Ever watch toddlers playing together? It doesn’t take long for one of them to decide that something belongs to them and they jealously guard it. Sometimes even hitting other children trying to take the toy. That’s a lot like what sometimes happens in the world of Shared Services. Agencies are sometimes not all that anxious to share their IT systems. On the flip side, other agencies are not usually begging to migrate their systems to someone else’s system. There are bright spots in the Federal Government…just check out this website to see some great examples of Shared Services in action.
Why then do organizations continue to resist the sharing of IT-related services? Mostly because of a perceived lack of control would be my guess. “I don’t want to be at the mercy of something or someone that I can’t control,” seems to be the prevalent attitude. Why, on the other hand, do agencies decide to set up Shared Services Centers? It’s the money! The prospect of using another agency’s money to pay their bills in these times of tight government budgets is very tempting. So regardless of the motivations, it’s a win-win. Everybody gets to benefit from reduced costs in procuring, maintaining and upgrading the systems. And the question of control is pretty silly don’t you think? I have seen the same issues of control arise in my other life in the world of non-profits. Admin and IT costs were eating our lunch, reducing the funds available to help our constituents. We decided to approach similar organizations and see if they would be interested in sharing back-office and IT functions. We are all under the same financial pressures so you think it would be no brainer to share some things. But a funny thing happened. There were organizations that would rather just wither and die than to share anything. That’s a rather short-sighted view and does a dis-service to those the organizations are supporting, don’t you think? In the end, survival trumped control and the economics drove us to share back-office and IT functions, without losing our outward identity to the public. Yet we reduced administrative costs by over half. Survival can be a powerful motivator.
That’s what’s lacking in the Federal Shared Services arena–survival. Survival is not an issue for most Federal organizations. It doesn’t matter how poorly they are run or how woefully inadequate their budget is, they just keep on keeping on. So I think the key to enforcing Federal Shared Service initiatives is to put an element of survival into the mix. How to do that I leave up the the wonks, but I would suggest it’s all about the money. Put someone in charge and give them the purse strings. Then things will happen. Until then we will just jealousy guard all our toys, refusing to share with anyone. That’s not how I want my kids to be and it’s now how we should want our government to be.