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Can Platform Teams Improve Shared Services?

To revitalize shared services, organizations are shifting toward a platform-as-a-product approach.

Business and technology leaders are moving away from shared services due to their association with delays, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. These negative perceptions have led organizations to seek alternatives to meet their agile and digital team requirements. In Forrester's Future Fit Survey, 2023, 71% of IT/tech service companies report that they are planning to move away from shared-services IT.

Challenges With Shared Services

Shared services have garnered a poor reputation for being too rigid, slow, bureaucratic, and reactive. Agile and digital teams often find shared services unsuitable for complex work, lacking responsiveness and flexibility. Delays are frequent, as overloaded service teams struggle to handle backlogs. Additionally, shared services tend to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, ignoring customer needs until issues arise.

Despite the challenges, shared services remain essential due to their ability to drive specialization, share expensive resources, and promote standardization. Specialization allows for deep expertise in specific areas, while sharing resources makes it cost-effective to access expertise that is not required full-time. Standardization, although seen as an impediment by some, ensures consistency and facilitates security and compliance requirements.

Adopting a Platform Approach

To revitalize shared services, organizations are shifting towards a platform-as-a-product approach. A platform team responsible for building and maintaining tooling, infrastructure, and services enables other teams to deliver services efficiently. These platform teams offer modular and integrated services, categorized into historical, current, and emerging platforms, enabling a consistent and optimized environment for service delivery.

Managing shared services as products involves adopting a customer-centric mindset and applying design thinking, persona development, and journey-mapping techniques. Services should focus on delivering value, relieving customers of complexity, and continually measuring and improving the service experience. This approach requires empathy for the customer and a shift from the traditional reactive model.

Critical Considerations for Platform Teams

Platform teams should leverage composability and deployment flexibility to enable a design-thinking approach and encourage experimentation and innovation. It is crucial to avoid "platform washing" by ensuring that the transformation to a platform team involves the right skills and mindset shift. Additionally, platform teams should consider the impact of products and services, focusing on delivering holistic customer outcomes.

Service owners must embrace product thinking and manage services at a platform level. This involves governing and measuring services, continually improving them, designing across various touchpoints, and supporting high-touch services through enabling teams. Standardization and automation are vital in accelerating service delivery, reducing variation, and enhancing efficiency.

Despite their limitations, shared services remain essential to organizational operating models. By adopting a platform-as-a-product approach and effectively managing platform teams, organizations can revitalize shared services and overcome the challenges of rigidity, bureaucracy, and slow response times. This shift toward customer centricity and continuous improvement will enable organizations to deliver services that meet the demands of a rapidly changing business landscape.

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This article originally appeared on Forrester's Featured Blogs.

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