The decision to investigate the potential of developing shared services can come from a number of different drivers. At the current time the most likely driver is managing reducing budgets. However there is still the potential that effective shared services can improve and extend the range of services currently available through working smarter.
Even if shared services could be a good option for your service or business it is not a good idea to rush into developing a the idea without first looking at other options such as:
- making the current service delivery methods as lean as possible
- other potential solutions including outsourcing or insourcing
Only after this should Shared Services be looked at as a potential option and a project team developed. A project board should also be established which includes decision makers from each of the organisations involved who all believe in its potential and speak with a single voice. The first role of this team and board is to establish the feasibility and potential of the project. The end of this phase of the project comes with a signing off of an agreed option by the key decision makers in all of the organisations, or a joint decision not to proceed.
The project team requires a leader who has the right skills and attitude to manage a range of different contributors and stakeholders – their egos, worries, concerns and enthusiasm. Someone with a Shared Service Architect post-graduate qualification has the right tool box to help them manage such a project, but they also need to have tenacity, the ability to act collaboratively and systematically and a passion for the desired outcome for the project they are managing. The project team must include people who are able to contribute effectively to achieving the required outcomes. This includes having the right skill sets, but also sufficient time and the right attitude to developing something innovative and different. There should be a core team who drive the project under the leadership of the project leader and sponsor, but with the ability to call in others with specific skills as and when they are required.
All shared service projects should be set up with a project sponsor of sufficient influence across all of the participating organisations to be able to ensure that the right people are actively involved in developing the project to keep it on track, on plan and to budget. They need to have this influence to tackle instances of staff working to make sure the project is not successful or not contributing effectively.
It is always going to be difficult to get the staff involved in the project to be positive about the potential of the new shared service when it is going to affect their future working life and will potentially mean there are fewer jobs available too. It is important, though, to involve all of the staff in the affected services in the project as soon as possible. At the very least they should be given regular information and updates on what is happening. The best way to get them involved, though, is involving them in mapping and designing how services could work in the future. In my experience it is amazing the range of good ideas that come from staff at all levels in an organisation. Only involving staff at a senior level could mean that some really innovative ideas never surface or, if they are suggested, they don’t get to the people who are in the project team. It is also vital to get the unions involved as early as possible to ensure that the staff are supported, and that issues and concerns can be raised and dealt with at as early a stage as possible.
The options to be included in the new shared service must be developed with the full support of the key decision makers – the board or council members – depending on what kind of organisations are involved in the project. They need to be closely involved in the creation of the vision for the new shared service, the outcomes it is expected to achieve and also in deciding clearly what will and will not be included. The new entity that they are working towards should be noticeably different to anything that currently exists if it is to be effective, not just a clone of one service with bits of the others added onto it. That does not mean that a shared service has to be completely separated from its originating organisations as it can continue to be embedded in a range of ways within these organisations. In fact the people using the services will often not realise that the way the services are managed has changed if this element is managed effectively (other than, hopefully, noticing that they have improved).
The main focus of the shared service project needs to be on the benefits that will accrue from the shared service and what will be maintained and improved on if the shared service option is developed. In the current tightening financial situation maintaining services to their current level in-house is not going to be a viable option. Shared services, like outsourcing or insourcing, will be the only way of keeping the key services going in a professional and effective way.