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What's happening at the cutting edge of SSC process development and what does it mean for CIMA members? Insight asks a leading light in shared services at Shell, Ian Robertson FCMA. By Tim Cooper, editor, e-magazines, CIMA.
Shell announced recently that CIMA is one of three global finance qualifications of choice for its finance employees. The company employs over 650 CIMA members and students operating out of 49 countries. Many of them work in one of its six shared service centres (SSCs) around the world - in Guatemala, Glasgow, Krakow, Chennai, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. In addition, the Glasgow centre has a satellite in Athens.As in most companies shared services are still a young concept at Shell - its oldest centre, in Glasgow, is still only 10 years old. But in 2004 the company developed a ‘new, strategic intent to make more use of shared services’. Since then the number of people working in SSCs has risen by more than 200%. This means that about 50% of all finance staff in Shell are working in shared services.
World class strategyIan Robertson FCMA has worked for Shell for 30 years in a wide variety of roles and locations. He is based in Singapore where he first came to work as CFO for the downstream business in the East and later got involved in ‘trying to develop a top quartile, world-class finance shared services strategy’. As that evolved, he started running the strategy full time. He described his roles as very much hands-on in, for example, choosing the sites and recruiting the management teams.In the first phase of development, centres tended to look after everything in their own region.‘Today we are at a more mature stage, moving into managing by process rather than by regional activity,’ said Robertson. ‘Part of this is developing our management teams and helping them connect with the rest of Shell. It’s important to ensure that these emerging organisations know what's going on and provide the right kind of analysis and information.’The SSCs work on most types of activity in accounting, from accounts payable and receivable, to intra group work, reporting, hydrocarbon accounting, credit analysis, tax and treasury sub-processes as well as most enterprise master data. They are also providing an increasing amount of management information in the lower tier areas.Robertson said: ‘We are not doing the direct, high-value conversations with the business partners. That is done in the country. But we are gradually moving up the scale of being able to do first-class analysis.’
Continuous improvement and process designSo what's next for Shell’s SSCs? ‘We have enough centres to deal with capacity, language requirements and zonal working to link up with people who need our services,’ said Robertson. The next aim is to recruit more staff across the seven centres and be able to deliver operational excellence, with a rate of staff turnover consistent with the shared services business model.There is also now a move to improve the culture of continuous improvement using so-called lean sigma, which is a fusion of lean management and Six Sigma, also branded as Shell Sigma. Robertson said: ‘We have people who are able to do the work, but we need to make them more efficient day after day. So we are trying to move performance by process towards top quartile targets.’Elements of the work of designing standardised processes are also being moved from the corporate side into SSCs alongside operations.Robertson explained: ‘We see these people have the capability and they can inform improving design day by day by their experience of operating the processes.'
Deep expertiseThe number and type of qualified accountants in the SSCs differs according to location. Robertson said: ‘For example, there are a lot of finance graduates with CPAs available in the job market to do certain processes in Manila. For others, such as accounts payable, we will get those graduates who are probably more interested in adding a professional accountancy qualification such as CIMA.‘The graduates coming in are bright of course. We cannot offer concrete career paths for life for all of the people working in Shell SSCs.'But when you come in you get very good training; support if you want to do professional qualifications; and learn deep expertise in the processes. You are working in a global environment connecting with people around the world. There are career paths you can follow.‘In Manila, for example, we have 1,500 staff today. The original business plan was 400 staff - many of those original 400 are now managing large numbers of people themselves. That replicated across the different management levels and the other sectors means that, across four to five years, there is a huge amount of development available to staff.
‘We also have a plan for a two-way flow of talent,' Robertson continued. 'The top people come out of the centres but also people who need experience of managing processes on a large-scale go into the centres. That includes CIMA students going into the centres to gain some of the experience they need to complete the qualification.’
