shared Services Centers and the Myth of Scale | Blog

Posted On September 26, 2019

Shared Services Centers (SSCs) – what we refer to as Global In-house Centers (GICs) – need to achieve breakeven to be financially viable. The breakeven equation is straightforward: the point at which total labor arbitrage (the average difference in labor cost between the SSC and a center at home) is equal to the SSC’s run cost (all non-labor costs such as facility rent, utilities, training, recruitment, travel, and other miscellaneous costs.)

Conventional wisdom says that that only large centers with a minimum of 1,000 FTEs can achieve breakeven. But that’s old-school thinking, and old-world reality.

We analyzed the breakeven point for 850 GICs in today’s digital world across a variety of factors, including the scope and complexity of services delivered, locations leveraged, and employee profiles. And we found that even an SSC with as few as 25 FTEs can be financially viable if it is delivering high-end, judgment-intensive services.

The rise of small SSCs/GICs

In the last three years, the average SSC scale, as measured by the number of FTEs, has declined by about 60 percent.

Why are we seeing this significant increase in small-scale centers? Several reasons:

  • Lower barriers to entry: Technology advancements facilitate better collaboration and knowledge transfer among leadership and peers
  • More robust ecosystem: Better infrastructure, access to a large talent pool with relevant technical and functional skills, and multiple professional services firms to provide on-ground support
  • Lower cost: Easier access to cost-competitive real estate, and wider availability of talent with the relevant functional, and managerial skills.

Today, it’s not about scale…it’s about alignment with the broader sourcing strategy

Ever since the inception of the SSC model, enterprises have been relying on their centers to improve products, processes, customer and employee experiences, build high-value skills, and drive operational excellence. But in today’s environment, scale no longer matters. Why? Because some of the main levers for SSC success, such as enhancing cultural integration, accelerating the strategic agenda (e.g., innovation, digital transformation), facilitating cross-functional collaboration, and promoting process ownership, are scale-agnostic.

Today, the decision on whether or not to establish a delivery center must be based on how it aligns with the enterprise’s broader sourcing strategy. In particular, enterprises should assess whether the SSC/GIC can help them:

  • Retain and strengthen in-house capabilities, especially for core intellectual property intensive work
  • Develop tighter integration (better control and governance) and stronger alignment on culture and brand
  • Accelerate the adoption of digital and other disruptive technologies such as automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence.

The next time you’re thinking about setting up a new SSC/GIC, don’t let the scale of the center – or lack thereof – stop you from exploring the possibilities!

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