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It is clear that businesses with vision and imagination have moved beyond tentative steps to improve operational efficiency.

Global business services operations make it possible for the rest of the company to concentrate its energy on successful and sustainable growth.

Getting ahead in the growth game

To perform best, companies need a framework where customer-facing business functions can concentrate on delivering value to the marketplace.

Businesses began using shared service centers and outsourcing to improve back-office efficiency more than two decades ago. Finance led the way, followed by IT.

The intention was to move routine, transactional work to specialists dedicated to processing it more efficiently at lower cost. This left the business free to be more volatile and focus on its customers. Shared service centers were the in-house solution, while outsourcing firms provided an external option.

Over the last 20 years, both shared services and outsourcing have become more sophisticated. Businesses have explored offshoring, scouring the globe for the optimal location and the best providers.

They have experimented with hybrid models using both shared services and outsourcing. And they have taken advantage of steadily improving technology, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

The results have been impressive, with organizations routinely able to capture improved performance at lower cost from their support functions. Now, however, businesses are ready for the next stage of this evolution: implementing a multifunctional approach to shared services.

"This isn't about revenue or margins, which is where most of the global corporations try to do shared services. This idea is to have a scalable platform ready for the growth that the company is expecting and already experiencing." Piyush Gupta, Senior Executive Vice President for Business Transformation and Head of Shared Services at Reliance

The evolution of global business services

But what do these multifunctional global business services structures look like? And how will they evolve to support and enhance the businesses they serve?

These are the questions this report sets out to answer.

Today many high-performing companies have abandoned structures defined by narrow business functions such as finance or IT. Instead, they choose to focus on delivering standardized, end-to-end processes.

Companies recognize that their businesses need more than rigorous attention to cost. This remains vital, of course, but added value, strategic input and analytics are also required. It's no coincidence that top performing companies stand out precisely because they have achieved many of these benefits.

What is it that these high performers are doing differently? In this evolving multifunctional shared services model there are 10 factors that define the best shared services and outsourcing.

Making the transition work

Companies on this path have reached one of four distinct stages, each with a different level of integration. "It is a journey, but the final vision and concept has been programmed by a confluence of several key factors, which means now is the moment for the next step," says Paul Wood, Advisory Partner and specialist in shared services and outsourcing at EY.

Companies confront problems differently, but those that follow basic rules in implementing a multifunctional approach find the transition more effective.

We explore these questions and more across the following topics: