The pandemic has massively disrupted the working norms, output, and performance of virtually every organization in the world. But global business services (GBS) units have come through it in surprisingly good shape—in many cases, even better than they were before. A joint survey of 140 global companies by BCG, Ernst & Young, and the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON) found that for nearly 50% of respondents, GBS productivity was unaffected. And for 38%, productivity actually increased.
There are a couple of likely reasons why GBS units have fared so well under remote-working conditions. Historically, their activities have been relatively uniform and transactional, refined over time and integrated into business continuity plans that are specifically designed to maintain operations during disasters that upend normal routines. Also, organizations that had already established GBS teams could move responsibilities from sites that were more seriously impacted by COVID-19 to locations that were less heavily affected.
But there is little time for GBS units to rest on their laurels. Even without considering the pandemic, the world is changing fast: global value chains, increasingly demanding customer expectations, accelerated advances in new technologies, and distributed working models are putting pressure on companies. And as resilient as they may be, GBS teams are not totally equipped for these rapidly spreading trends. Consequently, like all the other parts of a global organization, they will have to change their operating models to excel in this environment.
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In our study, we asked respondents to identify the capabilities GBS organizations most need to focus on to continue to be successful in the face of the significant challenges. Five areas stood out:
Among these five focus areas, digitization and advancing technologies are a recurring component—and these are also the spheres where, according to the survey, GBS teams needed to most improve their capabilities. As the future unfolds, GBS leaders should have two primary goals: first, to drive digitization to find further efficiency and support the overall corporate transformation; and second, to continue to build a flexible, resilient GBS network to keep pace with changing demands.