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Global business services in 2024 - definitions, examples and best practices

Many large enterprise businesses are in the process of implementing global business services (GBS) or have plans to explore them in the near future. In this article we go through what they are, what are their benefits and what enterprise leaders need to know to get started with GBS in 2023.

What are global business services?

Global business services (GBS) is a term used to describe integrated, shared services that are used to support business units and organizations around the world.

GBS can include a variety of services, such as finance, accounting, human resources, marketing, information technology, and customer service. GBS may be used to streamline operations, reduce costs, and improve efficiency in global organizations.

Infographic: which services does GBS currently provide and which services are you planning for the future?

Which functions have implemented GBS in 2020 - PwC Study
Source: PwC Global Business Services - Key to Agility Study 2020

GBS vs Shared Services

The main difference between GBS and shared services is that GBS is focused on providing integrated services to business units and organizations around the world, while shared services are typically focused on providing services to a single organization.

Another perspective is in terms of organizational maturity. GBS can be seen as an advanced implementation of shared services. GBS may be more complex than shared services, as it must account for different legal, cultural, and language issues around the world. GBS can also be more expensive than shared services, as it requires more resources and infrastructure.

GBS and Centers of Excellence

While they are not often confused, global business services and global centers of excellence (CoEs) may be complimentary in advancing operational excellence.

The main difference between GBS and Centers of Excellence (CoE) is that GBS focuses on providing integrated services to business units around the world, while CoEs are focused on providing specialized and centralized expertise around a technology (eg. around process intelligence, intelligent automation or RPA.)

GBS can help organizations achieve greater scalability and flexibility, while COEs can help organizations become more competitive by leveraging their specialized expertise.

5 key advantages of GBS

Business organizations can gain a number of advantages from adopting a GBS strategy.

  • Advance digital transformation. GBS can align and increase the adoption of modern digital tools and business processes.
  • Increase customer-centricity. Organizations that leverage GBS can improve the customer experience by aligning different business processes to the benfits of the customer.
  • Improve work (and work satisfaction). Organizations that leverage GBS can ensure that their workforce are equipped with the right tools and skills for modern digital work.
  • Data-driven decisions. Organizations that leverage GBS are able to utilize data and analytics more in decision making.
  • Positive performance benchmarking. As organizations adapt GBS they can leverage internal competition and benchmarking to make sure different teams are aligned with best practices.

Typical goals and targets of GBS

Certain fundamental goals have been at the very core of the GBS organizations and remain to be in priority even amid these changing times. Some common goals for GBS implementations include the following.

  • Reduced costs. This is one of the most critical factors for shared service centers. GBS organizations are taking over a wider variety of activities, while companies are still expecting good results. Keeping costs low while increasing operational effectiveness is a challenge in itself. 
  • End-to-end visilibility and alignment. Many GBS functions benefit from the standardization and alignment of key business processes.
  • Improved and streamlined processes. Improving the processes and implementing the best practices throughout an entire organization over different geographic locations is another critical goal for GBS. 
  • Agility and continous improvement. GBS functions can be quicker to respond to global disruptions and be more effective in achieving continous operational excellence.
  • Supporting enterprise’s growth initiatives. Although GBS organizations don’t necessarily bring profit in its conventional meaning, perceiving them as more than just a cost reduction center is a good practice. Through continuous improvements in end-to-end processes, investments made into shared centers might significantly impact other business areas as well, beyond that of GBS. 

GBS and Intelligent Automation (IA)

GBS can use intelligent automation to streamline operations and reduce costs. Intelligent automation can be used to automate repetitive tasks, such as data entry, to improve productivity and efficiency. Additionally, GBS can be used to leverage the power of artificial intelligence to gain insights into customer behavior and optimize operations, or robotic process automation (RPA) to fully automate repetitive tasks.

Infographic: what are current levels of automation within your GBS?

Source: PwC Global Business Services - Key to Agility study 2020

GBS challenges in 2024

There are a plethora of different challenges GBS organizations face regularly but these are the most common and impactful ones. 

  • Resource dependency. GBS centers don’t generate profits and have to rely on the parent organization. A large portion of the costs for GBS organizations comes from salary expenses, as most of the SSC functions are highly labor-intensive. 
  • Ununified governance. The overall effectiveness of GBS centers might suffer if there’s no consolidated governance that helps share the best practices in utilizing technologies and tools across different units and locations. 
  • Not readiness for automation. GBS center’s infrastructure should facilitate the automation of processes in the first place. The unit shouldn’t be too siloed, it should have a goal- and growth-oriented team culture and transparency among team members. 
  • Lower efficiency with increasing headcount. More people is not a solution; that’s the bitter truth for all types of companies, not only GBS. The best way out would be to leverage the advanced technologies for the right processes and at the right time. 
  • Coming up with mid-term goals. Going visionary is important but knowing which tools and technologies are relevant to the overall business in the near future shouldn’t be neglected. Many times companies waste time and money pursuing the wrong larger goals without 

Adapting to Covid and new ways of work

Covid has changed a lot in the way companies operate, and significant changes have touched GBS organizations as well. From being more location-specific and driven by cost-effectiveness, they’ve been paving their way towards becoming front runners in adopting new technologies and tools to support and augment workers and implement best practices.

GBS organizations are expanding their portfolio of offerings to serve core businesses worldwide. That being said, certain challenges always come in the way, so there’s a clear need for continuous improvements in quality that drives cost-efficiency. This article will expand on the main GBS targets in 2022 and the challenges they go through on the journey to become more effective.

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow

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