11 tips for success in shared services

Between 1789 or so and now, the federal government has grown like bamboo — each shoot separate — rather than like a pin oak tree, with a single trunk supporting all the branches. That’s one reason the Office of Management and Budget is pushing shared services. It’s a way to reduce cost and redundancy.

Every administration in recent times has pushed this concept. In the latest iteration, OMB Comptroller Dave Mader has been running around describing an elaborate governance approach to make sure agencies fall in line. Now there’s a special governance board to look after it all.

Agencies are waking up to two facts. One, that shared services extend way beyond the obvious and most often mentioned ones like financial and human resources management. Two, best practices for inter-agency shared services also apply to intra-agency shared services.

Tom Temin
Federal Drive host Tom Temin

For proof of the latter, you need to look no further than Health and Human Services’ Program Support Center (PSC) that hosts a long list of services available governmentwide. But as Chief of Staff Ann-Marie Massenberg told me, among her principal customers are the Big Five components of HHS: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Indian Health Services and, of course, the National Institutes of Health. I love all those plurals in the names of singular agencies.

Sign up for the online chat with Air Force Deputy CIO Bill Marion II on May 9, at 10 a.m. (EDT).

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At yesterday’s day one of the 8th Shared Services & Process Improvement for Higher Education and Government’s conference taking place this week in Fairfax , Virginia, I moderated a panel consisting of Massenberg together with L. C. Williams, the associate director of the Interior Department’s Business Center; Glenn Davidson, the executive director for shared services at the Commerce Department; and Andrew Jackson, the assistant secretary for management at the Education Department. Our topic was collaboration, and how it’s an essential element between customer agency and shared services provider for success.

These veteran federal executives had a solid list of pointers for agency managers wishing plunge into the benefits of shared services. Here’s their collective wisdom:

1. Plan the work and work the plan. Plans require details, milestones and step-by-step approaches to how you’ll move your IT workload to the shared services provider. Have a super-clear picture of your as-is and to-be states.

2. Include metrics in your plan. What are your measures of success? What will success look like? Metrics can cover schedule, costs, performance, savings and customer service.

3. Make it a team approach. The transition to shared services affects a lot of people, potentially including agency system users, program managers, the IT staff, even external constituencies. You can’t bring in the public, but make sure all the affected people know what’s going on and have a say.

4. Start with a vanilla process. Sure you’ve got unique requirements. Everybody does. Or says they do. But just as the experts advise cleaning up a process before automating it, you should clean your processes and applications before migrating them. See if you can get by on the base application offering without complicating it with your own precious stuff.

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5. Treat a move to shared services as an acquisition. You may not be hiring a vendor, but adopting shared services requires establishing clear requirements and sticking to them, resisting the requirement creep that sinks so many commercial acquisitions.

6. Plan for anomalies. Nothing goes perfectly, make sure your plan includes backup plans and workarounds for the inevitable glitches in transition.

7. Include planning and transition in your cost estimates. Even before you start paying the shared services provider’s fees, don’t overlook the costs of planning. It takes the real time of lots of people to get this done.

8. Understand the importance of communication. That extends to the agency and provider, sure, but also the eventual users and anyone else affected by whatever service you will be using the shared version of. No one should be surprised by anything when the switchover day arrives.

9. Avoid over-reliance on contractors for analyzing your program and developing requirements and transition plans. That can cause both you and the shared services provider to psychically check out.

10. Leave time for training way ahead of transition, See #7 above. No surprises. The first time users see the new screens from the shared services provider should not be the day of transition.

11. Understand costs thoroughly. Your own costs for the service in question as well as the shared services provider’s. Otherwise, how will you be able to know whether you are saving dollars? It’s fair to expect the provider to know and understand its own costs in a detailed way, and be able to explain and justify them to you.