Universities and higher education institutions naturally favour anything that will enable them to save money on operational expenses, to ensure universities and colleges can maximise spending on research and students.
Shared services provide a critical way for institutions to save money, from sector-owned services such as Jisc and UCAS to numerous local and regional collaborations. Strategic IT outsourcing is another way universities and colleges can benefit from cost savings generated by shared services.
Shared cost saving in practice
Jisc, a nonprofit, founded in 1993, has been blazing a cost saving trail through the sector for over two decades. With over 150 members from the Association of Colleges, GuildHE and Universities UK, they are collectively saving £259 million a year, with productivity gains in the region of £100 million.
A Universities UK report highlighted the work of Jisc, whilst noting that they aren’t the only one seeking to generate cost saving benefits from sharing IT assets and services. The VAT exemption, implemented in the Finance Act 2012 was a big win for The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), making it easier to save money through new cost-sharing groups.
Putting shared services into practice is different from simply outsourcing an IT contract or seeking a new legal provider. Jisc reminds universities that shared services “require a formal framework and additional governance. The advantage of a shared service is that users play a much stronger part in determining how it is developed and delivered.”
How to ensure shared services success
Too often, shared services fail through a lack of understanding, a clear grasp of the benefits (cost savings) and a “Failure to understand the importance of good process design and good workflow is the main reason why many shared service initiatives fail to deliver the expected benefits.”
In many respects, public sector IT can teach higher education shared service providers a few things since the focus on the user’s needs is producing cutting-edge innovation. The Government Digital Services (GDS) blueprint for multi-sourcing is something the higher education sector would benefit from implementing, which can create 40% in savings whilst making it easier to improve efficiencies.
There are numerous examples of how shared services can be done well across the higher education sector. All of them started with a clear strategy; one that by definition, needs to include IT as a way of reducing the costs and increasing the benefits of sharing services between higher education institutions.
Are you using shared services? We’d be interested in hearing your experience, the pros and cons and what you would recommend. Comment below if you would like to share your thoughts.