How The Shared Services Strategy Could Work In Practice – A Case Study In Public Sector Digital Transformation


We ask a lot from our Public Sector Technology Leaders. Two years ago, in response to COVID-19, they rapidly delivered remote working capabilities for the largest employee group in the UK, a group which includes many essential workers. Today, they are being asked to enable new hybrid ways of working alongside responding to a greater demand for digital services from UK citizens.

Partly in response to these challenges, the UK government recently launched its Shared Services Strategy. The Strategy is designed to introduce more agile back-office technology systems and to bring together core functions across Government organisations into a single simplified centre. The goal is to reduce inefficiencies, remove technical debt, introduce advances in technology and improve the working experience overall, as employees will have more time and ability to focus on higher value work.

Once again, Public Sector Technology Leaders are stepping forward to deliver these advances. To realise the Government’s strategy, old processes and supplier partnerships need to be re-evaluated and new ones put in place. It’s another major transformation programme for organisations and it has no UK precedent. Fortunately, there are public sector organisations in other parts of the world who have undergone similar successful transformation programmes, leveraging out of the box cloud technologies who can show the way forward.

The DFO takes the journey from ‘Oracle to SAP’

Take for example, the recent digital transformation of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The Department comprises of several agencies including oceans, wildlife, and waterways and providing services like dredging and ice breaking, hydrographic mapping, selling fishing licences and maintaining the coastguard service.

Since 2001, the DFO had been working with an on-premise Oracle financial management solution. Over the past 20 years, it had been attempting to update its processes and analytics capabilities by layering on technology and building workarounds. But gaps in functionality persisted and maintaining process across several systems put its continued operations at risk from a controlling and reporting perspective. This exasperated maintenance workers and resulted in higher support costs. It was time for a new solution – one fit for purpose for the agile, modern organisation.

Enter SAP

The DFO chose SAP to lead its digital transformation programme, replacing the Oracle system with SAP’s modern cloud solution. In fact, for most organisations, SAP’s scalability and robust functionality, along with its streamlined implementation process and experience with Public Sector digital transformation programmes makes shifting from legacy Oracle on-prem to SAP Cloud services an easier, more cost effective and faster process than moving to Oracle Cloud.

The DFO recognised many benefits from the SAP solution and its implementation, notably including:

An out-of-the-box solution: SAP’s preconfigured processes were already aligned to the needs of Public Sector organisation which meant that 80% of the DFO’s standard needs could be adopted ‘out of the box’. This was critical because the DFO project was part of a wider program of additional shared services clusters, all using the same templated approach.

A modular rollout approach: Where configuration and/or prioritisation was required, SAP’s unique modular rollout approach let the organisation ‘pick and mix’ modules. For the DFO, this meant addressing its biggest pain points and greatest issues first. This helped the organisation realise quick wins and show clear business outcomes almost from the beginning.

Identifying and eliminating risks: SAP de-risks digital transformation projects by introducing ‘accelerators’, essentially blueprints that provide a quick start for scenarios, as-and-when needed. The accelerator approach gave the DFO the freedom to determine its own change path based on what was right for each department, while maintaining momentum and clear business outcomes. There was also a cost benefit to this – the DFO could choose smaller modules to roll out first and pay as they went.

Streamlined user experience: The SAP solution was designed with the end user experience in mind, including intuitive navigation and greater automation of processes to reduce manual tasks.

Ongoing training: Throughout the implementation, SAP gathered requirements and showcased the capabilities of the system to end users. They were given access to a learning hub to help them learn how to operate the system well before the finalisation of the project. This sped up acceptance of the new systems and reduced the time and expense of training when the systems came on-line.

Lower costs: The cloud platform kept infrastructure costs low, and the modular rollout approach resulted in quick wins early on – often self-funding the organisational change.

This tried-and-tested implementation process helped the DFO complete its transition to the SAP system in just 13 months. The DFO is already witnessing value beyond just a return on investment, as there is reduced reliance on large technical teams, vendors and system integrators. It is a case study in digital transformation success that will be replicated across Canada’s public sector departments for many years to come.

As the UK Public Sector Technology Leaders take on the new challenge of implementing the Government’s Services Strategy, they can look across the pond to this and other SAP Public Sector solutions for inspiration. Case studies like the DFO show how highly complex and regulated organisation can undertake a major transformation that starts to recognise value almost immediately and equips the organisation and its leaders with the technology it needs to respond to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Satpal Biant is head of Public Sector for SAP UK&I.