What’s next, GBS?

By November 30, 2023December 1st, 2023Archive, Latest, Viewpoints
What's next for GBS

Deborah Kops, Sourcing Change

It’s that time of the year when everyone starts to predict what’s next. And global business services (GBS) models are not immune. As usual, folks are starting to fall over themselves to proffer that their crystal balls are very clear. Some pronounce that we are finally now in the era of generative GBS, whatever that means. Or the Age of Experience, which reminds me of the Age of Aquarius (now I am dating myself). I get especially annoyed by clickbait-hungry headline grabbers stating, “GBS is dead,” (I haven’t seen cemeteries full of dead GBS organizations…have you?).

These prognostications aren’t very helpful in an industry that, in my opinion, fundamentally wants to evolve but often doesn’t have a dickens-of-a-notion as to how to do so. Pronouncements by pundits and software providers really don’t help move the dial. Just because generative AI is the topic of every conference or webinar does not mean GBS organizations will suddenly shrink to one-half their current size. Just because colleagues rush out the latest GBS maturity models designed to dazzle and inspire the industry does not mean that actual operators can implement them. Just because scope moves back and forth between the business and GBS doesn’t always mean that the party’s over.

However, I’d posit that what’s next is entirely in the power of the GBS teams…if they commit to removing the barriers to evolution.

Black Friday has come and gone. Since my Christmas presents have been bought and wrapped, I have time on my hands to think about next year. What is likely to happen? Will, as some of my friends declare, the narrative be again all about cost, given business turmoil? Will 2024 see the dawning of truly “digital GBS?” Will more GBS shut down than are created? Will Morocco become the new Poland? Will enterprises stop recycling the same talent and give unsung heroes a chance? Will staff rebel en masse against the dicta to spend three days in the office?  I have no earthly idea. 

But I do know that to transform almost anything, conditions need to be ripe. Timing is everything. And change doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a quarter or two. So, I thought about the current state of play, and what needs to be true to move to a different GBS future, no matter what that future is—GBS as a central office, Generative GBS, Integrated GBS, GBS as a capability play…you name it.

 Here’s my list of what I would call what’s getting in the way of evolution:

  • Forgetting that the GBS charter comes from the enterprise

GBS is a creature of the enterprise, not the business or the function. It is usually established by the enterprise as a tool to align and optimize the cost structure of the business, with a focus on functional operations. Said another way—and don’t shoot me—it’s what the top of the house charges the bottom of the house to do to the middle. As a result, GBS organizations spend their time pushing for the transformation of the functions they serve—to the extent allowed. In this scenario, even the most ambitious of GBS organizations focus much of their time positioning themselves as servants in the quest to ensure that inevitable noise doesn’t take them down. Yet the real action is as a partner to the enterprise.

  • Lavishing love on the wrong stakeholder

It’s a corollary to my first point—I’m flummoxed by the fact that most GBS organizations aim to deliver value to the lines of business but find themselves structurally working for, measured, and funded by the function(s) they serve. Sure, it’s difficult to bite the proverbial hand that feeds you, but if moving the dial for the business, increasing what we fondly call middle or even front office scope is GBS’s ambition, it’s critical to figure out a way to reposition GBS and change the primacy of the business stakeholder. Too often, rather than creating value, GBS organizations are positioned by the business as the flak-catcher. If creating new sources of value is imperative, redirect your love. And, if it’s impossible structurally, make it a priority to subtly start to engage the business and build momentum for change.

  • Behaving as the model of no

If you think about it, GBS was designed as a “no” model—no investment, no loss of control, no red on the dashboard, no friction with the business, no noise from stakeholders, no radical change… So, GBS organizations play to form, implementing operations that deliver no. How do you get to yes—yes to new ways of working using self-service technology, yes to new services, yes to test and learn when the expectation is no? Does getting to yes mean incorporating non-traditional capabilities? Rethinking services and solutions? Knowing when to say no? It’s a very difficult mindset shift for most.

  • Buying every shiny new tech toy, then relegating it to the back of the closet

How many GBS organizations go out and buy the latest and greatest applications because peer GBS organizations extol their virtues on conference podiums, then they buy them and make a half-hearted, underfunded attempt to implement? And they end up in the closet while said GBS grumbles about how bad the software is. Let’s be real—some level of digital transformation is within the gift of many organizations if they’d only spend the time understanding the broader GBS tech landscape, mastering features and functionality, not delegating implementation solely to a third-party integrator, and deploying what they have, ensuring that the team has some level of digital fluency to make the investment pay off. 

  • Hiring to the same old job description, over and over and over again

What’s the norm in GBS hiring? Dust off a job description that attracted the last three incumbents and look for the same in the market. Easy-peasy and deemed a good idea by the enterprise’s talent management team, who don’t understand the dynamism of the GBS model. Job descriptions used over and over again are nothing more than a forensic reflection of what the job historically required, not what it takes to make change. If GBS organizations are serious about evolution, they will constantly reimagine the capabilities they require and secure talent accordingly.

  • Thinking agility and institutionalization are antonyms

Now, I haven’t used the word antonym since I was 13, but it seems to me that in the quest to adjust to rapidly evolving business conditions, we forget that GBS models are only sustainable when they become institutionalized within the enterprises in which they operate. Making elements of the model part of the fabric of the company in no way prevents a GBS organization from being agile and responsible, yet we seem to think that the ability to adapt to every change in the business is the be-all-and-end-all of virtues. Embedding certain effective solutions and ways of working in the company fabric creates a strong backbone; after all, that’s the ultimate purpose of a GBS.

Next time you ponder what’s next for your GBS, spend some time thinking about the barriers to change. Very likely, they are in your gift to change. Rethink your stakeholder; you are a top-of-the-house invention. Rethink your role; it’s not solely cleaning up functional processes. Start saying yes. Harness the power of the tech you have. Decide which capabilities you really need. And don’t be afraid of becoming institutionalized; it will give your organization the platform it needs to evolve.

GBS per se won’t die.  But its evolution is in your hands.