Government shared-services drive will standardise Whitehall ERP on one of Oracle, SAP or a ‘cheaper, flexible alternative’

Cabinet Office policy paper reveals ambitions for 10-year rollout of shared services strategy

The Cabinet Office has revealed a 10-year plan to increase the use of shared services across Whitehall. 

The scheme includes plans to standardise all departments across one of three business-software platforms: Oracle; SAP; and a yet-to-be-decided-upon third option, which the government has pledged will be a “modern, flexible platform”.

Published this week, the Shared Services Strategy for Government policy paper sets out a three-stage vision for how central government departments can share back-office technology and functions. This, the government said, will allow civil servants to move seamlessly between departments, and will also save millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the bargain.

The first stage of the plan is designed to “deliver value and efficiency”. This will be achieved in three ways, the first of which will be to detach technology from individual services. This will give government “the flexibility to pursue shorter BPO (business-process outsourcing) contracts, use… multiple suppliers, and, ultimately, increase leverage with suppliers”, the government claimed.

Following this phase, Whitehall entities will be encouraged to adopt cloud software that can be “extended to other departments, enabling wider value to be achieved”. An increased use of on-demand software-as-a-service will also enable a “quicker and less resource-intensive upgrade process”, as and when required, the government said. 

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The final phase of this first stage will be increased use of “self-service, robotics, and offshoring”. Promoting more back-office services that civil servants can use without any assistance and the implementation of service-delivery processes that can be automated will allow for more streamlined operations that also provide “greater speed and accuracy”, the government said.

The second stage of the shared-services drive is focused on “convergence around processes and data”. The goal of this phase is “consolidating and modernising technology platforms whilst maintaining choice for departments”.

This stage will involve the creation of “standard and consistent” end-user-support and reporting processes that can be used by multiple departments. Whitehall will also be encouraged to adopt “consistent data principles and standards”.

As part of this stage, the number of enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms available to central government departments will be reduced to three, including market heavyweights SAP and Oracle, and a third platform. This final option has yet to be identified, but the policy paper promised it will be a “modern, flexible platform”.

“As established, leading ERP providers SAP and Oracle will create commercial tension and allow government to demonstrate commercial leverage during negotiations,” the Cabinet Office said. “The third platform will provide a cheaper, flexible alternative for smaller departments.”

Some 12 central government departments currently use an Oracle ERP platform, including the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Ministry of Justice. Three – HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Transport, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – use SAP. Outliers include the Department for International Development, which uses Agreso, the Department of Health, which is on Microsoft, and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which runs on software from CGI.

The final stage of the government shared services strategy will be dedicated to “meeting end-user needs”. This stage will focus on consulting with individual users to find out how they “interact with the current system and where there are key pain points”. After which groups representing individual users will be “represented in the strategic-governance structure”, and will be tasked with helping ensure the needs of civil servants are considered during the construction of a shared-services model.

Matthew Coats, interim head of Government Shared Services, and chief operating officer at the Ministry of Justice, said: “The shared-services strategy for government sets clear direction, and I am pleased to have been part of its development. This will be step change in shared services across the government, directly supporting civil servants in their roles, while also contributing significant savings to the public purse. By allowing civil servants to spend less time doing administration, they can spend more time delivering vital services to the public.”


Sam Trendall

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