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Accenture’s ‘showcase’ goes from strength to strength Back  
Accenture set up its European shared service centre in Dublin in 1999. Five years on the centre has become increasingly critical to the company’s finance operations, and has added several new value added functions such as controllership, procurement and alliance utilisation, Kevin Graham writes.
In 1998 Accenture commenced planning for the set-up of a shared service centre in Europe. The increasing globalisation of Accenture’s network of businesses was the primary driver for establishing the European Service Centre. This initiative followed the successful establishment of a similar centre supporting North American operations.

Other reasons for making this decision were to increase process efficiency and improve service levels, while leveraging economies of scale and technology. It was critical that the centre provide a standardised service and consistent finance practices across all countries to support the company’s growth plans.

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with net revenues of $11.82 billion for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2003, and employs more than 83,000 people in 48 countries. At the time of the establishment of the ESC, we were about to go from a partnership to a public company, and transformed our corporate identity to Accenture. These successful transformations were reliant on a high-performing back-office. The project team faced some major challenges in managing this change, including the changes on finance personnel across EMEA, gaining and maintaining stakeholder buy-in, and managing pan-EMEA cultural, business, legal, statutory and regulatory requirements. A comprehensive communications approach and strategy was needed to ensure success.

The ESC went live in April 1999 and now has almost 400 employees providing financial and IT shared services to Accenture in 20 EMEA countries. Over 23 nationalities speaking all of the major European languages are represented at the ESC and recruit both graduate and experienced personnel in areas such as finance, IT, procurement and technical support. The ESC is designed as a ‘showcase’ facility featuring examples of best practice in the various elements of shared services, and provides an environment designed to provoke thinking on new ideas and strategies to meet its changing business environment.

Ireland has an excellent service centre infrastructure. Our well-trained pool of labour, coupled with good availability of language skills, means that Ireland has continued to be an excellent location for our pan-EMEA service centre. In the five years since we’ve been established, we’ve become increasingly critical to the finance operations for Accenture and have added several new value added functions such as controllership, procurement and alliance utilisation. In parallel, we constantly re-evaluate our processes and technology to stay competitive by developing a platform to support continued growth, increased efficiency, improved service levels, economic of scale and reduced costs.

The ESC achieved ISO 9001 certification in March 2001. Using this as a baseline, we have also run a continuous improvement process to enable all of their people to take action to solve or prevent problems they encounter. This has been a hugely successful programme for us. Our employees have great ideas and really want to contribute. This process enables us to incorporate their ideas and innovations in a structured framework. All of our employees have taken part in this training programme covering problem solving, communication, teamwork, and tools for assessing the cost of poor processes. This gives us a shared vocabulary for communicating about improvement, and some common tools for making change happen.

Some examples of innovations delivered by the ESC include an electronic invoice approval system, which eliminates the paper trail of invoices during the approval process, and enables authorized users to review and approve invoices online for electronic payment direct to vendors. For client billing, an intranet-enabled system allows Client Financial Managers to input invoice data in advance whenever it’s convenient to do so. Invoices then automatically generate on the planned date, and the manager is prompted to review their invoices, which can be approved and printed from any location.

A web-based expense policy compliance application for workflow management and expense profiling has been rolled out to increase audit effectiveness and ensure enforcement of all corporate and statutory controls. The tool enables simpler expense processing, easy reporting, multi-country processing, and improved compliance auditing. The ESC is currently involved in Accenture’s worldwide ERP implementation to support transaction processing in 48 countries supporting over 170 legal entities.

As we continue to move up the shared services value chain, we have created an internal service organisation but also a showcase environment in which our clients can experience the realities of shared services implementation and the associated benefits. We regularly host site visits to the ESC and are currently working with a number of clients implementing and running their shared service centre on an outsourced basis.

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