Jos Creese says that technological solutions are at the heart of allowing local authorities to provide shared services.
Implementing shared delivery of public services is one of the top challenges facing councils and the wider public sector in 2016.
Technology plays a unique role in these partnerships: providing the framework for the organisation to operate, enabling sharing of data and the tools which let people collaborate and work together efficiently. According to research into the benefits created in private sector mergers from McKinsey, it can also technology can account for 50% of the value created.
Planning the right approach to the technology is a critical element in any shared service strategy. From my experience there are five areas which form part of any shared services strategy.
Clarifying where you need to go
Identifying the target systems which will provide the shared IT infrastructure and corporate systems should be the starting point in any planning. This allows you to analyse target systems, identifying which to retain, integrate or dispose of, and identify associated system interdependencies.
This is the point where you should also develop a data strategy which articulates what you need to migrate, how it will be validated, cleansed and stored at the right level of security.
It goes without saying that these decisions must be fully aligned to business priorities and the need to accommodate new remote or flexible working arrangements.
Managing budget and risk
These first two steps will provide the foundation you need to establish IT costs and benefits for monitoring and, where they are expensive or not fit for purpose, for contract renegotiation.
Focusing on IT risk control – thinking about what might go wrong, its potential impact and likelihood of happening – will not only help put in place tracking and reporting but plays a key role in managing costs in any programme.
Building a roadmap for change
The planning stage should also focus on the processes which can be automated, rebuilt as lean or supported by a degree of self-service. These are the areas which deliver the cost savings and innovation which are a critical part of any move to shared services.
From here you can plan the technology programme for shared services which will testing, change control, and temporary work-arounds.
Understanding the people resources you need
Any shared service project will involve change to the current IT skills and capacity you have in house. Here you will need to identify the existing skills you need to keep in order to support ‘business as usual operations’, the ones which will be able to support the move to the new IT infrastructure and the new skills which you need but don’t have.
An important part of this planning is understanding any difference between the people ‘bandwidth’ you need to deliver a change project on time and what you have now. With this knowledge you can put plans in place to bridge any skills or resourcing gap.
Strong leadership – from the outset
A final consideration is having a strong IT lead who can fulfil the two roles of business partner and IT change manager.
An effective business partner will be able to understand and protect political priorities which will inevitably emerge in a move to shared services. They will also advise on what is possible, costly and risky from an IT perspective in any business strategy and advise on alternatives.
Providing robust leadership through IT change is critical to ensuring the people, processes and other resources are in place to ensuring the move to shared services. A key element to this is reassuring the workforce, discussing the effect on jobs, the business roles and responsibilities –communicating and engaging people in the change which lies ahead.
A final word of caution
Boiling a change programme down to these five areas makes a move to shared services sound easy – it isn’t.
Many plans for shared services have failed in the past and more are bound to fail in the future. This isn’t just about clashes of culture or an unwillingness to change.
Frequently it is IT which is to blame: either as a barrier to change or because it cannot provide the new, more commercially-focused technology, needed for a shared service operating model.
Anyone embarking on a shared services project will do well to remember this at every stage of the process.
Jos Creese is Principal Analyst for Eduserv’s executive briefing programme and former chief information officer at Hampshire County Council