Shared Services Special
May 29, 2012

New Brunswick’s service success story

“Get better and cut costs” is the mandate of New Brunswick Internal Services Agency, says Byron James, Secretary to Cabinet and Head of the Public Service. It’s a more positive and motivating motto than the traditional “do more with less.”

And that’s reflected in the look and feel of the still new agency. From the open-space, natural light, built-for-collaboration physical plant, where almost 350 staff work together, to the attitude expressed in a wall poster: “The best things in life aren’t things.”

NBISA is, according to the Harvard model, just transitioning from the “Launching” to the “Growing” phase. Spearheaded by an exploratory group formed in March 2008, it became operational May 2010, with a shared services model for 21 specific internal services.

“Service New Brunswick is a success story, so we applied the same concept to ‘back office’ government services, creating the New Brunswick Internal Services Agency,” James explained. “We’re now combining these bodies under one ministry, and expanding their role.”

Some of the initial successes: five services (accounts payable, payroll and benefits, IT services, IT infrastructure and applications, and print optimization) are up and running and stable. A new data centre has been built and 16 data centres will be consolidated into two. Accounts payable began with 110 people when NBISA took it over; it’s now down to 97, while the a/p invoice volume is now at about 600 (less than a day’s work) compared to 10,000. A print optimization program has been introduced which will reduce overall print costs by about 30 percent; and T-4s have been automated and are now available electronically.

And, like Apple’s Steve Jobs, they’ve designed their space to support collaboration, and work to aggressive timeframes with a “let’s figure out a way to do it” attitude and “ruthless prioritization” to deliver on time. Town hall meetings help communication.

The workforce is engaged and enjoys getting better while reducing costs – as I walked through the area with chief operating officer and acting VP transformation, Andrea Seymour, an employee proudly advised her, “five of us are retiring this year, and you won’t need to replace any of us.”

Seymour described their learning process: “New Brunswick had several unsuccessful attempts at internal shared services. In 2008 we decided to take a different approach and to build this from within. Using a collaborative transformation strategy we engaged a broad cross section of government employees in the development of the service delivery model and redesign of services. Our commitment was that we would engage consultants only where we had a skill gap, and that we’d build knowledge transfer as a key deliverable of those contracts, as opposed to having them do it for us and leave.
“We worked with three external firms in the design and implementation, and their staff were pretty well embedded in our team. The Intersol Group played a key role in assisting us with transformation and change management, and Chazey Partners was instrumental to our successful process of re-engineering and transitioning employees. We had Deloitte do a cross-country and international survey of what others were up to. Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario freely shared their lessons learned and, as we were told: ‘It’s like a game of leap-frog, learning from each other what works and doesn’t, jumping ahead, then someone else takes the lead.’ The lessons we learned from others, which we built in from the start, were:
•    Have enabling legislation;
•    Co-locate staff in one complex, don’t leave them embedded in client organizations;
•    Structure service delivery as a business: have a profit goal (savings) with the savings being turned over to the shareholders (the government) and governance that includes a board of directors;
•    Prepare a business case for each of the functions and develop accountability frameworks to ensure benefit delivery;
•    Benchmark relentlessly – your processes, other jurisdictions, who does it best in your public service; and
•    Adapt rather than adopt.”

The start-up team also listened to vendors about their knowledge of shared services. They listened to and learned from employees (at all levels) province-wide through collaborative workshops. They visited B.C., Alberta and Ontario, and generally immersed themselves in learning the state of the art. And they took eight months to develop a “roadmap” of where to go, which included developing a robust strategy and project plan and creating the governance model (nine potential models were assessed).  

The resulting shared services agency features:
•    Specific legislation mandating the agency, defining objectives and purposes with regulation making authority to prohibit creation of “shadow shops”;
•    A governing board of directors (with up to 11 members, six of whom must be DMs) and an ADM steering committee;
•    Service partnership agreements, with key performance indicators including reporting measurement and metrics; and
•    Client satisfaction surveys, assessing knowledge, professionalism, timeliness and resolution (by February 2012 satisfaction rates on all four factors ranged from 85 to 99 percent for both IT help desk and accounts payable).

The Agency legislation was proclaimed in May 2010 and deployment of services began. Through a “rolling wave” implementation approach payroll, AP and IT services from 29 departments and agencies were re-engineered, and in less than a year were fully deployed to the new agency.

Expanding the management toolkit was essential. At start-up, NBISA had a single director of project management. There are now six staff who have achieved Prince II certification, and they share that expertise and certification opportunity with staff from other departments. There were no lean Six Sigma specialists; there is now one black belt and two more in training. Forty-seven staff members have received yellow belt training and because services are now stable, continuous process improvement projects are underway in each service delivery area. This approach is aligned to the province’s Balanced Score Card initiative, and NBISA is proud of their evolving dashboard of key performance indicators and service partnership agreements specifying each party’s responsibilities.

It’s not centralization
Government veterans are familiar with the pendulum swing from decentralization in the good times to centralization in the tough times. NBISA sought to stabilize in the middle, (see chart). And by having client departments on the Board, the approach changes from doing “to” to doing “for.” Further, a group of ADMs provide advice to the executive management team and act as champions in the broader government community.

One of the major impacts of NBISA, Seymour reports, is that “we have a better understanding of the costs of services and have learned to better leverage our purchasing power.”

On March 1, corporate services was integrated government-wide under the new Department of Government Services, including Service New Brunswick, the Internal Services Agency, procurement, printing, translation, records management, event management, and web. “Our vision for change means focusing government efforts on core services, accountability and continuous performance improvement,” Premier David Alward announced.

What gets measured…
In business school one often hears, “what gets measured gets managed.” NBISA

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