NHS Shared Business Services – our series isn’t liked by everyone!

You may have read our series on the NHS Shared Services operation (SBS) that we published just before Christmas, following my visit to their centre in Leeds.  (Here’s a link to the third and final part of it).

Howard Clark, who also commented on our Cabinet Offices shared services piece yesterday, has published a very interesting critique of the SBS series here on his Calchas blog.  He clearly comes at it from a very different angle to us, as he is critical of much of my analysis and comments, but it’s well worth reading to get a different perspective.

For instance, he points out that there has been pressure put on health organisations to sign up to SBS and their services.

"The pressure to take-up NHS SBS services has been intense. In 2009 David Nicholson, then Chief Executive of the NHS in England, demanded that trusts justify why they hadn’t taken-up SBS. It was also suggested that complex procurement rules remained in place for NHS organisations, whereas procurement of NHS SBS services had been made easy. Coercion can take many forms".

Just to be clear on this last point – it was easy for organisations to use SBS without having to run a competitive process under the terms of a framework that Department of Health put in place. But that expired early last year. So organisations now have to run a competitive process if they want to use SBS  (that’s my understanding anyway). But that doesn’t negate Clark’s point about historical pressure.

Clark has a lot of experience in the shared services arena, and works with Professor John Seddon of Vanguard Consulting, who is a well-known consultant, academic, writer and guru – I’ve got a lot of respect for him and the whole “Systems Thinking” approach, so it’s certainly worth considering what they say.

Having said that, I think Clark makes both some fair comments about our articles and some that are less fair or objectively based. Have a look and see what you think – I’ll return to this next week and do a more considered response to his points!

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Voices (3)

  1. Dave Orr:

    Link to SOPO award above is broken. Try this:


  2. Dave Orr:

    Given the awful track record of outsourced shared services in the public sector for at least a decade, why does the outsourcers pitch still have ANY credibility?
    There are certainly many so-called White Papers where the contractor commissions a favourable piece from a paid consultancy. Not to mention all those award ceremonies where almost everyone who enters is a winner.

    For example, SOPO awarded IBM/Southwest One a prize for their APPROACH to procurement (via Category Management) in Somerset before the SAP ERP had been successfully implemented (it was late & problematic) to support Category Management and any serious savings had been made:


    There have been serial failures in outsourced shared services in both central & local government to make any of the claimed savings at contract outset fanfare time (DfT/DVLA, DEFRA, Beds, Suffolk, Liverpool, Birmingham, Somerset). Yet the same sales pitch is still made (via departing to New Zealand CEO Kevin Lavery in Cornwall with BT for example – a high water mark for credibility?).

    I am still waiting for JUST ONE evidenced and validated case for outsourced shared services making credible, real & significant savings that approach the promises made (with great fanfare) on contract signing.

    Could that market credibility gap be in part why Clark is chastising you for the the SBS article series Peter?

    Here in Somerset we are stuck with the controversial Joint Venture Southwest One (75% owned by IBM) that has cost something like £60m more than it has saved. After 5 of the contracted 10 years, the joint venture partners in Southwest One (IBM & Somerset County Council) are now suing and countersuing!.


    Can someone please tell me why public sector leaders & managers think IT is somehow “Back Office” when many successful private companies understand that IT is a strategic function underpinning innovation and flexible service?

    They outsource their IT function in a blink of an eye and then wonder why service flexibility is eroded henceforth! This is even odder given that people come in all shapes and sized and a one-size-fits-all “factory” approach cannot work.


    Are we “Back Office” professionals (IT, Business Analysts, Procurement & Finance etc) guilty of failing to effectively sell to our Leaders & Executives the credible in-house (with outside help) alternatives (e.g. LEAN “systems thinking” such as espoused by Vanguard & John Seddon)?

    Or does fault also lie with the current generation of Leaders & Executives who are happy to sub-contract their leadership & management role of complex in-house functions to someone else to manage whilst still coining the same pay?

    And….no-one has written a more idiosyncratic opinion article about where is the alternative to outsourcing in Barnet & Cornwall than Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly:


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