Jisc case studies wiki Case studies / Higher Education and Local Authority Shared Service (HELASS)
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Higher Education and Local Authority Shared Service (HELASS)

Funded by the: JISC Flexible Service Delivery programme.

Lead Institution: Plymouth University.

Partner Organisations: Plymouth City Council and SERCO.

Key Words: Technology trends and shared services.




Aims and Objectives


The overall aim of Project HELASS (Higher Education & Local Authority Shared Services) is to explore the possibilities, under Strand B: Business Process and ICT Change, of developing a shared services framework for ICT infrastructure and support services across a HE institution and a large local authority.


In partnership with Serco Limited and Plymouth City Council (PCC) the University of Plymouth (UoP) intends to work collaboratively to explore innovative ways both of cutting costs and of improving service quality and efficiency through the appropriate sharing of ICT infrastructure and support services.


It is expected that this project will also identify opportunities for co-working, for joint procurements, for sharing of knowledge and experience and for resource rationalisation between the two individual ICT services in the delivery of back office and front-end facilities.






Public sector spending cuts are driving the requirement to find new delivery models which reduce cost whilst maintaining or improving key front-line services.


Students moving to self-funding arrangements for HE from 2012 is causing HE institutions to explore their differentiating features and their cost base.


ICT Trends


Shift to provision of storage and other technology-based services, including applications to shared provision or cloud architectures.


Political (General)


Political will to see shared services become widespread to save money through economies of scale.


Political (Plymouth City Council)


Councils have elected leaders and this has an impact on the organisational culture. For example (in the context of cloud provision), the prospect of losing high quality jobs from the locality is an undesirable political message.




PCC and UoP have their own independent governance arrangements. This is one of the major challenges for organisations seeking to move to shared services.


Shifting Landscape


The project execution has taken place during a time of dramatic change in both organisations. 




The Analysis of UoP and PCC was wide-ranging and high-level and included:

  • Documentation (Policies)
  • Staffing
  • Financials
  • Infrastructure
  • Support arrangements and performance
  • Service Volumes (Support Desks)
  • Applications
  • Projects
  • Contracts
  • Service Quality


Project Team Structure



The business case


There was not a business case as such.  The aim of the project was to explore options and generate high level business cases for the preferred recommendations.  The project was driven by the belief that there must be opportunities for the two large organisations to work together and both derive benefits. The JISC funding enabled this exploratory project.


Key drivers


This investigation into opportunities for sharing resources with Plymouth City Council aligns well with the UoP Modernisation Programme. The drivers are efficiency, innovation, quality of service to meet increasing student demands, environmental challenges and cost. 


Establishing and maintaining senior management buy-in


The project was initiated by University of Plymouth Senior Management so 'buy-in' is a given for UoP.  Plymouth City Council has a good relationship with UoP and were keen to explore shared service options. PCC’s Assistant Chief Executive was the project sponsor from the outset. Serco have a strategic interest in Plymouth and their champion for the project was the Head of Global Strategic Projects. All the senior managers have stayed committed to the project throughout. As the project has developed all parties have now agreed that future governance will be overseen by the Plymouth Public Sector Board which includes the key public sector bodies in the City and which will have the authority to make decisions on the implementation of shared services.


Technologies used


Since the scope of the project has been very wide it potentially touches all the technologies in use by PCC and UoP. As a fairly high-level approach has been taken so far, details of technologies will be key for follow-on work looking at the detail of specific recommendations.






A graded list of 45 opportunities was identified for PCC and UoP to consider where the benefits of shared services could be realised. 


Of these, a set of seven were identified as potential ‘Early Adopter’ opportunities where the greatest benefits could be realised within three years. High level business cases projecting potential savings were produced.

Of these seven, two were chosen as the first two services to be taken forward for the development of detailed business cases.


The specific services identified for PCC and UoP are commercially sensitive and are detailed in a report produced by Serco specifically for the two organisations.


Many lessons were learned during the project, some of which are quite sensitive but have been included in the ‘Lessons Learned’ section of this case study in any case.






