The Role of Shared Services in Technology Investments

The idea that technology can be shared is widely known, but not widely adopted in government. Coming together to share in commonalities opens windows to greater possibilities.
Jennifer Dowd, Kronos | January 31, 2019 AT 7:20 PM

The idea that technology can be shared is widely known, but not widely adopted in government. The fear of responsibility holds many back. “Who” will pay for “what” and “who” will be accountable is perceived as so insurmountable that it’s easier to keep things status quo. At some point, though, state and local governments will need to shed the traditional decentralized approach to technology investments and management. Their neighbors and allies (remember public sector is not in competition with each other like traditional private sector companies) are dealing with many of the same public facing issues. Why work in silos to find the right solution? Coming together to share in commonalities that could very well be sourced and operated collectively opens windows to greater possibilities.

Examples of shared services are often cited as cities/counties/departments merging and consolidating resources such as staff, buildings, and land. The term “interlocal sharing”, as mentioned in the recent article, “It’s Hard to Get Cities to Share Services. States Can Help.” gives collaboration a new spin. Inefficient use of resources causes citizens to question whether dollars are being wasted. These are very tangible assets that often get covered in the media and are easy to target for joint efforts. Sharing technology is further removed from the public eye, but often reaps just as many benefits. When the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASIO) and Public Technology Institute (PTI) both came out with their 2019 Technology Management Priorities for State and Local Government, consolidation and optimization appeared at #3 and #4 respectively. Bridging communities to address technology solutions for multi-participation supports this important priority.

Identifying solutions really depends on the need. Governments are faced with many areas of needed improvement. Take budget and labor costs for example. Demands to increase efficiency in the daily operations of government are all around us. Citizens, as well as constituents, cringe when they hear of more budget cuts. It’s no secret that government payroll is the one of the most expensive operational costs. Most automatically think lay-offs and the loss of important services or programs when budgets are strained. But it doesn’t always have to be this dire.

Areas of improvement lie just beneath the surface. These phrases we keep hearing, “big data” and “analytics”, put information into the hands of municipalities to make better, more informed labor decisions so they can feel good about being transparent with taxpayers. How can governments band together to draw on these best practices? What benefits come out of information being centrally housed?

Of course, one thing involving shared service we need not forget is “what about the risks?” Let’s put Cybersecurity aside. In a publication by The Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University we learn that there are also legal, operational, financial, reputational, and societal risks when banding together. These aren’t meant to be deterrents to a technology purchase in a shared service model, but rather important liabilities to consider and evaluate.

According to a guide for County Managers interested in Shared Services, there are two recommendations the authors urge leaders to consider:

  1. Create a Shared Service Assessment Team – Generally speaking this is a new venture for most entities. It’s going to take the right amount of dialogue and communication to deliver and sustain any project.
  2. Seek the Strengths of each Participating Government – Look at areas of expertise and determine who is in the best position to support a project.

Many governments have joined together in the effort to optimize resources for maximum results. It’s not always an easy path, but when done right it can be extremely rewarding. A technology plan makes all the difference when evaluating the pros and cons of a desired solution. When communities come together to make these important decisions they should not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is doing something for the “greater good”, as they navigate through uncharted waters.