While we are hearing a lot of talk about Procurement Shared Services from the corporate side, the public sector may be a step ahead on this one…
SSON interview with Paul Sutton, General Manager for Corporate Services at the City of Charles Sturt, Australia.
“In terms of the marketing and communications area, that’s certainly one of the areas where there are some shared services opportunities – particularly in the space of media buying, because many of our communications are the print-based, so there’s plenty of very direct opportunities there.“
Paul Sutton, General Manager for Corporate Services, City of Charles Sturt, Australia
SSON: Paul, can you give us an overview of where the City of Charles Sturt is in its shared services implementation, and can you outline your major goals for the coming financial year?
Paul Sutton: Yes, sure. We’re at a couple of different points at the same time, so in regards to procurement, the G6 Group has been working for a number of years doing collaborative procurement together and so we’re hoping that we can use that as a bit of a springboard into some other areas of shared services. In the area of procurement, we’ve collectively spent about $45 million per year and that’s done through a process where we combine our purchasing power at the end of the transaction. But we also worked very collaboratively around the development of specifications and the identification of needs.
As I mentioned, we’re trying to look at how we can expand that to other areas of shared services, and so, from a procurement point of view, we’re quite mature, but from the rest of the shared services, we’re still very at the point of trying to scan what the opportunities are. And that’s also why participation in the Shared Services Conference provides a bit of an opportunity to tell people about the things that we’ve been doing – not only on procurement – but also, an opportunity for us to learn some things about the opportunities that shared services might offer us.
SSON: What we’re seeing is that there are some similarities between the issues facing state and federal government, versus local government, but what about the differences? What challenges would you say are unique to councils trying to implement a SSO?
Paul Sutton: There are definitely similarities, but there are key differences too. So the similarities are that just like a government we operate under a legislative framework, so a lot of what we do and a lot of the services that we deliver, are linked to regulatory activities and are guarded by legislations, so that gives us – just like state government – a very common platform across things.
The key difference though, (and this creates a level of complexity) is that within South Australia, we have 68 separate councils. Within the metropolitan area we have 19 separate councils. So with each of those being an autonomous body, they are actually each free to do their own thing; approach problems in their own way; and in many cases, want to exert that independence whereas within state government, you have a single point of contact; you’re all working for exactly the same entity.
So there is much similarity, but there is also some differences there – and these differences are ones that the G6 has made some really good progress in terms of getting a collective headset around how we approach things.
SSON: Marketing and communications are expanding in their role, so can you tell us a bit about how they fit into your shared services environment? Can you also give us some examples of processes being brought into the SSO?
Paul Sutton: In terms of the marketing and communications area, that’s certainly one of the areas where there are some shared services opportunities – particularly in the space of media buying, because many of our communications are the print-based, so there’s plenty of very direct opportunities there. In terms of then having to sort out a bureau-type facility, that’s another area that we could explore with in the marketing and communications arena as well.
There are a whole range of other back-office sanctions that we would also want to be exploring concurrently, so, as I mentioned at the start, we’ve not made any hard and fast decisions about this and we’re still scanning the environment, working out what’s going to be the areas where (if you like) is the last hanging fruit, but there’s also areas where we can maximise the greatest advantage in the organisation.
SSON: As General Manager for the council’s corporate services, what would you say are the most important points when it comes to proactive leadership and driving transformation?
Paul Sutton: This is an interesting question. Particularly, when you apply it to an area such as shared services, clarity of the direction is really important. Whenever you go into an area that’s unknown, having a clear picture of where you’re going is important. But at the same time you need to be flexible and to understand as you’re moving along, you have ask what the implications are of a particular course of action; and also assess opportunities as they arrive. Some you might not even have foreseen, but having some clarity of vision but also being flexible as you go past, are important.
There are two other principles brought from the outset, but going hand in hand with that is making sure that we’re actually listening to our people and work with our organisations to make sure that our staff are understanding what the objectives are and making sure that we don’t do damage to our organisational culture through that transformation. So there are plenty of opportunities for our existing staff to grow with us through the shared services environment, and it’s very important to me that this doesn’t mean it’s insane or misrepresented in any way of being an outsourcing agenda or anything like that. It’s very much about seeing how we can deliver better value for our communities, work together with other councils in other agencies to deliver this.
SSON: As part of the G6 Procurement Initiative, how have you managed to successfully align your vision across multiple and different stakeholders?
Paul Sutton: The G6 journey has been one way. We had from CEOs and General Managers, down throughout the organisation; we’ve had as I’ve described; a common headset. We’ve had people at the top of our organisations where the objective about the advantage that we can get through working together has all been common. We’ve also been 6th of the largest 7 councils in South Australia, so that means that we’ve also had substantial capability that we’ve been able to bring to the table and a common set of interest and a common sort of scale if you like that we bring to the table, and that has all been important. So I think in any collective, when you bring a cluster of people together, there has to be a commonality there they can all grow from.