Surprising though it might seem, the classic Disney animated film The Lion King has some useful parallels with the global business services industry, says Boonsiri Somchit
This article was first published in the July/August 2017 Malaysia edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
In 2001, I fell in love again and found my passion. No, it was not with a person or a thing but with a job in an industry that still makes me feel like a teenager with a crush, every time I talk about it.
This industry back then was called the shared services industry but today it is known as global business services (GBS). Just like almost everything else that has happened in my life, I found this passion because I was itching for a change and looking for a new path for my career. I guess it was also due to the fact that I was going to have an opportunity to build a shared services organisation (SSO) from ground zero with no knowledge of how to get it done. But that is a story for another day.
Fast forward to 2016 at a GBS forum where I had spoken about culture and engagement. I attended the breakout session where delegates discussed and shared our thoughts about the differences between shared services, GBS, an outsourcing service provider and, finally, a centre of excellence (CoE).
Honestly, even after all the discussion and sharing, we were still confused. After the workshop, I reflected on events and realised that, as a passionate GBS practitioner, instead of being able to articulate and explain the different organisations, I had rattled on and on in technical mumbo-jumbo terms and had probably lost everyone in that that room. Although I had been given a golden opportunity to brand and market the industry I felt so strongly about, I failed to connect with the audience and had not successfully got my message across. That bugged me for days. Then, I got busy and that concern was shelved away.
When my company, Xtrategize Technologies, partnered with ACCA Malaysia to roll out the ACCA GBS Blended Qualification, it hit me that I needed to once again raise awareness of the GBS industry to students and industry players. This time I had to make sure my audience understood the differences between the different organisations.
I was in a dilemma. Some of the people that I would be training wouldn’t have a clue about the GBS industry and its terminology – especially university students and perhaps even some practitioners who may not have been involved in the early set-up or growth of a SSO into a GBS. How was I going to explain in layman’s terms and not repeat the same mistake that I made at the workshop?
Think, Boon. Think.
Then it happened – my eureka moment. I was watching TV when a movie trailer came on and I saw the answer to my problem. Right in front of me on the screen stood the wise baboon carrying the future king and showing him off to his subjects as his proud parents stood by watching majestically. In the background, the ever-so-familiar song, ‘Circle of Life’, played and the movie, The Lion King, became my inspiration for my SSO/GBS/CoE story.
I realised then that the evolution of the GBS industry is very similar to the circle of life in The Lion King. Each character has a different scope and different roles to play based on their maturity level, capabilities and competencies.
Simba is like an SSO – the starting point in the GBS evolution. The SSO can be created to support just one country, one function or it could even be set up to support an entire region.
It is normally very transaction-based with critical decisions still made at HQ or on-site. In The Lion King, Simba’s scope is also limited as he is still learning from his father and his advisers on how to lead and manage his subjects, the animals in the Pride Lands. Decisions are still made by his father and advisers. Simba, under the watchful eyes of his father, is only allowed to be involved in simple matters of state as he develops his own skills to take on more.
Mufasa, who is the reigning king at the beginning of the movie, is like a GBS. He watches over and provides guidance, support and helps the inhabitants of the pride (to me, this symbolises the world). Mufasa is responsible for governing the day-to-day operations in partnership with the other animals. He is also responsible for making decisions that may impact processes and rules in the Pride Lands.
Just like Mufasa, a GBS organisation exists as a partner to the business units. It is normally responsible for the entire workstream – from order to cash, hire to retire, procure to pay and much more. A GBS organisation is normally involved in decisions related to systems, processes and even policies.
However, just like Mufasa, who delegates some of the non-core, non-critical work that a king must do to Zazu, the red-billed hornbill, a GBS organisation can also choose to outsource some of its activities, especially those that require understanding of different rules and regulations, as it may be difficult to hire these skill sets at the GBS location.
Zazu is the major-domo to Mufasa and carries out work on behalf of the king so that Mufasa can concentrate on his regal duties – or in other words, his core business. Zazu’s role can be that of an external outsource service provider that does transactional work for a company. Internal changes made by the company need to be communicated to the external service provider so that they can make changes to their systems or processes. Most service providers are on contract with the company (which states clearly their job scope and coverage). Any work request above and beyond what is stated in the service-level agreement would normally be charged at an agreed-upon rate.
Rafiki is the wise baboon who is also an adviser to Mufasa. In the GBS parallel dimension, Rafiki symbolises the CoE where the subject matter experts reside. A GBS organisation will not have knowledge of every rule, regulation or even local requirements or culture of every country that they support. They may not even understand some of the system configurations. Due to this, some companies set up CoEs with people on site providing advisory support to ensure that the GBS operations are in compliance with local requirements as well as to support any system changes.
‘If you want to understand the GBS evolution all you have to remember are the characters from The Lion King,’ I said to my first batch of surprised ACCA GBS Certificate participants. I could see the stunned looks on their faces but that did not deter me as I was determined to get the message through this time.
As I told my story, I could see the mental light bulbs switch on. They were now sitting upright, nodding their heads and taking notes. Finally, I had got the message through. I had simplified GBS and it felt good.
Boonsiri Somchit is co-founder and partner at Xtrategize Technologies. During her career, she has held senior leadership positions in several multinational companies including Motorola, Komag and Advanced Micro Devices. She is also the adviser for Outsourcing Malaysia and is a best-selling author
"Mufasa is responsible for governing the day-to-day operations in partnership with the other animals"