The financial benefit of a more closely aligned ICT service between the two organisations is potentially in the region of £1.7 million per year – and achievable within three years. This sum comes with caveats depending on what the two organisations decide to do. The sum could also potentially be exceeded once the next level of detail is investigated.



The main benefits that the project has already delivered are two-fold. Firstly the cementing of what was already a good relationship between UoP and PCC, into something that can now be built on to deliver practical benefits.  Secondly the baseline information that is now available about the two organisations and the firm recommendations plus the belief in them that has resulted from the exercise. The tangible benefits will begin to be realised when one or more of the recommendations are taken up. 


Dissemination of the project findings, key learning points and the analysis methods used are (and will be) proving useful to a range of other institutions interested in investigating a shared service agenda (especially HE and non HE potential collaborators).


The analysis methodology


Scoring Matrix 

The identified potential Shared Service options were jointly assessed with the UoP and PCC project representatives and allocated a maximum score of 10 against 4 criteria: 


  1. Impact. The potential positive impact across the University of Plymouth and Plymouth City Council enterprises. Primary considerations taken into account were projected impact on both the cost and quality of service delivery. Other parameters considered were the strategic or tactical nature of the option and its ability to enable further downstream Shared Services.
  2. Cost. Primarily assessed in two dimensions, the first being the absolute cost of implementing the Shared Service and the second being the cost in relation to the potential impact assessed in (1) above.
  3. Time. An assessment of the elapsed time to fully implement the potential Shared Service, where 10 represents an immediately available option and 1 represents longer than 3 years.
  4. Risk. An overall assessment of the risk associated with implementing the potential Shared Service, where 10 equates to no associated risk and 1 equates to an unacceptable level of business risk.


The theoretical maximum (“best”) aggregated score is therefore 40. The four individual scores were then serially multiplied and the result divided by the maximum available score in order to give improved granularity over the simple aggregated result. No weighting has been applied to the four criteria. A table was produced which listed and ranked the opportunities, their criteria scores and their overall scores.




The project has produced a closer working relationship with Plymouth City Council leading to opportunities for more collaborative working (eg joint procurement).


In addition, as the project has progressed, it has become apparent that there are much wider opportunities than those scoped in the JISC project proposal. Other partnerships could potentially be formed and there have been some initial discussions with other local authorities and the Land Registry.


We see HELASS as potentially part of a much bigger picture as represented below.



This will position UoP and PCC as leaders within the Shared Services transformational agenda. It will be good for the region, and good for staff who will become an integral part of the innovative thinking necessary to sustain these ideas and drive them forward.


New skills


New skills include a better understanding of Enterprise Architecture via EA training for three UoP staff on the JISC Enterprise Architecture foundation programme.


The use of a modelling technique introduced by Serco resulted in skills to facilitate the identification and isolation of areas where the greatest benefits can be obtained from closer co-operation between ICT organisations. 


The team developed these skills by attending the JISC EA Foundation programme – November 2010 to March 2011 and by working as a fully joined-up team (UoP, PCC and Serco) on the project.


Key Lessons


The project has been a great success and the team have worked together extremely well. There have been no inherent show stoppers. Different priorities and internal organisational issues have been worked around and the deliverables were met. The key learning is summarised below.


Cultural differences can cause issues, especially initially when expectations, language and appetite for sharing can be at odds. As our project progressed these issues diminished but without management they could potentially stall progress.


It is clear that the project delivered on its objectives because the process was expertly facilitated. It is certain that far less would have been achieved if the organisations had attempted to go through the exercise without help. It would have been difficult to maintain momentum if PCC and UoP staff had attempted to do the project management and results analysis on top of their day jobs.


Security issues – mainly concerns about hackers. The University environment was considered very ‘open’ by Plymouth City Council.  Councils tend to be targets for hackers who see them as a potential route through to central government systems.


The council has a totally regional alliance but the university has a dual one. UoP is a regional university but also has strong links to the HE sector. An example of this came out during the investigation of joint procurements.

Joint Procurements - University of Plymouth has strong links to the sector eg Commodity ICT procurement is all via a central agreement with a Purchasing Consortium (SUPC). This has implications for shared procurement opportunities between the council and the university, they are reduced as a consequence.


