Collaboration Through Shared Services - Part 3

Part 3 - Implementing Shared Services

While shared service delivery can be accomplished using a variety of structures that facilitate the coordination and implementation of services to stakeholders, they generally incorporate some common elements. In order to achieve their full potential, shared services models rely on high levels of participation. Further, in order to be cost-effective and efficient, shared services must be, to the extent possible, delivered in a uniform manner. This makes it possible to scale up service delivery and achieve a high level of cohesion and consistency. Finally, stakeholders need to show commitment to the notion of sharing programs and services through sustained participation, and by adhering to the policies and principles underpinning the shared services arrangement.

The implementation of shared services generally involves one or more providers who deliver mutually agreed upon programs and services to participating organizations. The providers may be members of the group of participating organizations or they may be external service providers. The clients may be departments or subsidiaries of an organization or they may be independent organizations that agree to participate in a shared services arrangement.

The shared services arrangement needs to be governed by relevant policies and usually requires the creation of an oversight body in the form of a board or council, and a management group to give operational effect to the decisions of the shared services oversight body. Mutually agreed upon shared services are delivered by internal or external providers in accordance with service level agreements that set out the terms of the service and cost to clients.

Shared services arrangements should be founded on a set of guiding principles that address such things as the focus of the shared services and the approach to selecting service providers, the benefits expected, service standards, and the expected commitment to the values and guiding principles of the shared services program by stakeholders, among other things.

The guiding principles should be incorporated into a shared services general agreement that participating associations should be required to sign. The shared services general agreement is the foundational document that underpins the shared services structure and concretizes the commitment of participating associations to the shared services program, its policies and principles, and its objectives.

Specific services will need to be further supported by separate service level agreements (SLAs) developed by the individual service providers in collaboration with the shared services organization specifying details about the service and its price. SLAs are signed by the service providers and their clients.

The literature and experience suggest that working collaboratively through the implementation of a shared services arrangement can yield significant benefits. To be successful, it is important that an appropriate shared services model be identified. In this respect, expectations need to be clearly stated and accepted by everyone before committing to shared activities. Organizations interested in establishing shared services must be prepared to embrace change and let go of established ways of operating. Moreover, expectations need to be realistic and it should be understood that improvements, and especially financial benefits, will take time to materialize. If the will to succeed is there, and if there is a broad outlook that takes into consideration the best interests of the collective, shared services can not only make the organization perform at a higher level, but also strengthen the bonds of cooperation in ways that go beyond the sharing of programs and services.