Shared services – a tale of hope for government

The Shared Services Coalition says that using the shared service model can save $50 billion each year for the US federal government alone. Realizing this potential has proved a bit more challenging for many government agencies.

We focused on the benefits and best practice in shared services at this year’s Enterprise World earlier this month so in this post I will share my experiences with the US Department of the Interior (DoI) to show what can be achieved.

The idea behind shared service has been around for some time. Bringing together common functions – such as HR, finance and purchasing – offers the opportunity for major cost savings through the reduction of inefficiency and waste. Yet, almost every government has examples of where shared services have failed to deliver the expected benefits.

The result, according to Government Executive magazine is that in many cases shared services ‘have become synonymous with centralization, slow application development processes driven by conflicts over requirements, and grumbling about the costs of legacy infrastructure used to support shared services’.

This is a problem for government organizations that are putting a strong emphasis on the shared service model. The establishment of the Unified Shared Service Management office within the US General Service Administration is an example of where governments are trying to address shrinking budgets and growing bureaucracy.

But imposing a shared service model on agencies that are not prepared for it is likely to fail in two key areas. Firstly, it is difficult to align business process with technology infrastructure especially with inter-agency services. Senior management and user buy-in will be almost impossible to secure where the new systems don’t address their needs or fit their ways of working.

Secondly, selecting the correct technology platform is vital. One of the selling points for shared services was the possibility of retiring legacy system held together since the 1960s by little more than wire and promises. However, many shared services programs simply consolidate several legacy systems into one.  A global shared services survey from Deloitte found that the major area where the model failed to meet objectives is within technology automation.

Recently, I wrote a blog about the emergence of ‘Government as a Platform’ – creating a technology infrastructure based on common, reusable components – systems, services, process, analytics, etc – that can be adopted across all levels of government to build systems, work collaboratively and share information. This model uses common information platforms, modular software components and Cloud-based services so overcoming many of the failings that Government Executive associated with early shared service implementations.

It was the technology automation made possible by a common information platform and Cloud-based service that we brought to shared services within the Department of the Interior.

When we began working with the DoI, they had a major information governance challenge. The federal agency handled over 70 million emails a month from around one hundred thousand users using 15 separate systems. The need to find a way to effectively manage the information flowing over their network and mobile platforms and minimise risk was growing daily. The DoI wanted to be able give access to the information to the right people to enable their goal of enhancing employee collaboration and collaboration while ensuring sensitive personal data always remained secure.

A shared service made sense but it had to be delivered quickly and in a way that accelerated user acceptance. The need to capture, organize and manage the information within emails couldn’t be allowed to add complexity to the daily role of individuals. The underlying infrastructure needed the flexibility, scalability and security to accommodate the huge amount of data that was being created every month.

Working with the DoI, we helped create email, Enterprise Records and Document Management (eERDMS) Program based on OpenText™ Enterprise Content Management and the IQ Business Group managed Cloud. The core of the solution is an Enterprise eArchiving System that captures and auto-classifies all email content – without the end-user being aware of the process.

This innovative use of technology automation has set a number of milestones. It is the largest records and information governance program in the US federal government. It is the first FISMA compliant Cloud solution that addresses an entire Cabinet Federal Agency. Yet, the entire system – including transitioning from the legacy systems – took only 45 days. The eERDMS Program is a core component of the DoI’s technology initiative that is on track to make $500 million of savings by 2020.

DoI is only one example of the real benefits and business improvements that can be gained when shared services is well planned and executed.

Carol Brock

Carol is the Industry Marketing Strategist for the Public Sector worldwide. An Information Governance Expert by education and training with 20+ years of experience in federal and state government, she is passionate about facilitating digital government to provide electronic services to citizens.
With initiatives such as digital first, open data, and smart cities, there is much to talk about.

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