On March 25, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo that directs government agencies to use, with limited exceptions, a shared services solution for financial management systems. The memo tasks the OMB – along with the Treasury Department – to examine the landscape of Federal Shared Service Providers (FSSPs), assess capabilities and gaps, and evaluate steps taken by agencies to align with the directive.
For their part, Federal managers, agency CFOs, CIOs and decision makers now also have a call to action, and must transition to a Shared Service Provider to meet current and future financial management system needs. A shared services approach to financial management has already demonstrated significant cost, efficiency and technology benefits for agencies via investments made by Commercial Shared Service Providers (CSSPs) and FSSPs. For agencies to fully realize the benefits of a shared services model for financial systems, there are several strategies that Federal managers and decision makers should consider.
Plan now, budget early
While it will take time for OMB and the Treasury Department to conduct their assessments of the SSP landscape, agencies should not hesitate when it comes to budgeting and planning for the transition to a shared services approach. Agency decision makers involved in the process should analyze funds that may be required so that, when it is time to act, they aren’t left scrambling for funds to support the initiative.
Advance planning also requires asking questions that must be answered before a move to a shared service provider can take place. For example, who within the agency (i.e. – CFO, CIO) will assume ownership for shared services for financial management? Are there internal champions and change-agents with the drive and authority to overcome any obstacles leading up to, during, and after the transition occurs? The earlier the agency can identify the right people and processes, the greater the chance the migration can be done quickly and cost-effectively.
Educate agency management, and socialize the model
Planning for a move to a FSSP or CSSP solution must account for the culture change this type of transition can require. Facilitating ‘buy-in’ from the top to the bottom of the agency is essential in successfully on-boarding to shared services. This means it will be necessary to combat misconceptions and overblown fears – especially among decision makers who are hesitant to relinquish control of financial data and users resistant to switch to a new system. Federal managers will be well served to educate senior management as to how shared services for financial systems can reduce costs, provide a more intuitive user experience, and enhance productivity.
Introducing significant change to the organization always starts at the top - well in advance of the selection of a specific solution or service provider. But education must extend to key stakeholders beyond the financial management community, into the CIO and program management offices. This education and culture change can be aided by a number of strategies. Industry Days, for example, are a great way to expose decision makers to FSSP and CSSP solutions, and the differences in how each approaches the challenge.
Develop effective Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
According to the OMB, the Financial Management Line of Business (FMLOB) Migration Planning Guidance defines the Service Level Agreement as a mutually binding agreement negotiated between a service provider and a customer that defines the specific level and quantity of operational and maintenance services that an external provider will offer a customer agency.
Investing both the time and effort to develop meaningful, effective SLAs will provide benefits throughout the life of the cloud services contract and ensure that the benefits a CSSP or FSSP can deliver are not undermined by disagreement over deliverables and performance. By engaging with the procurement shop and CIO throughout the procurement process, and by taking a leading role in the development and management of SLAs, the CFO maintains a higher level of control over the life of the project, and can positively affect its successful outcome.
Account for value of commercial investments
Agencies are operating in a challenging budget climate. CSSPs have invested significantly in cloud services and infrastructure – investments that agencies can leverage by employing a shared services model for financial systems. This is an approach about delivering the “best value,” as opposed to “low price, technically acceptable” proposals. Beyond the cost savings, agencies can benefit from innovations that will add value to their financial data, such as data analytics and visualization tools, mobile services and a dynamic user experience.
A shared services model for financial systems can help agencies experience a broad range of benefits, including cost savings, scalability, flexibility, and the ability to leverage commercial sector innovation. As is the case with any service, an effective strategy for selecting and implementing the service is critical to a successful initiative.
Whitney Vickrey is Chief Service Officer at GCE, a leading cloud-based financial accounting services provider.