Crack team hired to probe Canberra's shared services plan

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Crack team hired to probe Canberra's shared services plan

Former CIO poached to lead Federal Government initiative.

Australia's Department of Finance has appointed former Department of Industry CIO Greg Field to lead a newly established unit charged with investigating and planning the expansion of shared services into the federal government.

As Finance’s newest first assistant secretary, Field will work to nut out some of the issues facing the broader shared services rollout recommended in the March final report of the national Commission of Audit (NCOA).

iTnews understands he will answer to deputy secretary Stein Helgeby in the governance and resource management division.

Matthew Boyley – formerly CIO of the now defunct Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism – has stepped in to fill the vacancy at the Department of Industry.

An embrace of shared services – especially for finance and procurement functions “as early priorities” – was one of the more controversial recommendations of the Commission of Audit.

The cabinet has yet to formally respond to this particular piece of advice, but is clearly weighing it up as an option. Internal to the Department of Finance, mandatory shared services has also popped up as one of the options being considered as part of a broader Canberra ERP consolidation.

Gartner analyst and former Government CIO Glenn Archer has warned that the Federal Government must pay close attention to the failure of the states and territories in this space before it embarks on any corporate services reforms.

It is a position mirrored by the February interim report of the NCOA, which pointed to domestic examples of  “poor implementation, unrealised benefits and, in some cases, abandonment of the shared services concept."  

Within a month, the NCOA shifted from that position to an unqualified endorsement of the model in its March edition.

While Archer wouldn’t be drawn on the reasons behind the NCOA team’s change of heart, he said it was clear that “the experience in the states has not gone well".

“Whether it is Western Australia, Victoria or Queensland, they have all been quite problematic,” he said.

In his experience, problems start to arise when governments focus on unqualified efficiencies and ignore the compromises that are inherent to the sharing model.

“Success comes down to a couple of fundamental issues,” he said.

“If agencies want the efficiency, then they need to understand that they are not going to be able to conduct some operations to the same degree that they had been able to do them inhouse before.

“If they don’t accept that compromise, shared services will fail, simply because stakeholders will not be happy with the outcome, or they will place additional obligations on the shared services agency that will inflate their costs, and they won’t deliver against the business case."

Gartner’s official position, according to Archer, is that clustering agencies with the same business interests – like the departments of Education and Employment – presents the best chance of success for the model.

“But big bang approaches - we don’t see too many of those being successful,” he warned.

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