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Thursday, 18th April 2024
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Andersen Consulting to change name to Accenture Back  
Shared services are at the heart of Andersen Consulting's business. The company has its European shared services centre in Dublin with 16 countries service from the ‘state of the art facility’ and it is from Dublin that the IT operations of 26000 consultants are co-ordinated.
Canal-side on a weekday morning, the new Andersen Consulting building in Dublin looks impressive. Inside it is more so, with ergonomic designing and bright colours bringing a people-friendly atmosphere to the European hub.

This impressive building is the home of Andersen Consulting’s European Shared Services Centre. It is from here that the administration, transaction, customer support and IT helpdesk to service over 26000 professionals is co-ordinated. At the moment there are 11 countries supported through financial processing functions like accounts payable, general ledger and master-date and maintenance. On the IT support side a total of 16 countries are looking to the grand Canal Plaza building for the help they need. No small job.

According to Marian Corcoran one of the key partners involved in setting up the centre it has been a learning experience.

‘We started from an idea in September 1998 and went live in March 1999. The firm decided that we couldn’t remain in individual country-based organisational structure because we operate on a global basis.’

‘For us it is part of a strategy of allowing us to work globally, standardising our processes, making our back office engine smooth and transparent to make it easy to do business with us.’
‘When we started it (the European shared services centre) was just a notion. We had no building, no team and just paper designs. What we did have was a knowledge capital of how other pan-European shared services centres had been established.’

Between September and March the business of putting the shared services centre together was done. This involved creating the look and feel to the business as well as deciding what the actual systems operations of it should be. The challenge was expanding the business while it was up and running - and in the initial stages running the centre from temporary offices. The centre was in temporary accommodation until March 2000 when the building by the grand Canal Docks in Dublin was ready.’

‘We went live in March 1999, by supporting the UK with time and expenses processing’ says Corcoran and adds that ‘in June of 1999 the other financial operations were brought on.’ But she says ‘the challenge is that as soon as you are live you have a service level to meet. So it has been very interesting to run a business and expand it at the same time.’

An example of how the centre works is in its expense accounting. ‘We process 9000 expense reports every 2 weeks. We do the physical, legal and financial audit on the receipts coming in.’ This means that there is a substantial amount of paperwork being routed through the centre.
‘The whole intent is to deliver at least the same level of service, preferably better, to our vendors and customers.’

Corcoran’s enthusiasm for the project is evident and there are advanced plans for developing the centre. ‘Our next move will be web enabling the expenses process.’

The setting up in Dublin of the centre was modeled on the global treasury centre in Chicago, which Andersen Consulting got up and running in 1997.

‘The idea for Dublin was to make the back-office operations run more smoothly and efficiently while still maintaining a country-focussed service.’

At the moment there are 11 countries supported out of Dublin and there are another 5 to be added to this list over the coming months says Corcoran. ‘In the next 10 months we’ll be bringing on the Nordic countries and Spain. Then immediately after that we’ll bring on France and Italy.’ But there are plans afoot to extend the reach of their services - to perhaps including external clients. ‘There is nothing to say that we mightn’t offer these services to other clients. Our strategy is to consolidate reengineer and then enable.’

Part of the rationale in creating the SSC in Dublin was the unwieldiness of having multiple banking partners in each country. Under the Dublin operation these have now bee consolidated under a single pan-European banking partner. ‘We were a country-based organisation so each of our countries would have separate bank accounts with multiple banking partners. That has now changed in the bid to move the company to centralised streamlined operations. Now there is one banking partner for the entire Andersen Consulting operation in Europe.’ This was necessary, Corcoran believes, in order to have visibility of funds throughout the continent. Now the situation is that the Dublin office manages the accounts of all its countries from the Dublin base - ‘we manage those accounts centrally.’

‘What this has done is allow us to track dispersments going out and do better cash flow forecasting for our countries.’

‘It is not global treasury yet - because we have our global treasury operation in Chicago, but it does give us tremendous visibility of funds in and out. We’ve seen real savings in the administration charges. It has been very powerful to achieve but also quite tough.’

On the topic of the advantages that creating a SSC brings - Corcoran is adamant that there are more than just the obvious cost savings to benefit from. She says that the centralised system is also creating benefits through the sharing of information between teams.

‘Our accounts payable team can now provide incredible vendor analysis information to our global procurement team and that is driving a rethink on our vendor strategy, driving e-procurement initiatives. This is a hidden benefit of shared services.’

And she says that critical mass is allowing the company to drive systems improvement thorough out the European offices.

Another aspect of the Dublin centre is the handling of vendor queries. ‘We’ve set up a small customer service centre, sitting over our transaction team and this is where we have most of our dedicated language skills.’ This means that vendors can ring to a free-phone local number in the country they are ringing from and the call is routed to Dublin, and then diverted to the appropriate language skill.’ This team also has a customer relationship management tool incorporated into their systems in order to help track the status of the vendor through the accounts payable system.’

This allows for accurate performance measurements within the Dublin team. ‘What this does is frees up our transaction team - to do transactions, and free up from having a huge dependency on language skills.’

According to Andersen Consulting Dublin was chosen as the headquarters for the SSC because of the strong support from the IDA in Ireland and the pool of young well-educated graduates available. Corcoran says that the support from the Government was very important but that the level of vendor support was also a critical issue for the company. She mentions the recruitment industry in Ireland being very well developed. ‘The HR vendors are very used to start-ups so we could team very quickly with a recruitment consultant - we didn’t have to start from scratch and explain what an accounts payable clerk was.’

The centre now employs 250 people and of these 60 per cent are Irish nationals. In total 16 languages are spoken in the centre.

‘The challenge for us is truly a major programme of change when you set up a shared services centre. If you only focus on sorting out the financial processes you are on the road to nothing. We had facilities to sort out HR and recruiting; what the organisation was going to be like, then we had technology and processes to sort out - how were we going to service our customers?’

It is an interesting time for the company says Corcoran. With the finalisation of the split with Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting is now rebranding itself as Accenture. ‘We have a major challenge and opportunity over the next few months to relaunch and rebrand ourselves.’

The name change to Accenture, follows an independent arbitrator’s August ruling in favor of Andersen Consulting in its arbitration with Andersen Worldwide and Arthur Andersen. Under the terms of the ruling, Andersen Consulting was excused from any further obligations to make termination payments and given until December 31, 2000 to adopt the new name. Andersen Consulting is dead long live Accenture!

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