INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH
INTERVIEW WITH MR. SAMEER MADAN,
Director Finance-Agilent Technologies
How has COVID-19 impacted the shared service operating model? What changes are you seeing?
Stereotyped theories and long-held beliefs around the shared services landscape have been challenged during the pandemic. Nimble SSC organizations with a digitally oriented workforce have been able to adapt a lot better. Digitization is a universal mantra, and the pandemic has only accentuated it. SSCs who had had a futuristic IT network, robust learning and development environment – both on their domain knowledge as well as industry orientation, and most importantly an element of trust as their culture has come out even stronger. Since physical proximity wasn’t possible, only those companies succeeded which had invested in their staff and their leaders believed in proactive communication. The changes are coming in thick and fast challenging all conventional wisdom, orthodoxies and inefficiencies which had crept in over the years. As employees found better and leaner ways to be more productive and effective, they followed what I call a “process shredder” approach where they relooked at all the steps, their interlinkages and completely re-engineered the process. They came better prepared for meetings, with more meaningful analysis thereby adding value to their business stakeholders. What also helped them is flexibility in their work hours, less travel time, and the desire to keep their stakeholders/clients happy.
What are the top 5 factors that enterprises should keep in mind to build as they build and mature their shared services?
I would say the following:
- Invest more and more in people development as reskilling and continuous learning is the only way forward. With large-scale technological disruptions make business models obsolete almost overnight, it’s key that we have a future-ready workforce. And for that, we need leadership that is abreast of all the changes coming our way and lead by example i.e. adopt technology in a big way. Domain knowledge but more importantly its integration with IT systems will be the game changer and differentiator for any SSC. Working on the emotional quotient of employees is now even more important as frequent changes in business models result in burnout. Using psychometric tests as one of the tools while hiring folks is something, I am a big advocate of – it helps you hire the right “skill” with the right” will.
- Invest more in IT and related infrastructure – Traditionally physical infrastructure was the need of the hour, now it is all about a digital economy. Remote working is the future, and we need to have a secure and reliable IT network. The gig workers are going to be an integral part of your workforce along with bots – learn to co-live with all three i.e. employees, gig workers and of course bots.
- Look at all operations from an end-to-end perspective and benchmark with an objective to derive synergies and inculcate “problem-solving skills”. SSCs have been notorious in terms of functioning in silos, it is time now to change that offer and seamless and more cost-effective solution. This would entail greater collaboration with both the upstream and downstream stakeholders.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – do it all over again. Communication is the key, with all the stakeholders i.e. internal as well as external. Whether it’s your mission, vision, strategy, results, strengths and even areas of development – talk about it. It’s so critical to have folks on the same page. Needless to saying “listening” is an integral part of “communicating” as well.
- Be nimble – earlier there were two types of SSCs i.e. big or small. Now for you to succeed it doesn’t matter whether you are big or small – what matters is how fast or slow you are to adapt to the changing environment. Even if you must fail, fail “fast” and course correct “fast”!!
How do you see the shared service organization of the future look like? What factors will contribute to its changes?
The future of any SSC is dependent on how well they embrace technology and follow an ESA approach i.e. Eliminate, simplify, and automate. As business models change, they bring their unique set of risks. SSCs should be able to flag them and provide their mitigation. I see SSCs as more of consulting firms providing solutions and insights. The vast experience gathered over the years across multiple lines of businesses/clients should be used to continuously re-engineer the processes. A real game-changer would be if SSCs start creating their own proprietary platforms to perform established processes like P2P, O2C, R2R and even create IPRs. Some of the SSCs have already done this and the lines between SSCs and consulting/IT firms are getting more and more blurred. The key as I have explained earlier is to have the right people, processes and technology in place supported by a conducive environment.
What is the role of a Shared service leader in building a digitally mature organization?
An SSC leader should have a bird’ eye view of the changing operating landscape. He/she needs to be able to catch the trends and prepare for change much before others see it coming. Understanding the current pain points or bottlenecks and then rallying the teams to solve them would help a leader main the SSC’s competitive advantage. The ability to build motivated and committed teams who understand the ever-evolving technology landscape is a must. Long-term vision and unwavering faith in embracing change are the qualities that an SSC leader must possess.
What is next for Agilent Technologies in terms of digital? Could you share some of the transformations that you have undertaken in your current organization? What business benefit has this yielded?
Agilent is NYSE listed global leader in the life sciences and biotechnology space. Any company irrespective of its industry is also in many ways a “digital technology” company. Whether it is adopting digital technologies to sell its products/services, mine the humongous amounts of data available to detect trends and customer behavior patterns and also ensure that the outputs of their products are available on a real time online basis with meaningful insights. Agilent embarked on its digital journey a long time back – we have a robust digital B2B selling platform, a digital marketing platform, CX platform and above all our products and services generate “digital” output for our end customers. We made sure that all our employees are fully trained to handle all digital tools to enable future growth. All our IT systems are state of the art which enabled us to keep the business afloat even during the pandemic i.e. use our digital platforms to sell and even be able to service/repair our customers’ equipment via various video conferencing modes. Our digital penetration has helped us gain even more market share as we could reach geographical areas where we were not present and now can be serviced digitally.