Shared services set to increase in local public sector despite well-documented failures says Socitm

Published on Thursday, 07 June 2012 10:40
Posted by Scott Buckler

Sharing of services, including ICT and other functions, is becoming a necessity for local public services and under current financial pressures, is likely to grow rather than fade away, says Shared services time for a re-think? the latest briefing from Socitm Insight

Growth is predicted despite the disappointing outcomes of some shared service initiatives, including the attempt by central government to share data centres, documented in the recent National Audit Office report Efficiency and reform in government: corporate functions through shared service centres.

The Socitm briefing says that shared service ventures are neither a panacea nor doomed to bureaucratic failure. There are many different types of shared services in local government than the monolithic big project analysed in the NAO report, and they can work well in certain circumstances and can fail in others.

The briefing sets out to provide some key principles for ensuring that a shared service venture will meet its objectives, and not fall by the wayside.

A starting principle should be to assume that sharing be one of the first options to consider: why should a given ICT resource not be shared? To an extent, says the briefing, this is already happening in many organisations.

Secondly, any strategy should cover a range of sharing approaches covering networks, data centres, applications, procurements, policies, specialist skills and ICT managers.

A third principle is that whether shared ICT services support frontline or ‘back office’ services (eg finance, HR and procurement), successful sharing depends largely on the willingness to standardise business processes.Fourth, benchmarking is critical to indicate the scale of possible savings and the levels of service provided and to measure the benefits afterwards.

The fifth principle is about procurement. Each council should share its plans for future major procurements in order to avoid perpetuating the current fragmented approach and to spot opportunities for significant sharing. There is no need for this to be just a sharing in a locality but can be a sharing across the UK.

For the larger and more formal sharing schemes, the final principle should be that organisations adopt a governance framework that ensures that the right objectives are set, achieved and measured. Constant and consistent communication is an essential part of this.

‘The McClelland review into the state of ICT in the Scottish public sector (June 2012) made an important statement about the huge opportunity for sharing ICT across the sector’ says Martin Greenwood, author of Shared services: time for a re-think? ‘There is every reason to think that a similar review across the public sector in England, Wales or Northern Ireland would come up with similar recommendations. The purpose of this briefing is to identify the way local public services can make the most of this opportunity.’

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