Since the inception of offshored shared services, sometimes referred to as “Global In-house Centers” (GICs), the underlying assumptions were that (a) size matters and (b) the choice of functions (transactional, scale-driven processes) was a driver for gaining offshoring benefits. But the world has changed. The size and functions constraints no longer pose a barrier to entry when building offshore shared services centers.
The assumption that size matters developed because of the complexities and long learning curves in building centers offshore, including:
- Finding leadership
- Negotiating for real estate
- Navigating complex tax regulations
- Understanding cultural differences for talent management
- Navigating the complex telecommunications labyrinth
- Technology barriers to effective collaboration
- Building institutional knowledge about how to transfer work at scale to an offshore party.
These complexities required a minimum level of scale for offshore shared services to justify the investment and deliver value.
In 2019, most of these challenges no longer exist or pose a high barrier for building a new shared service center as they did a few years ago. Several factors evolved to expand opportunities for building shared service centers of all sizes.
For example, sophisticated leadership is readily available. Today, in India or the Philippines, there is a large pool of executives that have successfully built and run shared service units or GICs. When you hire them, they can quickly assemble a complete team across all dimensions to equip a new shared service center.
Likewise, the complexity and difficulty in finding and securing real estate is now dramatically simpler. Offshore facilities today can rely on improved infrastructure and connectivity. Facilities are readily available and often already furnished with real estate brokers ready and able to facilitate the transactions. There is a broad market acceptance that India and the Philippines have good hotels and retail facilities, good food, are safe, and have good air transport.
Advisors now understand the tax treaties. Accountants and lawyers know how to construct the appropriate legal entities (e.g., LLPs vs. wholly owned subsidiaries) and structure them to be tax and compliance efficient. They also understand the government entities and licensing and are eager to assist new entrants.
The services industry’s current level of maturity enables successful practices based on past lessons learned for offshore shared service centers. The philosophies and methodologies to transfer work and run the work effectively are widely available with training available for the uninitiated. Today, we understand the role of the center and how to integrate it with the parent organization. Furthermore, we now have technology tools and collaboration platforms that facilitate remote workforce management.
So, the barrier to entry, which was prevalent earlier, now is dramatically lower. Today, it’s much easier and cheaper to start a new center. This results in two areas of growth for shared service centers:
- Small to mid-sized organizations
- Larger firms moving away from third-party services
Small to Mid-sized Organizations
In the past, companies needed to spread the learning curve and expense over a large number of FTEs and many functions. In addition, technology platforms enable better collaboration, thus dramatically reducing dependence of colocation. These factors change the return on investment or viability of small entities.
Now that the need to scale is reduced, companies can get a strong return, even for sometimes as few as 50 seats, depending on the function. They can also make a significant impact to EBIDTA for their parent companies, even at a much smaller scale.
The reduced scale factor dramatically changes the landscape in which companies can, and should, consider having an offshore facility. Until now, the prevailing wisdom was that companies sized at $50 million to $2 billion were too small to tap into having their own shared service center and must, instead, go through third parties. Everest Group’s market benchmarking reveals that almost half the new shared service centers set up since 2014 were established by small (<$1.5 billion revenue) and mid-sized (<$10 billion revenue) enterprises. Today, with the lower barrier to entry and reduced scale factor, even a small $50 million firm (depending on what the services involve) could and should confidently look at building its own offshore shared service capability.
Clearly, the economics change significantly, depending upon the function or skill set the company seeks to acquire. The highest return is in IT engineering functions and areas such as analytics. But even the threshold for corporate functions is dramatically shifting for shared services with 100-150 people.
Looking at the relative market penetration of GICs or offshore shared services in the $50 million to $2 billion marketplace, it’s clear that only a very small proportion of these firms are taking advantage of this now-affordable and high-return mechanism. The reduced barrier to entry and reduced scale factor suggests that these firms should now pay attention; as they do, we could well see an explosion of small shared service entities being established offshore.
Larger Firms Shifting Away from Third Parties
The shift in economics also impacts larger firms, leading them away from third-party service providers and opting for the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement. We’re seeing rapid growth of the number of new shared service centers as well as the growing size of the shared service or GIC communities in locations such as India, the Philippines and Eastern Europe.
The offshore shared services market is growing rapidly for companies of all sizes. The earlier constraints for entry and need for large scale are no longer a factor. In fact, the constraint facing firms today is one of mind-set, not of ability.