Why agencies have 'barely scratched the surface' with shared services

A new survey finds that agency leaders fear lock-in, and are reluctant to adopt shared services without a clear cost/benefit analysis.

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While some top federal managers are struggling to implement the Obama administration's shared services mandate, other are becoming savvy about new practices to harness such services, according to a survey of federal chief financial officers.

The survey, which was conducted by Deloitte on behalf of the Partnership for Public Service, found that shared services have been adopted unevenly across agencies, with some charging ahead aggressively while others have put adoption low on their list of priorities.

The survey asked CFOs and other senior management officials about their experiences with four lines of business: acquisition, financial management, human resources and IT.

Some of the respondents said they are implementing select shared-services initiatives and eschewing wider implementation because of past experiences or the challenges of sustaining long-term government transformation efforts.

Other reasons respondents gave for not adopting shared services include the inability to build effective business cases, difficulty managing their workforce under a shared-services model, a lack of transparency across services and cost concerns.

Some leaders are hesitant to give up control over vital agency functions without clear cost/benefit and performance information from the federal departments that provide the shared services. They also need more data about their own agency's performance and costs to show how the services would benefit the agency.

On the other hand, the study said CFOs are becoming more astute about how they implement and manage the services. Some of the promising practices that agencies are exploiting include designating a leader to manage the services and forming enterprise-wide leadership councils to understand the full implications of the services.

Furthermore, CFOs are incorporating accountability measures for the services into the performance reviews of senior executives and building relationships with other agencies to share lessons learned and emulate successful service-level agreements. They're also integrating the services into workforce planning and focusing on making changes incrementally in areas where they make the most sense.

To facilitate further success, the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte had a number of recommendations. The Office of Management and Budget should set clear deadlines for shared-services implementation and hold agency leaders accountable for meeting those deadlines. OMB should develop service-level agreements that agencies could use as templates and work with the General Services Administration to fund shared-services pilot programs and build a team of experts to help agencies.

And the Office of Personnel Management should publish a strategic guide to managing the workforce transition to shared services.

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