You can’t stay still in shared services, says Jill Divorty, head of the ACT government’s eight-year-old shared services centre. Divorty says her organisation had always been in a constant state of change and was undergoing a revolutionary shift from service provider to business partner.
“You can never get comfortable in a shared services centre, and that’s because change is normal and there is no steady state at all in shared services,” she told the seminar, hosted by the Institute for Public Administration Australia’s ACT Branch.
While the ACT’s shared services centre had been “fairly successful” over the years and customer satisfaction was “adequate” at almost 80% on average across different business areas, Divorty said that was not good enough.
“We used to be just a service provider,” she explained. At the outset, agency heads had fairly basic expectations — like simply getting the payroll done on time and accurately — but after a few years it became clear that not everyone was happy with the system.
Service level agreements were not being signed, bills weren’t being paid on time and Divorty detected “a level of dissatisfaction” with the shared services centre’s work, even though it was hitting its KPIs and responsiveness targets.
The territory’s mandarins — who also form the centre’s board — told her they needed a business partner, not just a service provider. That meant someone who was ready before them, waiting to support their future strategic plans, not struggling to catch up with current ones.
Divorty knew it was “a big hill to climb” but over the next few years, the shared services centre evolved into something more like a commercial business. First was a one-year IT change process. “We created account managers who could go out and understand agencies’ business and where their strategic plan was heading, and we spent a lot of time getting some maps and strategies together so we could actually be prepared,” she explained.
Next was new service level agreements to underpin “a true partnership”, developed after another year spent redesigning the service offerings through workshops with experts in each area.
“It’s a very thin document, it’s a principles-based agreement and really, what it talks about is that we work collaboratively together to achieve community outcomes, so it’s a very, very different agreement from the very detailed SLAs that we had previously,” Divorty explained.
New whole-of-government KPIs put the focus on collaboration; other KPIs for the performance of individual agencies only come into play if they are not met.
“SLAs with clear, two-way service levels, that was one of the really big things that came out of our conversation with directorates at that time,” said Divorty. “And moving through to performance management, metrics, scorecards — actually getting really clear dashboards that everyone could see, that everyone could understand and that actually meant something to all parts of government was another key success factor for that part of our journey.”
She then described how contestability goes hand in hand with the “natural progression of a shared services centre”:
“By becoming a business partner, by taking those KPIs and those metrics, we will actually find that our benchmarking shows that there are some things we are really great at. Our customer surveys will show that there are some things that directorates value more than others, and we think it will lead to a natural progression to where our core strengths lie, and where in fact we should outsource or build strategic partnerships with industry.
“So we don’t see contestability as a threat, we actually see it as part of our maturity journey … and we welcome the actual progression through a really sensible conversation with our government that says: this is where you think we should be concentrating; this is where we think we’re really great at what we do; we think that in fact these particular functions should be kept in house … and we think these are the places that industry could actually really add value and in fact, we really don’t excel there anyway and we probably shouldn’t try to.”
Read more at The Mandarin: ‘Shared services shockers still fresh in collective memories’