Monday, January 14, 2013
Budget stress in the wake of the recent recession has been an incentive for many U.S. local officials to explore new cooperative relationships with neighboring jurisdictions. County governments are in a strategic position to develop shared service project

The recent IBM Center report, ‍A County Manager’s Guide to Shared Services in Local Government, by Eric Zeemering and Daryl Delabbio explores the trend amongst local governments to pursue various shared services arrangements. 

The authors discuss the growing interest in shared services, which is driven partly by economic concerns (i.e., budget savings and new revenue streams), as well as non-economic concerns such as the need to improve the quality of local services and improve working relationships with neighbor­ing jurisdictions.

Why pursue shared services?

But why pursue shared services or other interlocal agreements? Counties explore shared service delivery to:

  • Stimulate innovation in their local communities
  • Improve government decision-making
  • Increase levels or quality of service
  • Improve working relationships with other local governments

Preconditions to Successful Shared Service Implementations

Combining their extensive research and unique perspectives as an academic and a practitioner, the authors identify three pre­conditions for successful shared service implementations. These include:

  • Leadership: Top leaders in both the county government as well as the local governmental units participating in a shared service have to champion the initiative.  But that’s not sufficient.  Leadership is needed on the implementation teams, as well.  For example, Kershaw County, S.C., created a “synergy committee” with staff from the county, the City of Camden, the school district and local hospitals to find ways to work together, starting with joint purchasing of office paper and fleet maintenance.
  • Trust, reciprocity and transparency: Trust is seen as an important precondition for working together.  “Relationships are the currency of how we get everything done in government,” says Katy Simon, county manager of Washoe County, Nev. “.If people don’t trust each other, shared services are not going to work.”
  • Clear goals and measurable results: Dialogue is important, but so are results.  Howard County, Md., County Executive Ken Ulman made it a priority to work with the independent public-school district so that the county and the schools could find ways to create operational efficiencies and save money.  They set clear goals around jointly bidding health, dental and other employee benefits, resulting in yearly savings of $4.3 million.  This paved the way for developing similar agreements in other areas.

Along with these important preconditions to success, the authors provide five recom­mendations to help county leaders form and maintain successful shared service relationships. 

  1. Create a shared services assessment team
  2. Identify strengths in participating governments
  3. Consider pilot projects
  4. Discuss and document responsibilities with partners
  5. Make appropriate changes as needed

This report builds on the IBM Center’s long interest in the topic of shared services. In 2008, the IBM Center published Success Factors in Implementing Shared Services in Government, by Timothy Burns and Kathryn Yeaton. In addition to a series of examples of shared services in government, that report sets forth five key success factors in implementing shared services at any level of government.

We trust that this report will be helpful and informative to all government executives either considering shared services or already implementing such programs

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