Shared Services in Government: 4 Reasons Not to Share

Monday, November 23, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt

If I were to tell you not to share would I be asking you to break the Golden Rule we learnedChildren Sharing as kids?  Hardly, but I am badly outnumbered by the likes of such "thought leaders" as Gartner, Accenture, IBM, AT Kearney and other entities that promote a shared services strategy.  I have to be wrong when the numbers are so great against me . . . really?

As positive a phrase as "shared services" sounds, it belies the negative side that no one wants you to know about.  The government management paradox that shared services wind up costing you more for less government services.  What?  They didn’t tell you?

Let’s take a look at what is missed:

  1.  Did you have an optimal design in the first place?  Rarely, are government entities provisioning services in an optimal manner.  The rush to cut costs bypasses a bigger opportunity for improvement . . . the design and management of work.  Something the US government management doesn’t do well (but neither does the private sector – even though they claim to provide better service).   Most of the time all we do in sharing services is perpetuate a bad design and locking in waste.
  2.  Did we really need that front and back office in the first place?  This goes hand-in-hand with #1.  When we combined back offices, did we need that back office in the first place?  Most of these I have found can be designed out and services provisioned less expensively.  Our thinking is the problem as we functionally separate the work and try to optimize each piece creating sub-optimization. 
  3.  Did you understand demand?  A bad assumption is that all demand is demand we want from our constituents.  This is never the case.  Failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer) can range from 25
    to 75% or more in government entities.  Sharing services without knowing this number is to lock-in and even increase costs.
  4.   Did you know that costs are not in the scale, but in economies of flow?  A government management paradox is that costs are not reduced my scale, but by improving the flow.  A service provisioned well costs less tan one that isn’t.  To achieve this we must improve flow end-to-end from a customer perspective.  Understanding this can even have us achieve public sector innovation.

It is ridiculous to assume that combining things will lower costs in government, but a snappy tie or shoes and a well-known consulting firm, internet magazine or technology company can be mesmerizing.  Just remember that what you are seeing is slight of hand and will result in taxpayer and voter dissatisfaction.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Learn more about improvement in government . . . the better way!  Got to and make the taxpayer happy.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from "Understanding Your Organization as a System" and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at


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