Thursday, 8 October 2009

Shared services stalemate?

(By Anthony Miller – Thursday 8th October 2009 8:00am). Last night I was a guest at an excellent dinner hosted by India-based SI, HCL, for its UK public sector clients and prospects. Guest speaker was the omnipresent Sir Peter Gershon, and the proceedings were presided over by Dr Martin Read, ex-Logica CEO, co-author of the recent Government Operational Efficiency Review, and now senior advisor to HCL.

Both Gershon’s speech, and especially the discussion afterwards, were spirited and incredibly ‘frank and open’. Chatham House rules were the order of the evening, so no details, I’m afraid. But the sense of frustration among local authority leaders at the dinner on the lack of progress with shared services was palpable. Part of the problem, it seems, is an ambivalent attitude within central government as to how much power to delegate to local authorities. This, perhaps as much as potential local authority internecine battles (i.e. “shared services is a great idea – so long as it is us doing the sharing”), appears to be a major stumbling block.

I was greatly encouraged that local authority leaders (at least, those at the dinner) want to move forward on shared services, but I fear that the political obstacles will prove too debilitating. While there is evidence that local authorities with sufficient ‘guts’ can – and do – make shared services happen almost despite central government ‘support’, surely a lot more progress could be made if only Westminster would get its act together.

By the way, in case you were wondering whether “HCL Public Sector” (or for that matter, “TCS Public Sector” or “Wipro Public Sector” etc) is an oxymoron, my recent meetings with top management at the India-based players made it very clear to me that they do not think they are wasting their time. Last night’s dinner was just one example of (a) how seriously HCL et al believe they have a direct role to play in UK public sector IT, and (b) that public sector leaders are more than prepared to listen.

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