Since its beginning in fall 2015, the Unified Shared Service Management office has been a good idea in search of a defining moment. Housed in the General Services Administration, USSM — and Executive Director Beth Angerman — has been tasked with finding a way to streamline the services that government buys to make tax dollars more efficient.
With the Trump administration’s focus on upgrading federal agencies’ information technology and overhauling its organization, shared services is seen as the vehicle to help accomplish both goals, putting USSM in the driver’s seat.
With she and her team tapped as finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, Angerman talks to Senior Staff Reporter Carten Cordell about USSM’s path and the future of shared services.
You and the Unified Shared Services Management Team were recently nominated for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. Talk about how the new administration has embraced shared services as a solution?
The Trump administration has sent so many important signals that running an efficient government is really important, and shared services has become one of what I think is a series of different tools in a toolbox that really could achieve those outcomes.
Can you talk about what the process of standing up USSM from 2015 to now has been like?
We’re still working really closely with the federal agencies to understand: what are the real opportunities for shared services? There’s a lot that’s common across government today. I think it’s important that we identify the right priorities, the low-hanging fruit, if you will, where we actually see the most demand and where are the pain points of agencies today so that we can start to show the value of shared services in a new way that will only build more demand as time goes on. And build the confidence that shared services can actually work in the federal government in a new model going forward.
Have the developments of both agency reorganization and IT modernization put a brighter spotlight on the potential of shared services?
Focusing on IT is a really critical first step in helping us leverage the great benefits of technology today. Traditionally, the government has been in this business of buying software and then installing it somewhere in our agency and then customizing it. And then five years later, we’re faced with the cost and the burden to be able to maintain it and keep it relevant and keep it secure and keep it updated. And that cycle has become one that’s not sustainable going forward.
We also have a challenge today with shared services that current agencies who offer a solution to other agencies are very wed to their system and the way that they offered that service, so buying the service is dependent on also buying the technology. And if the technology is already a legacy technology, we’re not actually fixing a problem or perpetuating history.
We want to leapfrog over the way that we do it today and move to a model where we can actually buy that technology as a service from industry. We put that stake in the ground and we say, ‘We believe there isn’t enough common about what we do in government similar to the way that Fortune 500 companies run their business, but let’s leverage that IT to get real scale for the government so that we can provide services on any modern IT platform. So that we can lean on companies whose mission it is and whose business it is to do the work of keeping that system modern, so I don’t have to worry anymore about security patches and upgrades and legislative requirements because someone else is doing all that for me.’
I fundamentally think that there is no agency in this government whose mission it really is to make sure that our finance systems are secure. And I think this is a great opportunity for us to free ourselves from that legacy technology, to leverage commercial technology and really double down on the services that do make us uniquely government.
Can you talk about USSM’s current initiatives — like Data Driven Performance Management and the M3 Framework — and what you are working on for 2018?
We’ve successfully run our second year of a data collection effort of the current shared service providers so that we can understand more about the current ecosystem of shared service providers, where customer pain points are with those current solutions and services and where honestly provider pain points are.
Shared services has been a successful strategy in the private sector for some time. How does that process scale to government?
It’s very difficult to be a shared service provider in government, because the first problem is we don’t actually have access to capital in government like they do when you’re running a system or a service in a private company. So that alone is actually a real inhibitor to being able to keep our IT modern and continue to evolve what services that providers offer today.
So there’s a whole series of challenges that exist in our current marketplace that now we have some insight into that we never had before because we’ve successfully collected data, both in performance, but also in customer satisfaction of the current shared service model. That data has been a really important source for helping the new administration figure out what the future of shared services may look like.
And we’re looking forward to — hopefully in the next upcoming months — [what] will be very telling as to just what stamp for this administration puts on the future of shared services.
When USSM was established, it received a lot of praise for the potential and efficiency it could bring to the federal government. Do you look back at the scope of what USSM has achieved so far since its inception and measure how far it has come?
Not yet, because I think there’s still so much more work to be done. I’m very personally motivated by the mission of our office.
I think about how the government has 108 time and attendance systems today. We spend more money running learning administration systems, $1.2 billion dollars just running systems that allow us to sign up for training.
And I think that that’s a really important mission that we have to make that work be more efficient. To stop allowing customizations, to stop allowing differences where differences aren’t truly driven by a regulation or law so that we can actually add more value to taxpayers.
We have a taxpayer dollar and we have a really important job in government to figure out how that dollar spent. And do we want it to go to having 108 different time and attendance systems or do you want to create more opportunity? I think about my other Sammy finalists and some of the amazing work that they’ve been able to do.
What I kind of see is what the work that we do in USSM is creating more resources — whether it’s human resources or financial resources — to do more of the work that those other finalists do that is really driving the value back to the taxpayer.
And so yeah it’s a hard time because we’re seeing across government the message of the hiring freeze, reduction of resources, reduction of budget. So I think we actually have, within our control in government today, the opportunity to make some really important decisions about how government will run in the future so that we can maximize our value to the taxpayer.