Government-as-a-Platform Holds New Promise for Shared Services
Shared services as a concept has long been seen as a way to break down silos between government agencies to improve service delivery and reduce costs. Yet its track record has not been quite as stellar as expected.
Agencies Are Hesitant to Change
For instance, last March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it was abandoning its effort to transition its three HR systems to a shared services provider due to problems with the ongoing effort, according to the Federal Times. Many other government agencies continue to hesitate to move to shared services — MeriTalk noted only 53 percent of agencies currently use shared services — despite the touted benefits.
A December 2015 Partnership for Public Service report similarly noted that while federal agencies have shown that support services can be effectively and efficiently consolidated, the knowledge has not yet translated into government-wide measures for dramatically transforming support services. One reason is that shared services have come to be negatively associated with centralization, slow application development and high costs from the legacy systems used to support the services.
Embracing the Benefits of Shared Services
The development of the government-as-a-platform (GaaP) concept, which promotes the use of cloud computing and API-based software to make government more efficient and flexible, could finally help shared services live up to its promise. According to an article in Government Executive, virtualization and cloud technologies will reduce costs by using the infrastructure more efficiently and centralizing systems administration and support tasks. With new cloud capabilities, shared services promise to be less costly and less centralized while better enabling collaboration and data sharing.
Reducing Infrastructure Costs
GaaP allows shared services to be offered from a universal platform that spans public, private and hybrid clouds, and legacy noncloud infrastructures where required. For instance, an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model could be used to support an electronic government portal used by all public entities with public cloud hosting.
On the other hand, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) approach would be best-suited for agencies looking to share an application but desiring higher levels of flexibility to modify the application. A software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach could be used for highly commoditized services with low to moderate security needs, such as email newsletter software shared by multiple agencies. In the case of these two examples, a private or hybrid cloud environment would be an appropriate hosting environment.
Additionally, GaaP offers more transparency, allowing agencies to have greater control of what they are spending on shared services as well as better insight into what they are getting for their money.
Adding Greater Flexibility
One of the biggest challenges in moving to shared services is not the technology or the cost, but governance. Public agencies frequently resist the move to a centralized platform because they fear they won’t have the flexibility to meet their specific needs.
A GaaP solution can address this concern by being designed and engineered in a way that allows applications to be built out of independently existing components. Doing so will speed application development and allow government agencies to modify their own specific services on top of core applications.
Enabling Better Collaboration
A GaaP solution built on composable services allows applications to work independently, but when delivered together, they can be automatically integrated by the platform to support data sharing and analysis. In a world where access to data is crucial to decision-making and improving the user experience, this capability has the potential to significantly improve government productivity and service quality.
The move to shared services could cut federal IT costs by $27.9 billion annually — more than one-third of the federal government’s total IT budget — according to MeriTalk. Given those kinds of cost savings, particularly as fiscal pressure continues to mount on agencies, the cost benefits of shared services are hard to ignore.
GaaP finally promises a way to make the transition to shared capabilities not only cost-effective, but also one that allows government agencies to maintain flexibility and autonomy where needed.