ICT maturity of collaborating organisations – PCC and UoP have similar organisational maturity levels (upper quartile according to Serco benchmark). Similar levels of maturity are almost essential for a meaningful partnership.

Governance arrangements for following up on recommendations should have been established earlier in project. Ultimately this may not be an issue for HELASS but on reflection it would have been wise to have a clear structure/body as the target audience for the recommendations (as well as the senior management support that was already in place). One of the recommendations of the project is to create a shared service board with membership for PCC and UoP.


Stakeholder mapping for management of information dissemination and expectations management is useful. It is especially important when organisational changes are likely to result from the project recommendations.

For potentially collaborating organisations, it is not as simple as demonstrating net financial savings through shared services. Organisations have to want to collaborate in general terms (strategic alliance), which means developing and maintaining strong personal relationships and trust as well as robust contractual agreements. 

In the case of this shared services project there were clearly two paths of activity, operational and strategic. The facilitated operational project to identify opportunities overtook the strategic discussions that were ongoing (and still are at the time of writing).  This resulted in a set of recommendations that the two organisations were not yet ready to embrace. The recommendations have informed the strategic process but they are a component of a bigger picture that has yet to be painted.


Timing has played an interesting role as well. At the operational level, the imperative to find cost savings has kept the work speeding along and has helped drive the project’s success. At the strategic level, uncertainty and changing priorities have tended to slow down progress by absorbing a great deal of senior management time and adding to the complexity of decision making.


Exit strategies are important and need to be considered from the outset. Clear time bound exit opportunities need to be built into collaboration plans. The context can change, organisations can change in size, change their policies, be split up etc.


Looking Ahead


The Plymouth Public Sector Board - which includes the key public sector bodies in the City and which will have the authority to make decisions on the implementation of shared services will be initiating further project(s) based on full business case(s) for the recommended options and hence take the initiative forward.


At present the proposals for moving forward are being considered in greater detail and the following steps are possible.


In partnership with Serco, to undertake a business process review of ICT infrastructure and support services across UoP and Plymouth City Council. The aim of the review will be to develop a shared, “As Is” baseline understanding of each organisation’s ICT support provision, identifying activity costs and areas of duplication or redundancy, as well as where services could be shared and where sharing would not be feasible.


To explore the potential for a shared infrastructure and support service through the development of a “To Be” plan for the redesign of existing provision across the organisations.


To explore opportunities for the redesign of organisation-specific “non-shared” services in line with the new understanding developed as a result of the business process analysis.


To develop a strategic plan (including a change management plan) for the implementation of shared ICT infrastructure and support services between UoP and Plymouth City Council.


To develop at least two of the ‘Early Adopter’ recommendations into cross-organisation ICT initiatives designed to demonstrate the technical viability of interworking with selected, shared infrastructure or service.


Capacity resulting from the project will be taken forward through:


  • Dissemination of the analysis technique within PCC and UoP, within the sectors (HE and LA) and beyond
  • Dissemination of lessons learned within PCC and UoP, within the sectors (HE and LA) and beyond
  • Project learning which is now embedded in Serco will enable them to help other organisations undertake similar projects




Project momentum will be sustained through shared services being an ongoing agenda point for the Plymouth Public Sector Board meetings. The board was recently set up to help coordinate the shared interests of key public sector organisations in Plymouth. In addition, one of the project recommendations is to establish a shared service board with membership from PCC and UoP.


Summary and reflection


The project has met the objectives that it set out to achieve. PCC and UoP have a set of recommendations and some high level indications of potential cost savings that could be achieved for the most financially favourable options.


The lessons learned during the project are covered in this report and include such areas as cultural differences, security concerns, joint procurement, ICT maturity of collaborating organisations, governance arrangements, stakeholder mapping, the will to collaborate and exit strategies.


The project took place during a time of great change for both the Council and the University and at times this caused issues for the initiative. On reflection, if it had not been for the project management provided by Serco it is likely that the work would have stalled.


During the work larger opportunities (than those originally envisaged in the project proposal) emerged and they could lead to additional benefits.


This exercise has been of great value to all the partners and the learning points will help move the Flexible Service Delivery and Shared Service agendas forward for all.