Shared services across the public sector continue to grow. Councils in particular are choosing to partner with neighbours, to share capacity, costs, risk and best practice.
The experience of many public sector shared services projects, show the importance of IT in successful shared programmes. Meanwhile in the private sector, recent research by McKinsey into the role of IT in mergers and acquisitions shows that typically 50% of merger value is related to IT synergy.
This emphasises the importance of IT planning, a willingness (and ability) to harmonise, simplify and standardise IT in a shared service programme. Failure of IT preparation will substantially increase risks and result in a failure to realise the full benefits.
For those moving to a shared services model, ‘cloud’ is likely to feature highly in their plans. A cloud model for IT offers the ability to scale up and down, only pay for what you use and to provide a ‘neutral’ place shared systems. It can be a staging post before a permanent solution to IT sourcing is resolved.
Here are the five areas likely to feature strongly in every organisation’s thinking before they embark on such a journey:
Audit your current situation
A core planning principle is to minimise the risk of the unknown. A good starting point is to create a complete inventory of software licences, hardware assets and IT service contracts in each of the partner organisation. This should identify their technical dependencies and contractual terms. It can also help to prioritise future work to rationalise a shared IT software portfolio to support the new services, such as retire, renew, retender or replace software assets.
Standardise your practices
It is also a good practice to establish common principles and policies in IT operation, such as ISO standards, methods for testing, change management, performance management and reporting. This can include areas such as appropriate information sharing, data security, disaster recovery and PSN compliance. There is unlikely to be a good reason why these need to be divergent across different public services such as councils (although Police and Military will have some legitimate differences).
For the shared services programme itself, the IT elements should be run and commissioned jointly, with pooled and dedicated IT resources from each partner organisation. This will almost certainly force a review of IT roles, responsibilities and activities, to avoid the pressure to increase the size of the IT teams to support shared working. You need to plan what this will look like and how it will work in advance, and stick to it.
Map your business structure
Enterprise architecture (EA) has become more widely used as an approach to understanding the business ‘frame’ on which an organisation operates – a model that shows the connection between areas such as technology, information flows, business processes, operational structures and customer service functions.
Whilst not advocating an EA methodology for shared services, the concept does give some common discipline to identify what is ‘in scope’ for a shared service programme.
Maintain a disciplined approach
Discipline will be needed to contain the pressure for tailored and unique IT solutions, and also to resist service areas trying to ‘opt out’ of sharing. It also can help in defining the new IT requirements, and to establish a common technology architecture necessary to support shared working.
A final consideration for all councils is how to create a single IT strategy but which recognises ‘one size does not fit all’ and each partner will have different needs. Rigour, consistency and alignment in planning will be essential, ring-fencing the areas which genuinely need to remain apart. Without this there will be a tendency to divergence, rather than consolidating the things to be shared, and creating the common IT platform to support sharing.
Throughout the whole planning process, priority should be given to practical IT initiatives which deliver real savings and benefits quickly, and demonstrate a responsive IT service and an understanding of digital demands.