Career pathsWhat learning and development do finance and accounting staff undertake in the SSCs?Robertson said: ‘The emphasis is on process. We train people to do process and on continuous improvement techniques. We encourage them to do further learning. CIMA is more popular with staff in places like Glasgow and KL and less popular in Manila and Chennai. 'That's possibly just an indication of the historical associations in those locations. But we are making people realise that if they come in as a non-finance graduate CIMA is an extremely valuable route to take. Opportunities to do CIMA will open up as these young people see what the qualification is doing for colleagues elsewhere who are working on the same processes as them.‘As mentioned, SSC staff now work on design, process integration and standardisation and continuous improvement as well as the normal operations. So there are career paths in management that we had never envisaged would be possible. Career development is not all about having to move out of the centres, some of the work is moving to them.’As the SSCs move towards providing more analysis of information, more opportunities will appear. ‘It is relatively early days,’ said Robertson. ‘We have only recently started to move in the management information and analytical work. But the feedback - including from some of my fellow finance executives - is that they find it a powerful combination for an executive with a lot of business knowledge and understanding to be complemented with someone who is highly analytical and comes cold-eyed to the data.’
Shell SSC career case studiesCase study one: Rachel GaudRachel Gaud, reporting accounts assistant, joined the Shell SSC in Glasgow in 2007. She started studying CIMA at the same time, with lots of support from the company, and is now at the final stages of the certificate level.So how has it been so far? Gaud said: ‘It’s varied, it’s great. The average age in the centre is about 32 and they are a good crowd of people. To start with you do a small part of each job, so it can be difficult filling in your log book. If you worked for a smaller firm you might do more wide ranging work. But that is also a plus because Shell is a multi-national company so there is scope for moving into different departments or different locations. Shell does encourage us to develop our skills, with different roles.’Gaud said she is ‘upwardly mobile’ and would be interested in working abroad. ‘Doing CIMA means you are more likely to be able to move abroad because you have a globally recognised qualification,’ she said.Gaud also said one of her aims is to do analysis work and is already working towards getting the experience to move her career in that direction.
Case study two: Christopher PoulopoulosChristopher Poulopoulos, project coordinator in the Shell Glasgow SSC joined Shell in 2002 and sat the final papers at CIMA’s strategic level in May. He has worked in the accounts payable department, then fixed assets, and is now in the continuous improvement team.Poulopoulos said: ‘The key advantage of the SSC is that there are a lot of processes under one roof and a lot of different things you can get involved with. So it's quite easy to work in something you are interested in, or even just work shadow it temporarily. It’s an interesting and dynamic environment with lots of challenges.‘CIMA is well suited to moving your way up through an SSC. Because there is such a wide variety of roles, likewise the CIMA qualification is very wide. You have the traditional accounting – financial analysis and standards - they tie in nicely with the pure accounting roles in the centre, such as statutory accounting. But you have the other roles to do with project management which tie in more with the financial strategy and risk management part of the qualification, including leadership and so on. So it is a good mix.‘Moving towards providing management information is the next step for me. There are definite signs of the transition, more and wider scope is being brought in to the SSCs and with that the gravity of the roles.’
Case study three: Hooi Li NgHooi Li Ng ACMA, team manager in the Shell Kuala Lumpur SSC, qualified in 1996 before joining Motorola. She joined Shell in 2007, and now works on the new management information process - migrated in to the SSC last year – putting her at the cutting edge of analytical work.Right now she's managing a team analysing costs in refineries to compare planned with actual, but also putting in place sustainable processes to ensure cost comparisons and reporting are standardised across refineries in the region. Ng said: 'The company has started to move more management reporting into shared services as it is seen as a platform to standardise, streamline and thus improve process efficiency as well as realise economies of scale.'This is also providing great scope for improvement in her career. Shell is training her in lean sigma methodology and her ambition is to become a certified Six Sigma Black Belt.She said: ‘CIMA is not only about technical accounting skills but also strategic thinking, business sense and management skills. It definitely provides a better qualification and competencies for this kind of role.‘Shell is a global company with a culture of integrity, respect and open communication. Being very large, it also provides a platform for finance professionals to learn and grow.‘There are opportunities to venture into different roles, and to work with many other brilliant finance professionals.’Look out for more on shared services and outsourcing in the September edition of Financial Management.Links
Becoming a key player in shared servicesCIMA has employer support team members around the world who can help you recruit and train for your shared service centre or BPO company. Contact tracey.o’firstname.lastname@example.org.
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