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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Collaboration essential to overcoming skepticism about shared services, report says

A new report points to buy-in from all stakeholders and communication among agencies as essential to a shared services environment that consolidates business processes across government. But reluctance to relinquish information, confusion about the business model and skepticism about funding continues to stall progress, said a government official.

In 2004, the Office of Management and Budget established the lines of business initiative to meet a President's Management Agenda goal to expand electronic government. The intent was to provide services across agencies and consolidate operations to save money and improve efficiency. Agencies are encouraged to share services managed by federal or commercial providers. Human resources services, for example, are offered through the Treasury Department's HR Connect Program, the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center and the Interior Department's National Business Center. Interior's center also provides financial management services.

To help agencies make the transition, IAC's Collaboration and Transformation Shared Interest Group interviewed service providers and their customers at large civilian agencies to determine best practices. The analysis focused on four of the administration's e-government initiatives: payroll, rulemaking, financial management and human resources.

The overarching finding from the report was that managers and staff at both the provider and customer agencies, as well as oversight organizations, should be involved in the initial design, planning, migration and operation of shared services. That, in turn, allows more customization of services and a migration path that is least disruptive to the agencies involved.

Other best practices highlighted in the report include continuous marketing of services and a business approach to funding.

Funding is not the only issue driving skepticism from some agencies about shared services. A reluctance to hand over ownership of information and confusion about the business model persist. While many agencies praise the concept, Ed Meagher, deputy chief information officer at Interior, which was among the agencies interviewed for the study, compares the buzz to the emperor's new clothes -- outwardly positive, but artificial.

To come around to the idea of shared services, agencies need a clearly defined and gradual approach that doesn't require completely scrapping existing business processes, Meagher said.

-Jill Aitoro, GovExec.com

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