SHARE and share alike

 

I’ve spent the last two days at the SHARE conference (http://www.share-he.org/). The conference was aimed at senior management level with the intention of demonstrating the opportunities for shared services within the higher education sector. The majority of the case studies given had an IT services flavour. This is perhaps not entirely surprising given that one of the criteria for success of a shared service is “effective use of systems” (although this includes effective processes and not exclusively IT systems) but what was surprising was how many of the case studies were wholly IT focussed. The established commercial shared services focus on a number of key areas: IT, procurement, finance and HR. However, although there were examples of good services introduced or studied in IT and procurement, there were no examples within finance and HR which are possibly the two areas where there are the largest volumes of transactions.

 

Two IT based studies that caught my eye were on data centres and information security. There are a number of reasons for considering shared data centres and a number of different options for delivery. The study carried out jointly by Salford, Sheffield Hallam and Derby started by looking at the shared service as a secondary facility but it became evident that such a service could deliver the primary data centre facilities for the three institutions. The service would be managed by a joint company. Salford and Derby are looking to carry on work in this area; Sheffield Hallam are looking at an alternative approach with institutions utilising virtualisation across the Yorkshire/Humberside region and deploying (virtual) servers across existing resources. Another approach is a ‘space only’ option where institutions rent space in a shared resource. Overall the various developments should mean that the sector identifies a range of models and benefits to be gained from each.

 

The information security presentation from the East Midlands MAN focussed largely on network and systems security. The proposal is ambitious but if successful will deliver great benefits to the institutions in the EMMAN area, freeing up resource in each institution and delivering quality information to enable institutions to target problem areas. One aspect of the service that was proposed was to carry out “health checks” on the network of the member institutions. It was suggested that a health check should be a prerequisite to joining the service to establish a common (base) standard and to ensure that no one institution takes too great a share of resources from the shared service by having a low standard of security. I think this makes sense and would allow the service to focus on genuine problems.

 

Finally two common themes that were raised throughout the event were scalability and governance. Most of the initiatives highlighted were local or small scale; it is not clear how many of them would scale to national services and in some cases, it was determined that the service would not scale much beyond the initial study. So the golden bullet of a large scale national shared service in the sector that delivers major efficiencies has yet to be found. Each service needs to be well governed; a number of models were highlighted but each had representation from operation teams and customers. Obviously a badly managed service will fail to deliver benefits.

 

So will shared services make an impact in the HE sector? I think they will but the conference was largely preaching to the converted – there is a great deal of work that remains to be done to win hearts and minds and manage the culture change required to make it work.

 

 

 

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