Sunday, 28 June 2009

Shared Services Survey - Headlines

A total of 83 UK HE institutions (around 45% of the sector) responded to the SCONUL Shared Services Survey. The following commentary is based on initial analysis of the responses. To review the results for yourself, you can download the aggregated responses as an easily readable PDF from

High level analysis conveys strong and widespread interest in shared services:

· Over 60% of the respondents are involved in or planning some form of shared services activity.
· Whilst 89% stated they were open to ‘any arrangement that delivers benefits’, a significant number supported a governance mechanism operated by ‘a sector agency’ in the style of JANET (UK).
· There was little appetite for an outside operator (17%) or even a single HEI (35%) leading and recruiting partners.

Clear patterns of motivation and tangible benefits have emerged which need to be validated and qualified through cross-tabulation. The highlights are:

· The strongest focus is on adopting digital solutions and electronic content to reduce physical holdings and therefore space (85%)
· A good number are ready to consider consolidating physical assets (51%)
· Whilst 90% see reducing overall cost as an immediate high/medium priority, there is more interest in repositioning human resources (82%) than in reducing the establishment (50%)
· High cost benefits are principally linked to content licensing (69%) and physical space savings (43%); possible staff cost savings are predominantly linked to management time (29%) and cataloguing (29%)
· There is greater interest in library management systems functions being delivered through external shared services (80%) than by other local institutional systems (52%), though developing the role of the library service within the institution is a high priority intangible gain (84%)
· Leveraging larger (web) scale services is seen by 73% as a high/medium 3-5 year priority but only an immediate priority for 46%; this fits with the high priority interest (84%) in enhancing flexibility and agility for developing electronic services
· There exists a high level of readiness to consider Open Source software (30% with a further 45% neutral)

Responses identified a distinct group of systems functions and human operations that are candidates for shared services:

· Principal interest is clearly focused around electronic resource licensing and management and general cataloguing (all scoring 84% or greater interest)
· Services that would facilitate more efficient and value added resource discovery fell in to the next group with over 50% interest (OPAC, search / locate, ILL, Open Data services and support functions such as forums and help desk)
· Functions involving individual user data attracted least interest, though this may be motivated by uncertainties regarding security and DPA obligations

At the highest level interest may be divided between three shared services ‘options’ which can be separately defined but which are in no sense mutually exclusive

· The licensing option – economies and efficiencies through shared procurement of e-journals and e-books (both 97%)

· The shared systems (software functions) option – seen as applicable to the management and disclosure / discovery of electronic resources and all types of metadata (catalogue records); potentially providing the platform for the large (web) scale services identified on the 3-5 year horizon

· The shared operations option – representing more optimised use of human resources, especially in cataloguing (90% interest), electronic resource management (76%), digital preservation (78%) and Help Desk (56%); this could also involve consolidation of physical assets

Whilst these options are potentially linked to current JISC initiatives (notably JISC Collections, Digital Preservation, Resource Discovery), the survey represents a new level of possibilities on account of the breadth of HEI interest, the consistency of key opinions and the associated institutional motivations.

David Kay – Sero Consulting – on behalf of the Steering Group