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Robotic process automation in a shared services centre environment

In shared services, software robots have moved from hype to reality. The question is no longer IF, but WHEN and HOW shared services should embrace RPA to optimise processes.

Shared services centre path

Shared services continues to be one of the main levers to reduce costs and improve productivity. Digitisation not only supports these objectives, but offers additional advantages, such as strengthening control and compliance, and ensuring availability of resources to enable staff to focus on more value-adding tasks that provide additional business insight.

When looking to globalise, companies often implement a global shared services model to deliver multifunction services including finance, IT, procurement, HR, supply chain and other business services – all of which can benefit from increased automation.

RPA as next step to improve SSC

In the last few years, robotic process automation (RPA) has become not just a new contributor to cost savings in SSCs, but also a solution to innovation. 

Robotic process automation is:

Robotic process automation is not:

Unlike mechanical robots created for manufacturing, RPA entails advanced software systems programmed to replace labour-intensive repetitive activities, which require a significant amount of data processing across multiple applications. Business process automation isn’t new. Bots have been used in enterprise resource planning (e.g. SAP workflows) for years. However, over the last two years solutions have become substantially more sophisticated. With automation, systems can interact with multiple applications and systems.

From supporting macro tasks to transactional processes (invoices, sales orders, general ledger reconciliation etc.), automation has become a key enabler for SSC improvement. The typical manual, high-volume, rule-based and repetitive processes which have been moved into shared services centres are an ideal fit for robotic process automation.

Process selection criteria

  1. Rules-driven
  2. Involves a trigger
  3. Labour-intensive
  4. Repetitive in nature
  5. Standardised
  6. Access multiple systems

RPA is relevant across a wide range of processes often performed in SSCs e.g. in Finance, HR, Procurement, Customer and Supply Chain.

What benefits can RPA bring?

RPA is able to quickly deliver benefits such as scalable workforce, accuracy, sustainable cost savings and increased efficiency and productivity, 24/7, anywhere in the world and within the organisation’s existing technology structure.

By optimising specific processes, RPA drives continuous improvement in shared services and allows staff to focus on more complex and value-adding activities, such as investment in differentiation, advanced technical know-how, data analytics and service delivery. This requires both a cultural shift and commitment, and exposes an opportunity for people to enrich their tasks, step out from the back office and embrace more interesting, creative and higher-value activities.  

Key considerations

While the transformational approach is simple, it pays to bear in mind that there are a few valid, though manageable, considerations that should be evaluated upfront; IT, governance, volume, complexity and lack of a control framework.

Well-established governance is key to any RPA roll-out. Companies need to ensure clarity on the scope of activities performed by the bots as well as on the roles and responsibilities with regards to ‘managing’ the bots and the processes they execute. It also needs to be clear how roll-outs and future process/system changes might impact the programmed bot. Too often IT involvement is neglected, when they should be involved from design to deployment and maintenance.

The ideal approach is to first build an organisational structure that accepts change as a fundamental part of business with robust process discipline and to identify (and quantify) automation potential, links with other programmes, best qualified vendors and operational security groups.

SSC ideal culture

Featuring a culture and skillset that supports simplification, standardisation and continuous improvement, and with maximum impact on international activities, an SSC environment is an ideal candidate to benefit from RPA solutions. To fully optimise those benefits, strategies and governance need to be defined upfront. More than simply implementing bots, it’s about rethinking roles and structures in back office teams too. While some early adopters opted for a comprehensive RPA transformation, many companies are using pilots to test the concept.  

PwC is future-ready. Are you?

Why invest in simple, repetitive and high-volume tasks which are of marginal value to your company when they can be  automated. We can help you exploit the full potential of RPA.

Making sure you consider all available digital enablers, we can help you benefit from high-quality, sustainable savings and boost performance. We can also help you evaluate and redesign roles and structures in your back office teams to suit this new, digital era.

Talk to us now about


How you can benefit from the use of RPA to improve operation, innovate or grow.

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Shared Services and Outsourcing

How you can restructure your shared services operating model or BPO relationship to include RPA.

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How you can integrate RPA as part of an optimized end-to-end process.

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People & Change

What it means for your teams and people, and what the opportunities are.

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Risk & Cyber

How you can assess and mitigate risks.

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What benefits your organisation expect and how quickly.

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Contact us

Pierre Wangen

Pierre Wangen

Managing Director, PwC Belgium

Tel: +32 476 49 51 22

Connect with PwC Belgium