Opinion

Make shared services a shared success

Government agencies are challenged to drive efficiency in business capabilities while simultaneously improving the effectiveness of capabilities that are central to their mission, such as law enforcement, policy development and citizen service delivery. Rather than allocate their resources across competing mandates, many are opting to share commodity services across organizations or agencies.

For CIOs and their leadership teams, shared services offer a way for IT to improve cost efficiency, close productivity gaps and reduce duplicative administrative processes. Strategic sourcing methods allow agencies to combine their buying power for similar needs, leading to lower prices and better service.

Despite the obvious advantages of shared services, there are also challenges and expenses. Such a large-scale transformation runs the risk of failing to deliver the forecasted benefits. One of the biggest challenges is convincing business leaders — who might fear a loss of control, functionality or service quality — that shared services will benefit the agency.

Ultimately, federal IT leaders need to spend as much time convincing stakeholders that shared services are a good idea as they do designing and developing the service.

To ensure that they are prepared to deliver a successful migration, IT leaders must first assess the maturity of the capability in question and gauge the benefits, costs and risks. By demonstrating that the long-term cost savings will balance the costs of migration without a significant sacrifice in service quality, federal IT leaders will be better equipped to achieve stakeholder alignment and buy-in.

Survey data from federal IT executives shows that change resistance is the most commonly cited barrier to successful shared-services migration, so ensuring a common understanding of the agency’s desired future state is critical.

Once reservations have been addressed, leaders can move forward with developing their implementation strategy by focusing on three key phases:

1. Plan. First, IT leaders need to create and articulate a vision of success — a tangible goal that can be used to align stakeholders and maintain momentum. Then they should assess potential implementation risks so they can build confidence among stakeholders and allow the organization to make risk-informed decisions throughout the shared-services implementation. Leaders who also develop a communications strategy for the change ensure that the right information is presented to the right stakeholders at the right time throughout the migration.

2. Build. The first step is to document existing processes to ensure that knowledge can be quickly communicated to the shared-services provider. From there, IT leaders should institute service-level agreements that are both specific and measurable. SLAs establish clear expectations and lay a foundation for a productive and collaborative partnership. Keeping some degree of flexibility to change SLAs over time allows agencies and providers to respond to changing business requirements. Lastly, establishing change request protocols helps the customer and provider ensure that flexibility is built into the relationship from the start.

3. Monitor. The shared services migration strategy doesn't end once the model is implemented. IT leaders need to continuously measure and communicate the performance of the system. By identifying and tracking a set of key performance metrics, they can not only assess performance but also establish a baseline for continuous improvement.

Additionally, regularly refreshing the original business case helps determine whether assumptions have changed (or were originally flawed) so that customers and providers can identify lessons learned and make course corrections.

Lastly, IT leaders should foster a continuous learning culture that promotes a healthy perspective on failure and invites employees to play an active role in solving problems and continuously improving.

About the Authors

Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB.

Audrey Mickahail is director of the IT practice at CEB.

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