Improving Workflow Through Shared Service Management

0515VanElsackerArtCurrent economic developments drive businesses to work more efficiently and cut costs. Improving their service management by working in a more process-driven manner helps every business achieve this. Unfortunately, even the thought of implementing such processes often scares people; they see images of an everlasting project, which they can only hope will be successful. If we take a step back, however, and look at the essentials of introducing these processes and then look at an example of our daily life, it is suddenly not so scary anymore.

Service management

Let’s first look at a definition of service management: it refers to the entirety of activities — directed by policies, organized and structured in processes and supporting procedures — that are performed by an organization or part of an organization to plan, deliver, operate and control services offered to customers.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Within an organization this could be the IT, HR or facilities department offering services to the employees (coffee, email, a computer, payroll, etc.). The workflows they use to follow the procedures and policies to actually deliver these services are part of their service management.

Within service management there are three pillars to make it successful: people, process and technology. They are equally valuable.

A real-world example

You might not always be consciously aware of this, but in our daily life we see a lot of service management cases. Dining out at a restaurant is a very good example of this. They have successfully implemented the three pillars in service management: They have the people to deliver the services, the processes are clear and they have the correct technology at hand.

The whole thing starts immediately when you come inside the restaurant and you get a designated waiter for your table who will be your single point of contact for your entire visit. He or she will take care of all communication to other “departments,” such as the bar and the kitchen, and will keep you informed of the status of your order (which is an actual service that you requested). If there is any delay, problem or extra information needed, the waiter will communicate that directly with you.

There are dedicated people for specific tasks: dishwashers, bartenders, waiters, hosts, sommeliers, cooks, prep cooks, and the list goes on. They are even divided into front-of-house and back-of-house roles, similar to what we see in supporting departments within organizations with a front and back office. In this example, only front-of-house roles are in contact with the customer.

The processes and workflows are clearly defined. In a lot of cases you could argue that it is just the logical thing to do and there is no real thought behind it, but it does take a great deal of coordination and communication to make sure the restaurant customers get their food just as they ordered in a timely manner even if the customer asked for something that deviates from the standard menu offering.

Last but not least, restaurants, of course, have the necessary technology at hand to support the employees throughout the entire process.

When we zoom out with this example, you see that the processes in your organization actually have a lot in common with those of the restaurant. When, for example, a new employee has been hired and the setup of a workstation has been requested, there are also a lot of activities to be done in a certain order while one person will be the one responsible for coordinating and communicating to the one that requested this. Now it’s just about taking the scary part out of it and focusing on the right things to implement them successfully.

The essentials: Focus on the three pillars

Implementing a more process-driven or workflow-driven way of working starts with leaders describing the current and the desired outcomes for the process. Don’t expect that just writing these down and sending them to your employees is all that needs to be done, however. Doing just that minimum could actually have the opposite effect and create resistance with employees. Implementing these work procedures step by step will make sure they can be tested in practice, and adjusted where needed. Also, measuring the result of the steps you have taken to implement these procedures along the way is, therefore, very important.

Describing a process is a first step toward working more efficiently. Doing so makes sure everyone knows what is to be expected and what needs to be done in a specific situation. Beware of the pitfall of becoming too bureaucratic and look for a healthy balance to ensure you remain flexible.

That brings us to the second pillar: People. If you focus on their process awareness and the benefits it has for them, this will improve your efficiency a great deal and will keep organizational bureaucracy down to a minimum. That is why it is important that people are aware they are part of a process, and if one person does not follow it, their colleagues and, more importantly, the customer, will feel the nuisance.

The third pillar, technology, is equally important, as it will not only support you in communicating about what services you deliver, but also helps you assist in following the workflows that are set out in the processes.

The next step: Shared Service Management

There is something else that makes a difference, and that can take your efficiency to an even higher level. It’s called shared service management.

Let’s go back to our restaurant example. Think of a restaurant where you come in with your family for a nice Sunday lunch. You want to order fish, your spouse wants to order meat and your son will go for an item on the kids’ menu. Now imagine that you will get four waiters: one for the fish, one for the meat, one for the kids’ menu and one for the drinks. Such a scenario would likely mean you would not get your food at the table all at the same time, and would constantly be interrupted by one of the four waiters as they came to deliver items to your table. This would probably not make your dining out experience in that particular restaurant very enjoyable. On top of that, it would probably be an expensive restaurant with all the staff needed to stay on top of things. Thus, you would probably not accept this and, as a consequence, not go back.

Now isn’t that exactly what happens within many organizations?

Take a look at the workflow and procedures you have to follow when a new employee starts in your organization. You probably have to contact HR for the contract and onboarding paperwork to set up benefits and payroll. Then you have to contact the IT department for a computer, software, email and a phone, and let’s not forget the facilities department, from whom you have to request an office, furniture and keys.

Needless to say, this can be done much more efficiently if these departments work closely together, which is what we call “shared service management.” Implementing such an approach can take on various forms from sharing a tool and sharing processes to sharing one actual service desk too. As with implementing a more process-driven way of working, implementing shared service management needs to be taken step by step, it should be seen as a growth model.

An easy first step could be to simply improve communication. For example, sit together with the various departments involved in the onboarding of new employees and define a workflow that has all the steps in there for the different departments and enables the employee having to do just one request — just like ordering different menu items in a restaurant with one waiter.

Now isn’t that improving organizational efficiency without having to be scared?

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Workflow.

Nancy Van Elsacker is president of TOPdesk.