As we approach the eighth year of austerity, the public sector is continuing to innovate to reduce costs and transform services. Emerging technology is playing a role here, and it’s encouraging to see central and local government successfully trial the likes of robotic automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly to boost productivity. But alongside this, significant potential still lies in rethinking how functions could be restructured and managed, particularly across the back-office.
Shared services programmes – which typically involve several organisations migrating their services to a standardised platform to generate economies of scale – are not a new concept, but they are seeing something of a resurgence. Our Swansea-based operation has successfully transitioned the Department for Transport’s (DfT) family of executive agencies on to a standardised platform for the first time, helping more than 22,500 civil servants spend more time delivering vital public services.
But the scale and complexity involved in establishing these programmes can prove challenging. This certainly isn’t new to Arvato, and there several key learnings we’ve adopted from our experience in delivering both public sector shared services and global transformation projects for large, leading companies across the world.
While standardising processes and service platforms is crucial to realise the potential savings on offer, what’s really important is the level of partnership and trust between the parties involved – in our case our clients, ourselves plus the organisations joining the shared service centre. A programme that can deliver such major transformation is often a learning process, and it’s important to nurture a relationship that allows you to look at different ways of doing things and adapt to make sure the best outcomes can be achieved.
Transparency is a key factor in developing this. We know from our work with the DfT that embedding a clear, transparent governance process from the outset helps secure buy-in from each client organisation, and also get their employees on board. With clearly defined roles and rules of engagement from the start, each stakeholder, whether it be client or supplier, knows where their responsibility begins and ends.
As a leadership team, you must be visible to gain trust – not just to senior management but to all levels of the client and supplier organisations. Clarity around who is making the decisions, how the programme is performing and who has the overriding authority. This approach helps organisations reach their project milestones on time and on budget – in turn, this success can only strengthen the relationship.
The platform and the technology is not the ultimate driver of savings. Being able to work collaboratively and in partnership is the key to realising the potential of shared services. Applying these lessons to new programmes can help unlock the savings that will go a long way to protecting front-line services.