Service implementation, efficiency, the provision of value-adds and making a contribution to connecting government are the key areas of focus for the three month old Shared Services Centre (SSC), according to SSC Deputy CEO, Susan Monkley.
Addressing the AIIA’s Canberra Managers’ Forum on Thursday 10 April 2014, Ms Monkley encouraged industry to engage with the SSC. She acknowledged that suppliers had insight and experience that could be highly relevant to the SSC, particularly with regard to managing Business as Usual (BAU), which currently ties up the majority of the SSC’s resources, but also about opportunities to innovate and do things differently.
When asked what success wold look like for the SSC, Ms Monkley said that it would be “that the SSC still existed, that we had increased our client base, that the Parliamentary Workflow System was fully rolled out and there was positive engagement with industry – ultimately though that our customers are satisfied with the services we are providing and we are supporting them in achieving their business outcomes”.
The SSC provides a range of corporate services to the two Departments that, prior to the Abbott Government’s Machinery of Government (MoG) changes, were program areas within the former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
According to Ms Monkley the SSC is a ‘virtual entity’ which sits between the two with a governance arrangement that ensure the needs of both agencies and their nine subsidiary agencies are met. The staff of the SSC are either employees of Education or employees of Employment – an arrangement which helps the SSC stay connected to both Departments.
Ms Monkley explained that the SSC was born of the desire to avoid creating problems by splitting DEEWR’s IT shop, (previously known as the Technology Solutions Group) and of its range of Corporate services more generally. The capacity and capability that DEEWR had built were at risk if Corporate had been split, and the split would have had significant costs, according to Ms Monkley.
“We hope that by creating the SSC, we are on the front foot when it comes to the Commission of Audit” she said. Some teams had been reduced by half and the synergies and rationalisations which had been achieved could have been lost if the SSC had not been formed. The Secretaries of the two Departments signed off on the proposal to create the SSC, just 3 months after the MoG changes.
The creation of the SSC means that it can focus on running its business, while its client agencies can focus on managing their outcomes, according to Ms Monkley.
Ms Monkley said “we fought the outsourcing fight for more years than I care to remember”, but the SSC has options as to how it could achieve its business outcomes, including becoming a broker of services, rather than retaining its traditional role as a provider of all ICT related and other services.
“Nothing has changed, but everything has changed” said Ms Monkley, explaining that while the SSC has the same functions and responsibilities as before the MoG, its approach had changed, and is very much about a focus on the customer.
Ms Monkley said that within the wider Australian Public Service there was a keen interest on how the SSC develops in meeting the evolving needs of its customers.
One of the immediate changes was to affirm, following a pilot, that development and test activities would occur in Amazon Web Services cloud service as this would provide “a more efficient and effective but less costly environment with no impact on the SSC’s customers” Ms Monkley said.
The SSC currently has nine customers and seeks to obtain more, either inside or outside the Education and Employment portfolios, but it has no targets in terms of the numbers of users it seeks to service. Nor does it have aspirations to provide services to agencies with protected or secret networks.
Ms Monkley’s view is that shared service arrangements which have failed have done so because too much emphasis was put on achieving cost reductions with too little emphasis put on understanding and meeting the needs of the client.
She stressed that the SSC understood that its clients needed to be treated equally and to ensure that there is effective and positive engagement with customers. There is a Business Performance Committee as well as an IT Committee, both of which Ms Monkley is a member. In addition, to ensure that the needs of both Departments are well understood by the SSC, Ms Monkley attends the Senior Executive meetings of both agencies. The SSC Board is chaired by Employment Secretary Renée Leon, with Education Secretary Lisa Paul, Public Service Commissioner Steven Sedgwick, a representative from the Department of Finance, an agency representative and an independent member completing the membership.
Ms Monkley said that there were 16 projects being implemented in the period to June that would help define how the SSC works with the introduction of a service catalogue also not far away.
The IT challenges for the SSC include:
1. Rationalising its data centre requirements;
2. Refreshing the IT architecture, some elements of which are up to 12 years old;
3. Taking advantage of new technologies and directions including cloud services and the mobility demands of its customers;
4. The resolution of the choice of a business tool for application monitoring and asset management.
Currently the SSC has created a cost structure that relates to the size of the client agency but Ms Monkley stated that by July 2014 the SSC would have a more fully developped model, and an even more robust one by July 2015.