Is it the time for Joint Shared Services?

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Last month we wrote about how the rate of technology change is outpacing the internal IT departments of organisations. It certainly seems that the “squeeze” is on with cloud and external providers offering more agile compute services at the infrastructure level (now at an on-demand cost which can compete), and the business consumers procuring what they need, when they need it and of course where the need it through Software as a Service (SaaS) providers.

Two years ago the ability for CIOs to raise the virtual “Red Card” at these external forces through risk, compliance, data security, cost and the like still existed, particularly in areas such as financial services (although we constantly heard anecdotes of technology services being brought on credit cards in the front office and expensed back). However, today it is more a case or working out how to protect digital assets and company reputation from the increased decentralisation of technology governance (business/end-user empowerment), whilst continuing to deliver operational services against a backdrop of having to justify value.

So, whilst this move of technology governance to the corporate edges continues, the question is “What approach should organisations take to sourcing their underpinning infrastructure commodity services?”

We have seen decades of ebb and flow for the sourcing of technology services….Outsourcing, off shoring, near shoring, right shoring (we may have finally run out of prefixes…), managed services and the like. Internally, organisations have coupled this operating model with shared service functions such as Finance, Human Resource and Operations to deliver further efficiencies. What is less prevalent, however, is collaboration between client organisations.

Large service providers have shown the benefits through economies of scale to running client technology platforms. However, whatever your position is on outsourcing technology, many would argue that the clients themselves do not benefit fully from these efficiencies. This is of course natural where there is a fragmented delivery chain and limited client side collaboration. So, is the time right to extend the shared service model and create shared service models, or joint ventures, between peer organisations?

If you take the infrastructure layer then we think…YES. As we said in our previous article, where is the business (or more importantly brand) value in having technicians crafting infrastructure services? There are pockets/exceptions, but typically the “compute plumbing” supporting business applications does not drive competitive advantage. However, in todays fast moving landscape it is very easy to erode value through rigid or elongated timescales for service provisioning.

The pace of change is clearly illustrated by the transformed data centre market. Back in 2005/2006, many large corporate CIOs were scrambling to purchase their own data centres as space and power became scarce. Fast Forward to today and many of those same organisations are sitting with surplus capacity.

In the space of a few years, driven by new the revolution in virtualisation and cloud computing, it would now seem a bad strategy to build and manage your own client facility. 

The question to ask is how organisations can collaborate together to source their compute requirements together for mutual benefit. For back office processing there have been “carve outs”, collaborations or joint ventures such as in the investment management and insurance markets. Leading on from this, there is no reason why peer organisations couldn’t combine to create a SPV/JV for their underlying infrastructure requirements. This has the potential to bring many benefits, including:

  • Increased market leverage for commodity service pricing
  • Reduced fixed overheads and move from Capex to Opex
  • Improved standards and policies in areas such as security and risk management (through collective influence)
  • Increased agility and time to market
  • Enhanced technology innovation 
  • Improved focus on core business competencies

There are many others (and no doubt many counter arguments, which happy to receive…)

So what stops organisations proceeding? Well, most of all we are talking about a cultural shift which, if driven from the technology organisation themselves (CIO), is unlikely to get much traction. This level of change is not something that can be technology driven. This needs to be a top down, business led discussion.

It also doesn’t apply only to technology. Many years ago (I think late 90’s) I attended a conference where the speaker talked about measuring real company value and how organisations would over time “jettison” those operations that didn’t contribute to the customer proposition. What is left in the final end game? In the extreme example it is simply those creating the Strategy and Brand alone, with everything else sourced from the market. When you think about it, it does make sense.

Every year previously we have produced our predictions for the coming 12 months. We don’t see this happening in that timeframe but at least opening up the discussion should be on the CEOs “to-do” list in 2014…

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Posted on : 29-11-2013 | By : john.vincent | In : Innovation

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