Friday saw the first meeting of the strategic partners in the JISC’s Flexible Service Delivery programme. The meeting heard presentations from members of the group on what they are doing and what they are looking to achieve from their projects. This in itself should spawn greater collaboration between members and spawn new ideas (and is an approach that the HEFCE Shared Services agenda could have benefited from). As is often the case in such forums, there were a number or recurring themes:
- The need to baseline costs. This is essential in any programme that is looking to demonstrate and deliver benefits. There is recognition that the true costs of providing services needs to be established before the potential benefits can be assessed.
- Lack of understanding by vendors of what the programme is looking to achieve. Although there were a number of positive views expressed by vendors at the suppliers’ event held at the end of July, the feedback from the strategic partners was very much that vendors don’t understand. Whilst sales staff will want to protect their income streams (‘why would you want to buy modules from elsewhere when you can have all of it from us’) any potential loss could be balanced by a strong product in another area and this is perhaps what is not understood.
- Data quality. A number of the presentations echoed the message from the Data Efficiency review meeting held on Thursday last week, A recurring theme was that data in institutions remains in silos and the drivers for maintaining and managing the quality of data usually remains in those silos. There is no understanding that the data is institutional nor that changes in one aspect of that data may have impact on another.
- Governance. There were areas under this heading – the governance of shared services and institutional IT governance and engagement of senior management. Various governance models have been explored for shared services and there is no single solution. One project highlighted that, whilst a loose governance structure may allow greater flexibility it can be offset by the lack of institutional accountability and the budget that comes with it. There was recognition that there still remains something of a disconnection between business and IT when it comes to determining the services that IT departments should provide. Enterprise architecture (EA) is seen as a potential solution to this and although some institutions have demonstrated improvements as a result of adopting EA, not all have managed to engage senior management. Perhaps a case study directed at Finance Directors and demonstrating that EA has delivered effective use of resources may improve engagement.
There is perhaps a risk that programme is too broad and as a result may not maintain the momentum it has achieved thus far. A quick win would help as it would prove the concept and because it will highlight to suppliers that their customers are not wedded to monolithic solutions. In addition, there are still challenges within institutions to moving to a more flexible model.