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Talent-as-a-Service: The Often Overlooked Shared Service

Organizations are extending the concept of sharing beyond infrastructure and applications to include IT talent.

Editor's note: The Digital Communities Special Report, which appears twice a year in Government Technology magazine, offers in-depth coverage for local government leaders and technology professionals.View links to the entire report here.

Shared IT services can bring substantial benefits to local government, but one that gets overlooked is the sharing of IT talent. The report, County Manager’s Guide to Shared Services in Local Government, published by IBM in 2013, said this about sharing skills and talent:

“Sharing services with another local government may allow counties to share staff with specialized knowledge or skills, boosting the capacity of other local governments to serve the public. County managers explain that cross-governmental work groups among department or service-level staff often result in a helpful exchange of ideas about how work can be approached in new ways. Counties may also contract for the specialized expertise of staff from other local governments without hiring new employees of their own.”

While sharing skills goes hand in hand with shared services and has been around since the early days, the practice continues to evolve as more innovative ideas merge with technology and take the concept to a new level. GovLab, which operates from New York University, focuses on making governance more innovative. One of its projects, Network of Innovators, aims to simplify how knowledge within and outside of government can be shared. Participants can get advice and answers to questions from government and civic innovators around the globe.

Why Counties Are Considering Shared Services


Savings: Budget savings may come about when partnering with other governments creates economies of scale, or when buying a service from another government is less expensive than producing the service alone. Some counties find that sharing service reduces administrative overhead.

New revenue streams: Counties with extra service capacity find that selling a service to another government results in a revenue stream to help offset the cost of a service or prevent possible reductions in that service area.


Stimulating innovation: Comparing service delivery approaches with other governments forces county leaders to consider inefficiencies in current delivery methods. Focusing on the public service to be delivered, rather than the existing system for delivering the service, may lead to the identification of more efficient methods for providing the service.

Improved decision-making: County officials who have crafted shared service delivery arrangements report time-intensive negotiations to reach agreement. Investing in the process of careful analysis and negotiation may result in better decisions about service delivery.

Building on complementary strengths: Sharing staff expertise or specialized equipment may result in better services. So too, counties may consider swapping or exchanging service by providing a service in which the county has strength or excess capacity in exchange for a different service in which the county has weaknesses or needs.

Transferring knowledge and skills: Sharing services may allow counties to share staff with specialized knowledge or skills, boosting the capacity of other local governments to serve the public. Cross-governmental work groups among department or service-level staff often result in a helpful exchange of ideas about how work can be approached in new ways.

Increased levels or quality of service: Purchasing service from another government, or producing a service together with another government, may result in a higher level or quality of service than a county might be able to provide alone. Counties seeking improved services rarely report saving money on shared service delivery, but they report satisfaction with partnerships that provide residents with better services.

Improved working relationships: Shared service delivery helps counties form regular patterns of dialog with other local governments in their region. While a county's elected leaders and top administrators may communicate across government borders regularly, lower level managers and staff may not have working relationships with their counterparts in other organizations.

Source: A County Manager's Guide to Shared Services in Local Government

While Network of Innovators focuses mostly on open government and open data, it provides a model on how local governments can create new avenues for sharing knowledge. Technology can make it easy to identify people with specific skills and link them with opportunities at the local, state or national levels, Beth Noveck, director of GovLab, told Governing magazine. “The 20th-century way to deal with problems was to centralize decision-making within a bureaucracy. In the 21st century, we know from wide experience that the best ideas, the most innovative ideas and expertise, are never exclusively within the four walls of an institution,” she said.

For many local governments, however, the need is not so much answers to tech questions, but someone who can step in and manage IT operations on an on-demand basis. Certainly, a well crafted shared services agreement between local governments can make that happen, as IBM’s guide spells out. But as evidence shows, few local governments are engaging in shared IT services with other local governments, making talent sharing a little-used practice.

The solution to this talent gap could be a sort of CIO-as-a-service. Sometimes referred to as fractional CIOs, the idea has gone from a fringe concept to becoming more mainstream as organizations look for ways to tackle ongoing IT projects with experience and expertise while keeping costs in check. A fractional CIO’s role can span the responsibilities typically held by chief information officers and technology consultants and provides services, such as technology road maps, security and disaster planning, IT strategic planning, and enterprise architecture planning, according to BT Partners, a technology consulting firm.

Jerry Byrd, a partner with Fortium, a partnership of former CIOs and CTOs, said that in government, there’s a need to have high-level experience, but not in a way that impacts the budget heavily. “Smaller jurisdictions have to perform all the same services that big jurisdictions have to perform, but with few people and fewer resources,” he said. “By having a CIO-as-a-service, local governments can have an experienced person take a sophisticated look at operations, at systems, help with implementation, and do this in a way that fits the financial model and requirements of small to mid-sized jurisdictions.”
According to Byrd, Fortium has worked with local governments with populations as small as 8,000. Calling what it offers “leadership-as-a-service,” Fortium’s cadre of former CIOs are not consultants. “Consulting is about coming in, taking the temperature, doing some diagnostics and then pointing you in the right direction,” said Byrd. “Our service is about taking the city or county in the right direction. We do what needs to be done, as opposed to telling clients what they should do.”

While a CIO-as-a-service can help on a project-by-project basis, Byrd said the best business model for local governments is to establish an ongoing relationship, which reduces what he called “spin-up time” and allows the fractional CIO to be available to think and strategize on IT matters.

“Local governments are too busy running things to set aside ‘think time’ to figure out what should happen next, and this can be done on a part-time basis,” he said. “You can hire someone to do just about anything, but it’s harder to find someone who can think for you in terms of solving complex IT problems or what should be done next in the context of what’s happening in the enterprise.”

The CIO isn’t the only government tech position that could be done on a fractional or shared basis. Cybersecurity has become a top priority in both city and county government, according to CDG. Not surprisingly, the idea of a CISO-as-a-service has also come into vogue.

“With the rising tide of data breaches, the role of the CISO has become one of the ‘most wanted’ roles in cybersecurity, but it’s often one of the toughest jobs to fill,” IBM Security Vice President Caleb Barlow told Forbes in 2015. IBM is one of a number of firms that now offer CISO-as-a-service to organizations that need them.

Renting makes more sense than hiring full-time cyberemployees for more reasons than just overcoming the difficulty in finding them. In a single year, 2014, nearly one in five security professionals changed employers or employment status, according to Frost & Sullivan. With so much changeover, having a fractional CISO on hand could keep operations secure until a more permanent replacement is found.


With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.