From December 2004 through to January 2008 I was privileged to lead a team of over 150 people from various different organisations to create HM Prison Service Shared Services – named the “Phoenix Programme”. For the record we were responsible as a combined project team for the deployment of the HR, Payroll and Expenses services over what was then 130 public sector prisons and part of a larger programme that also addressed the modernisation and centralisation of Finance and Procurement functions. In time this would be augmented further with Training and Inventory Management.
Phoenix was a programme that was founded upon the recommendations of Sir Peter Gershon UK Public Sector efficiency Savings Review (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershon_Review) and from an HR perspective also applied the theories of David Ullrich into harden reality. Personally led by all of the Directors of the Prison Service at the time the message was clear from the start that this programme was very much needed to modernise an out dated and costly disparate locally deployed back office operation.
The business case stated cost of £65m but delivered £109m NPV of savings over 9 years, and actually broke even after 3.5 years. In doing so it fundamentally changed for ever the “back office” service provision across the prison service using what was then considered to be the proven technology of choice at the time - Oracle E-Business Suite.
It was a very long journey, with lots of ups and downs but I can honestly say if there was ever one moment in my own career that I can look back and say was truly “career defining” – then this was it!
Looking back the biggest success in regard to Phoenix I will always be proud of was actually nothing to do with technology, but its wider social impact. The Shared Services operation created around 500 jobs. We fundamentally did something that made a significant positive impact to the local economy of South Wales and from the Phoenix Programme I founded Certus Solutions so its economic impact and contribution has become even wider.
Why was it successful? Fundamentally we brought out the best in people from different backgrounds and organisations and got them all focused on achieving a common goal. It was truly a collaborative experience, with strong leadership and direction always at the helm and a total focus on achieving successful delivery. Friendships were forged in the front line of project delivery and have lasted what now seems an eternity.
Did things go wrong? Of course they did – but that’s projects and real project management (which in my opinion seems to be a lost art these days) is really all about how you deal with the challenge when things go wrong and still manage to steer a course through to success. On projects the size of Phoenix the only thing that is ever guaranteed is that things will go wrong – I would raise an eyebrow if anyone said otherwise.
Over the years I have also listened intently to numerous people’s interpretation and manipulation of “history” surrounding the programme. The irony being that the vast majority had either nothing to do with the original programme and some, worse still, claimed the accolades of others success! It’s amazing how reality becomes manipulated for others causes.
A Brave New World – the Advent of Cloud
So, it may-be a case of serendipity, but 10 years on exactly to the same date I post this blog I find myself literally back in Newport, South Wales in the offices of the Office National Statistics (ONS) as we sit on the threshold of launching the first ever Central Government Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud implementation. The ONS office being literally a stones throw away from the original Shared Services operation. How ironic?
Ramifications – The End of Shared Services?
The advent of Cloud Applications Technology offers government that moment that comes along once in a generation where a paradigm shift has the capability to make a significant difference to the way back office services can be consolidated and the “outcomes” from government wide management information can make radical cost savings in the hundreds of millions. However just like the Government Digital Services (GDS) initiatives it requires practitioners within government with a different perspective and thinking.
So with a heavy heart I find myself now writing about what I see as the end of Shared Services. Something that 10 years ago was state of the art and transformational is now I believe on the path to redundancy and becoming "irrelevant". In my world disruptive Cloud technology spells the end of Shared Services operations and I predict they will not exist in the next 5 years. Why do I say this?
- Digital by Default – Will have taken hold. This means you are going to need the business to change the way it accesses and transacts back office services, this has to be communicated and “sustainable business change” implemented subconsciously. Even paper will be finally minimalised and electronic documents will be all the norm – why? because that’s the way Cloud works. The customer experience regardless of the role in the supply chain will be the same as experienced today when using applications like Amazon, eBay, LinkedIn (The largest HR Database in the world!)
- Adopt and Adapt - becomes the modus operandi. Remember you can’t customise anymore – and why would you? Cloud processes, which are considered to be best of breed, need to be adopted and then adapted only when necessary. This will become the accepted norm and even the most complex transactions commoditised
- Rate of Innovation - in Cloud is so great, that in 3-5 years’ time all processes will be re-engineered backwards into the operation line. It will still be all about the "service". Business process is just a delivery mechanism for policy. Cloud is merely a technology enabler; it’s a new way of delivering and accessing a service from the “line” with transactions no longer being passed off to a centralised Shared Services operation somewhere. Who knows where we will be in 5 years time?
The evidence in this context is already forming. The offshore Indian outsourcing models that took hold in the 1990’s are seeing a significant decrease in long term revenues as customers decide not to extend their agreements and become resigned to digitalisation taking effect. Also the breaking of the “revenue” traps of the large SI onshore data centres are now blown away with the Cloud. The client can get to their data and effect change quickly than rather not at all due to the cost barriers. This evidence is only going to get greater as on-premise dies and Cloud adoption accelerates. The market and the industry is continuously changing at an acceleration never experienced before.
So can the Phoenix rise? Yes it can, but it needs new thinking and it will be in a completely different form.
Einstein quotes the definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. We are at an inflection point and the opportunity of Cloud and achieving the outcomes on a scale never seen before is in our grasp and in doing so delivering value for money for the taxpayer. The real question is are we going to change the way we have always done things or are we just going to repeat the past? Are we really prepared to think and deliver differently? - Only time will tell…I know some are and some like the ONS and HM Treasury are already on that journey.
So when everyone later starts to rewrite history later remember the ONS is the FIRST implementation in Central Government of Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud and you can only be first once!
Variations will no doubt follow. So to the implementation team comprising ONS, Oracle and Certus members I offer my congratulations on a successful implementation. You have all been brave, found a way to work collaboratively together and truly have led the way across government for the adoption of this positive disruptive technology – 30th October 2016 will be a date to be remembered.
As for Shared Services, let’s see if my predictions are right and see what the next 5 years bring. As for Phoenix I know it will rise again it will just be in a different form…the form of a Cloud!