Government New Shared Services Strategy

Something else that got somewhat lost in the Carillion furore in the UK public sector was the publication of a new shared services strategy for central government.

In recent years, the back-office shared services initiatives in government have been a failure in general terms, with National Audit Office reports suggesting they haven’t saved any substantial money, and have caused government departments that participated in the programmes considerable operational problems in the meantime. There are two shared service operations, one run by Sopra Steria in a jv with the government, and the other by Arvato, which seems to have been particular problematical (and seems to be used only by the Department for Transport and perhaps a bit of DCLG?).

The new strategy is a deck of PowerPoint slides and comes over very much as a consulting firm type presentation.  There is nothing obviously and horribly wrong with it, but it does not fill the reader with great confidence either. There are no costs laid out for the programme, no clear timescales, and no firm plans as such – just a list of fairly high-level “next steps from January 2018”.

The big idea seems to be to “sperate the service provision and the technology” which may be sensible but is hardly radical. The actual amount of “sharing” in the new model still seems quite limited too, with multiple operational centres still in place.

There will be “convergence around processes and data” (of course there will), and three software platforms, and there is a hope that 10%-15% savings can be achieved through “commercial tension” between the Oracle, SAP and whoever is chosen to provide a cheaper alternative for smaller departments. The centres will adopt cloud-based software, obviously (except we suspect where security gets in the way. Anyone want to put the payroll run for MI5 in the cloud?).

The majority of departments will use Oracle, while HMRC, Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will use SAP. And there will be robots. And maybe offshoring, “determined based on compliance with relevant HMG and Departmental data security policy and relevant legislation and the offshoring arrangement will be assessed periodically to ensure ongoing compliance with said policies”. I think we can safely predict that after Carillion, there will NOT be offshoring for some years to come.

The leader of the shared service programme, Matthew Coats, is the “interim leader” and seems to have kept his day job as COO of the Ministry of Justice. He has previously done some tough jobs in the public sector, but his background is not in IT or shared services, and we doubt very much that he will be doing this job in 12 months’ time.

There is no sign of any great enthusiasm in this area from John Manzoni, Cabinet Office head honcho, Ministers, who keep changing anyway, or anyone else important. So this will probably just rumble on making slow progress, with the occasional burst of activity, small steps forward and some steps backward until the Earth collapses into a dying sun …

In the meantime, you can check out someone who knows a whole lot more about shared services than me providing insight on the strategy. John Seddon deserves the overused term of “guru” and you can see his very readable and enlightening article here.

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