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Shared services project is about user needs, not tech, says strategy director

If you’re hoping for the government’s shared services strategy to “break revolutionary ground” in terms of tech, you’ll be disappointed. It’s about serving user needs – not tech – says its strategy director Andy Helliwell

The government’s shared services strategy is about changing the way government operates, and not necessarily about the technology itself, according to shared services strategy director Andy Helliwell.

Speaking at the Public Sector ICT Summit yesterday, Helliwell defended the shared Services Strategy for Government programme, which was launched in January 2018.

The strategy is focused on helping the civil service achieve greater value for money from its IT systems by providing users with access to standardised human resources (HR), procurement, finance and payroll applications through a common platform.

However, the strategy for the programme has come under fire for lacking ambition, not taking advantage of new technologies and being too thin on the detail.

For instance, there are no precise figures being given for how much money the Cabinet Office hopes to save through the initiative, but the strategy puts the figure at “millions”.

Helliwell pointed out that the strategy isn’t so much about technology as it is “about serving the needs of the user and serving the needs of government”.

A technology community that’s hoping for us to be breaking revolutionary ground in our approach is, from a technology perspective, going to be disappointed,” he said.

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With an emphasis on using cloud-based systems and automation, the setup is intended to make it easier for civil servants to move between departments, as the IT systems and services they need to do their jobs should be the same wherever they work.

“This is a major cross-government transformation programme. We’re trying to change the way government operates,” said Helliwell. “Transformation on the inside is just as important as transforming the services we deliver to the citizens.”

“This is about supporting departments that are transforming themselves, and supporting civil servants and other public servants in a variety of roles.”

Browser-based mobile offering

In a blog post on progress, Ministry of Justice chief operating officer Matthew Coats – who also heads up the shared services programme – said the government has now extended its single operating platform (SOP) to include a “browser-based” mobile offering for staff, currently in use at the Cabinet Office and the Environment Agency.  

“User research tells us people want intuitive mobile solutions that measure up to the standards of technology we use in our everyday lives,” he said.

“SOP Mobile is browser-based, and we will listen to feedback to improve the user experience. We will also do some beta-testing with off-the-shelf apps to make sure we’ve found the best approach for users. Once we know from users which solution works best, we will look at developing and improving that service.”

The government has a checkered track record when it comes to shared services. Similar projects, such as the shared service centres programme, aiming to provide back-office functions for up to 14 departments and their arm’s-length bodies, has been heavily criticised for failing to achieve value for money, and for adding to the complexity of government IT systems.

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