Shared services is the current hot topic in UK government circles. The idea is that, by sharing resources, public sector organizations can benefit from efficiency savings. This is certainly true, and is not new to UK local government – many councils already share services and resources, thus benefiting from lower costs and economies of scale in the procurement of products and services.
Traditionally, councils have opted for shared services in administrative business areas, such as payroll or telephone answering. More recently, however, there has been a shift towards sharing of high technology solutions, mostly in the area of web-based services, such as county-wide portals.
Shared services make the most economic sense where the cost of running essential services by one council alone verges on the unaffordable. This often applies to service areas that rely on complex software applications for service delivery. A shared county-wide web portal does fit into this category but is not strictly necessary for the running of council services. Land- and property-based services, however, typify the services in question, and many councils have come to rely on geographical information systems (GIS) as a vital tool for supporting these functions.
GIS systems tend to be expensive and require specialist support staff. The support teams often do the same repetitive tasks such as maintaining and updating data, managing the base maps, and user administration and support. The councils also have to pay for the costs of servers and other hardware (e.g. plotters), and software such as a database for their GIS data. In two-tiered authorities, i.e. county and district councils, there is also a great deal of overlapping processes and duplication of data. Add to this the fact that many councils use the same GIS software, then the case for sharing GIS resources and assets really begins to make sense.
The first step towards that shared vision, after the business case is proven, could be consolidation and centralization of GIS support resources for basic administrative tasks. The next step could see a reduction in duplication of effort through sharing of maintenance processes such as managing the GIS base maps. Hardware could be centralized as the next step, with all GIS systems moved to a shared platform, thereby reducing maintenance effort and costs, and freeing up computer room and office space for some of the participating councils. The final step would be the sharing of the actual GIS software and databases, achieved through consolidation of software licenses.
The program to deliver such a shared vision would need to be carefully planned and rolled out in stages, ensuring convergence of working procedures, policies, and software versions, and a major clean-up of data sets. However long and complicated the program though, it could deliver cost savings at the end of each stage, and in the end it could transform councils’ land- and property-based services by providing high quality and consistent information and services to staff and customers across council boundaries.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)