Shared Services Canada (SSC), the new government department mandated with consolidating and streamlining departmental data centres, networks and e-mail between over 40 federal departments, should succeed where other attempts have failed because it has three essential ingredients: money, mandate and political will.
Why was the IT Shared Services Branch (ITSB) of Public Works and Government Services Canada unable to succeed where Shared Services Canada should be able to?
Money: The challenge for ITSB is that it had to convince departments to use its services rather than to do things in-house or through a cluster of departments. Typically this was more expensive than each department doing things on their own, because individual departments didn’t have to account for power and accommodation in their IT costing. ITSB had to fully recover all this in its pricing models.
Today, SSC is fully funded and doesn’t need to ask departments for money to provide the required services.
Mandate: Treasury Board, through the Policy on the Management of IT, directed departments to ensure that “common or shared IT assets and services are used in departments to avoid duplication, when such assets and services are available and appropriate.” ITSB had a mandate to provide services, but departments were not told that they had to use them. The one exception was the government’s Secure Channel initiative.
SSC has been given a much stronger mandate as well as assets and people.
Political will: The 2012 federal budget makes it clear that the government intends to use Shared Services Canada to reduce the cost of information technology. There is no doubt that they are highlighting its success as a government priority. ITSB simply did not have this kind of profile.
So while all of this positions SSC to be successful, will it be?
A team approach will help. TEAM, in this context means: Transparency, Engagement, Accountability and Measurement.
Transparency: The more people feel fully informed on service levels, processes, expectations and decision-making, the more trust will be built between all the partners. In the government of Canada, it can be challenging enough to know these for an individual department and between headquarters and the regions, let alone by introducing another department as a service provider. Providing transparency will enable strong engagement by building trust.
Engagement: There is a saying in the federal public service that you don’t have to agree with everyone, but everyone should be consulted. Engagement between SSC and departments will provide a means for everyone to ensure that their issues and priorities are being considered. SSC may not always provide the service levels that everyone wants, but everyone will feel that they are part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Accountability: Reporting in this new shared services world just became trickier with the creation of Shared Services Canada. Many people now report to two different people in two different organizations, the home department and SSC. It is going to be increasingly important for everyone to know what, if anything, has changed in terms of where and how they fit and what they are responsible for. Clarifying accountabilities, roles and responsibilities for everyone is timely and always helps find the gaps and overlaps and close them.
Measurement: It’s usually not a good idea to ask someone if they are satisfied unless you first have told them what to expect. SSC is starting off with many different infrastructures and expectations of levels of service. It will be important to establish some key performance indicators and appropriate measures and analytics to show where things are and where they are going. In some cases it will take time to get the baseline data and set targets, but everyone will understand and agree with the short-, medium- and long-term measures of success. The success stories nowadays tend to be about organizations that have adopted a culture of measurement, such as Google, Walmart and Coca-Cola.
We have all heard the expression, “there is no I in team.” In this case, there is a lot of “I in team.” Many people are asking, “how do I best meet management’s expectations, how do I manage differently, how can I best make a positive impact, how has my role or responsibility changed?”
Through transparency, engagement, accountability and measurement, more public servants will be able to answer these questions and make a positive contribution to the success of Shared Services Canada.
Jeff Braybrook is former Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the government of Canada and president of Blueprint, an independent consulting firm specializing in governance, information management and web strategy.