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Sharing information and technology services across local authorities has changed. Sharing used to focus on realising efficiencies through economies of scale and user productivity improvements, at the expense of encouraging greater integration and collaboration across services. As shared services have extended beyond the back-office (with some councils merging front-office services, or even merging completely), deeper integration and true partnerships across councils are developing.

My experience of local authority shared services has formed my view that shared service success is about people and culture. A shared view of what good looks like (a shared strategy), mutual respect, and trust are key to developing a relationship where the compromises necessary for successful sharing can be tolerated.

 

What does sharing mean?

Sharing means compromise; being willing to give up sovereign ‘turf’, and to work together. Sharing can take a number of different forms:

  • co-exist: no systemic connection between the authorities
  • communicate: information sharing between the authorities
  • cooperate: informal and ad hoc interaction between the authorities
  • coordinate: systematic adjustment and alignment of work between the authorities to achieve greater outcomes
  • collaborate: long-term interaction between the authorities based on a shared mission, goals, decision-making and resources
  • combine: fully integrated planning, funding and decision-making between the authorities

Being clear on the intended form for the shared service, and what that means in terms of the likely compromise needed, and of the level of benefit that it will achieve, is key. A shared view of what good looks like will make it easier to be successful, and will build trust over time.

What does sharing deliver?

The form of shared service determines the benefits that sharing will deliver, for example:

  • at the ‘low’ end, sharing (some) technology enables ICT skills to be shared and a more efficient ICT function
  • sharing infrastructure improves on that, allowing for hosting economies of scale
  • sharing the service, allowing for business and ICT skills to be shared, delivering organisational efficiency

Obstacles and challenges

Shared services can be like a marriage: all of the parties have expectations of each other and of the relationship. Trust is crucial, compromise is essential and there’s always a risk not everything will be agreed. Investing in the relationship, building trust, and regularly validating what each party is looking for from the relationship (what good looks like) will ensure that any differences and disagreements can quickly be resolved and overcome.

As a shared ICT service, we are part of – and partners with – each of the councils. This is different to a commercial relationship; we are a ‘trusted partner’, with shared motivations and ambitions to the councils. We can also be more flexible than a contracted supplier!

Seeing how others have solved the problems that we all face is a positive starting point for innovation. Working as a shared service allows us to share learning at scale, and to experiment and innovate more. Shared services are a great opportunity to bring different stakeholders together, see how we could do things differently and have open minded conversations, changing together.

Ed Garcez is CIO and CDO of the Camden, Haringey and Islington Shared Digital service. Ed contributed to the RASP – Readiness Assessment for a Shared service Programme tool, that has been developed by Eduserv’s Executive Briefing Programme and launched with Socitm. To access the free tool, please visit… eduserv.org.uk/rasp 

About the author

Ed Garcez is CIO and CDO of the Camden, Haringey and Islington Shared Digital service.

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