Shared services are a potential route to cost effective IT provision

Children are taught it is good to share. It is a lesson for life that is now being re-learnt by UK IT leaders, particular those who work in the public sector.

The coalition government has already introduced a series of measures to control and cut government spending. Such reductions have had an immediate impact, leaving many public sector executives concerned about how to achieve tight targets without negatively affecting service quality.

As much as 61 per cent of public sector finance chiefs believe budget cuts have already impacted front-line services, according to research from Comres. A coping strategy is required and smart local government executives are concentrating on technology.

The Comres research identified that three quarters of public finance chiefs believe IT is integral to achieving budget cuts. More specifically, as much as 83 per cent believe IT is essential for delivering shared services.

A shared service, where funding and resourcing is shared by a group of organisations, is a potential route to cost effective IT provision. Examples of the practice in the private sector can be traced to the 1980s and the popularity of the approach for the government sector grew through the 1990s.

The 2004 Gershon Review placed a new emphasis on efficiency, with a specific attempt to find new ways to create savings through shared services. The theme remains popular today, particularly in the
light of constrained economic conditions and wider attempts to reduce expenditure.

Representative body Socitm, for example, recently suggested authorities should look to share more website content to reduce costs. And leading organisations are already looking at how a shared approach can help cut costs.

Take East Dorset District Council and Christchurch Borough Council, who are implementing a joint financial management system as part of a wider shared service agreement. The system will go live from April next year and the aim is to deliver significant cost savings.

However, the joint approach will also provide new functionality and help to improve financial transparency. Such functionality will include a new focus on electronic procurement, business intelligence, and budgeting and forecasting.

Such examples show how shared services matter. The approach is important because, more than just being a means to cut costs, it provides a framework for the better provision of high quality services through technology. And that must always be the most important aim for any public sector organisation.

Dean Dickinson is Managing Director of Advanced Business Solutions, formerly COA Solutions. Dean has been in the finance software business since 1990. He was part of the senior management team at QSP/Arelon prior to the acquisition by COA Solutions at which time he became Deputy Managing Director for the business as a whole. Since the acquisition of COA Solutions by Advanced Computer Software Group in February 2010, Dean has become Managing Director for Advanced Business Solutions. He is a specialist in consultancy and has a strong knowledge of business processes within a high volume/high value environment.