A few months ago Government published its new Shared Services Strategy, setting out the Cabinet Office’s vision for the UK's Central Government Finance, Commercial and HR systems. On the back of this, and as part of Civil Service Live Hitachi Solutions hosted a roundtable chaired by its authors and sponsors Matthew Coats and Nathan Moores. We were joined by Chris Perkins, Microsoft’s GM and leaders from digital, data, technology, finance, commercial teams across Central Government and the Devolved Administrations.
Shared Services splits opinion. Conceptually most agree that where there is commonality of function departments could or should share technology platforms. But there is concern that where policies and processes have diverged, shared services can’t meet the specific needs of its users.
In a quick-fire 60+ minutes, we thrashed through policy alignment, data standards and APIs, user-centred design, agile at scale and change and adoption. The session served as a perfect microcosm for those recurrent themes of organisational transformation. There was healthy debate about which ‘problem’ to tackle first and how best to get buy in at all levels of an organisation to ensure meaningful change in operational design.
There were many noteworthy anecdotes, but two really stood out for me. Firstly, that the civil service is not a single employer, people are contracted to their department. From the outside, it is often viewed as a single autonomous body of nearly half a million people functioning in the same repeated patterns. But it is far from it, meaning change will inevitably be multi-dimensional. The barriers and complexities here were well framed when the programme was described as the ‘toughest in Government.’
The second striking (and common theme) was that Shared Services is not a technology programme, albeit one of the key elements is to procure technology. It is about user-centred design (process and policy), data and change. Clearly, there are huge benefits that can be realised from automation, AI etc, but individually these are not going to define whether the programme is a success or not.
From my own perspective, the benefits of well-designed, data-driven and fully adopted corporate systems cannot be underplayed. In a period when more and more is being asked of our civil servants, removing the barriers to everyday tasks frees them up to further improve the lives of citizens.
I wish Matthew, Nathan and the rest of the programme team every success in their endeavours.