Why do shared services fail?
by Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services at Plan-Net plc
There are a plethora of reasons why Shared Service models fail. However, understanding the key reasoning should help an organisation navigate what is often thought of as a painful and costly process. It is this thought which often persuades organisations to steer clear of 3rd party suppliers and adopt or continue with more costly and less efficient models.
Reading a piece of news about a shared IT service which failed to produce the expected cost-efficiencies or even created extra costs is far from unusual nowadays – the latest concerns being the Government’s new shared models, but many other cases have populated the press. However, this doesn’t mean the model is wrong: if implemented correctly and with the right metrics in place, it can deliver a whole new world of efficiencies, cost savings and value to organisations in both the public and private sectors. But to understand how to achieve success we first need to ask ourselves: why does a shared service fail?
The first consideration needs to be the driver for changing the existing Service. If the driver is purely cost then a Shared Service model will work for any organisation; however, it will be at the expense of quality of Service.
As we are all aware the current financial climate is proving a major constraint to all business sectors. This is especially apparent within the Public Sector and has led to a demand for low cost Service at the sacrifice of quality. Whilst it should not be the case (certainly given the critical nature of aspects of the sector such as the NHS), there is view that the user communities are more accepting to a low quality of Service. This enables a supplier to construct an operation which will provide a Single Point of Operation (SPO), but to meet the demands for cost savings they will often provide staff who can be either under-skilled, underpaid, unmotivated or a combination of the three. Typically such Services will be shared by a large number of organisations operating across different specialist areas. It will also be driven by the largest participants as they provide the greatest source of income for the organisation. This is likely to see an SME participant suffer due to the revenue extraction from a much larger organisation. This is by no means a slight on any such supplier – after all they are filling a void in the market place, and as long as an organisation understands these basic elements, this should alleviate many concerns.
Whilst the Private Sector is certainly not immune to the downturn, the demand for quality remains, just at a lower cost. This has led to the upturn in the number of household names investigating all possible efficiency savings. From Off-Shoring to Near-Shoring the options are many; however, the favoured from the user still remains within our own shores, just at a more efficient price. The success of shared models within the Private Sector is linked to a restriction on the number of active participants and a commonality in user demand.
Where participating organisations share synergies such as profile/type of User demand and common infrastructure, the success of a Shared Service Model has a head start. The more diverse each participant’s environments, the more complex the solution and the harder it is for a supplier to deliver a consistently high quality of Service at an efficient price.
One Size fits all?
There are suppliers that will lead you to believe they have the exact solution which will meet your requirements and will roll out a price list of the Services provided and the cost of each aspect of the Service.
The simple answer is: One Size does NOT fit all! Every organisation is different and it is this approach which has led to Outsourcing being given a bad name in certain quarters. Every Service has to be built from the ground up and if a supplier is happy to quote you a price without having a clear understanding of your business drivers, infrastructure & strategic roadmap then you should be considering whether they are a suitable partner.
To understand if a shared IT service is being successful and creating benefits, you need to decide which metrics to use to assess its success. The cost savings of a shared service are normally calculated on a cost-per-call basis. Of course if you only take that into account, the savings are evident – but that is not the only factor to take into consideration. By sharing IT Support with a number of other organisations, with different systems, environments and requirements, it is difficult to enjoy the same levels of service a dedicated service can provide. You will typically get a reduced commitment from a supplier compared to what you would have in a one-to -one relationship; so things like first time fix rates, percentages, response and resolution time will be generally lower.
Delays, downtime and other inefficiencies actually increase or create new costs even if the general expenditure related to the service is low. That might be why the expected cost savings are not met by many organisations – expectations have to take into account many other factors as well. This does not mean there aren’t any benefits and cost savings compared to a dedicated service; they just have to be more realistic.
On paper, a shared service will always be the cheaper option as it is designed to be marketed on a cost per call basis. However, expect additional costs for anything else you want on top of that. You buy a volume of tickets for a cheaper price, but when you break your threshold, you pay more per call – like going overdrawn in your bank account. If you’re a major organisation and you want to be able to control your costs, you are stepping into an unknown when entering a shared service model. It is important that the supplier is transparent on any additional costs you might encounter so that you are able to calculate a realistic expenditure that you can expect from the service.
Also, in a shared service, there is a very heavy reliance on process and knowledge coming through to the supplier from each customer, and any break in that knowledge will cause issues – and there is going be costs associated with that. So make sure your supplier talks you through and documents how such activities will be handled.
The successful shared service
There are definitely benefits in using a shared IT service, but in order to achieve them it is important that the model is implemented correctly. Generally speaking, a golden rule is that shared services work best when there are just a small number of organisations sharing, of similar type and sector and with similar environment, systems and needs. A good example of a successful shared service is one shared by similarly-sized legal firms which will have the same issues – mainly supporting standard devices, Document Management, email, digital dictation and so on, but without being in competition with each other on what concerns their technology offering, such as banks.
As for the service provider, it is important that the company used is transparent with what concerns cost and service expectations, and that they are committed to align their service to the customers’ existing SLAs at the very least, if not make an improvement.
Thanks to this, organisations can use the shared service in a cost-effective way to gain more efficiency, access higher skills for a lesser price, and at the same time not have to worry about the day-to-day management of their IT function as it will be well taken care of by another company. This way, they can focus on the core of their business and on how to use IT more strategically to enjoy even greater success.