Shared services – moving forward?

The notion of shared services has been promoted by the Government ever since the NHS/Xansa service realised significant savings for NHS trusts. Adoption of shared services by all sectors was assumed in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. HEFCE have been charged with managing the adoption of shared services in the sector; the Advisory Group overseeing this work met yesterday.

A number of feasibility studies commissioned by HEFCE have now completed with mixed results; the focus of yesterday’s meeting was to decide on the next steps. It was clear that, although savings may be achieved by small scale collaborations, it made sense to focus on those areas where scalable and perhaps national services could be delivered. After much discussion the focus fell on three areas: libraries, data centres and e-procurement. There are already a number of data centre projects in progress with a group maintaining oversight to ensure that good practice and lessons learned are shared. E-procurement was described as a “no-brainer” but in spite of case studies demonstrating the benefits, there has been little take up to date. One of the reasons cited for some of the feasibility studies reaching a negative conclusion was that there did not appear to be a market for the proposed service, even though the concept had been demonstrated in a handful of institutions. Other institutions were unwilling to take up a new service.

So what is it that is inhibiting institutions from adopting shared services? On reason could be a lack of communications. The results from the feasibility studies have yet to be published; making these more visible could lead to further collaboration and organic growth of services, even with those that were determined as being infeasible due to a lack of expected take up. Another could be language. Shared services are often associated with savings, savings with job losses. Moving a service off site implies a loss of control by the institution. So there is perhaps some work required to describe shared services in a way that is more palatable for the sector. But strong leadership is also needed – without more positive encouragement the shared services developed in the sector will remain low key and not fulfil their potential. The three areas identified are not the only ones where I believe shared services can deliver benefits but without strong leadership other opportunities will not be realised and there will continue to be inefficiencies within the sector which, in the current climate, it can ill afford.

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