Headquartered in St. Louis, Express Scripts provides integrated pharmacy benefit management services, including network-pharmacy claims processing, home delivery, specialty benefit management, benefit-design consultation, drug utilization review, formulary management, and medical and drug data analysis services.

While the spotlight in the outsourcing and shared services space shines primarily on Finance, there’s a lot of activity, and possibly even greater opportunity, in using this model for Human Resources. This past year, I dove head first into the shared services arena and what was surprising to me was that while many large organizations have matured in this space, smaller and mid-sized firms are still testing the waters, particularly in HR. As more organizations explore HR shared services, I want to share a few observations that represent opportunities for vendor partners to engage with HR leaders differently and for HR professionals to connect more.

A Sea of Experts

First, there’s no shortage of consultant guidance in this space and that can be overwhelming to newbies exploring opportunities for shared services or outsourcing. Attend a conference or subscribe to a network or mailing list, and you’ll quickly meet leaders in the field. But don’t necessarily expect these experts to be able to connect with you. The partners who can approach HR leaders using HR terminology and recognize that most of us aren’t wired as shared services leaders will differentiate themselves in the market.

To provide more insight, consider how most senior leaders in HR got to where they are ― they’re likely strategic thinkers who are good at influencing business leaders and understanding organizational dynamics and human behavior. Most have not, however, had to focus on process efficiencies and technology. Partners who understand HR and can engage with HR leaders will add the most value.

Technology in Transition

Another key opportunity for market differentiation is the ability to address the challenges with technology. Knowledge management and case management systems are still maturing and many systems capabilities are limited or cumbersome. It’s not easy to implement and truly leverage the capabilities in year one, as setting up advanced workflows requires that you understand what you need, and can then configure the system accordingly. Not an easy task when you’re still learning about process optimization. Additionally, integrations with core HR systems often require excessive IT resources. But since these technologies are required for an effective and scalable shared services function, a partner who has experience helping an HR organization navigate these challenges should easily be able to take market share from competitors.

Talk the Talk

Additionally, there is an opportunity for HR professionals to align and help each other. Most shared services leaders are happy to engage in benchmarking, but surprisingly, there aren’t that many requests. Additionally, there are several ways to stand up an HR shared services organization. Some take a comprehensive “all in” approach and centralize work from every HR function into shared services -- maximizing the benefits of process optimization. Others bring limited processes into shared services leaving significant opportunities on the table. If HR or shared services leaders take advantage of the willingness of their peers to share ideas, we’ll see more organizations grow their HR shared services and demonstrate the value across all core disciplines of HR. We simply need to talk more!