Death of a vision

When I wrote my last post I was hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of the review. My silence since then reflects my sadness and frustration at the result. I put so much into the process and was so burnt out that I am no longer working for that worthy library, and have moved on to greener pastures (literally, no red dirt around here!). Those feelings weren’t the only reasons for my moving on, but they did play some part.

Now that some time has gone by, I am again positive, optimistic and creative – and now feel strong enough and distant enough to reflect on the review process and the outcome, at least to the point at which I left.

The plan for the review as set out in my last post was adopted with some slight modifications. An external consultant was appointed (although not the one we wanted), and he did a reasonable job. His main contribution to the process was that he listened well, and he was very familiar with the environment within which we worked. He also wrote the final report – which he did reasonably well.

The project team was representative of all the areas that received services from IT – one from each, regardless of size and use of IT services.

Mistake 1.

This structure established a principle that was to influence the outcome to a significant extent, which was that each organisation or group with an interest should have an equal say, no matter how important IT was to their activities or how big they were.

Despite this, the work started in a positive way, and the first workshop was held to establish a vision. Quite a lot of work was done to establish was a vision was, and how to arrive at one. Eventually, consensus was reached, and the vision was put up on a wiki and discussion from all staff was invited.

Mistake 2.

The review sponsor(who has no experience with online communication) made an early comment on the wiki suggesting that a particular outcome would be the only one accepted, which effectively shut down an open exploration of options.

Regardless, we moved ahead and the proposed vision was accepted by the project team with some slight modifications, and accepted by the Steering Committee with some further modifications.

Some work was done to gather information from groups already working with a shared service model – what worked, what didn’t. We also conducted a literature review, and found a lot of material on shared services, including IT services, from various government bodies in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

There wre a number of important points I got from this material.

  1. You need to be totally clear on your reasons for entering into a shared services arrangement – if it is to save money, forget it because you won’t. Or if you do, it will only at such a high cost to services that your organisations will suffer. So identify the other benefits to be gained, and make sure they stay clearly in focus throughout the processes of implementing a shared service.
  2. Without appropriate governance of the shared service body, including appropriate input from the organisations receiving the services, it is likely that the required services will not be delivered.
  3. The IT organisation must be service oriented. They must fully understand the services that their clients are required to provide, and work closely with them to develop suitable and required services. 
  4. The IT organisation must be appropriately funded.

The next step was a workshop to develop a model. All staff were invited, and representation from all parts of the organisation were required. The model was divided up to assist with understanding what was meant by a model – the divisions included

  • services to be provided (eg server management, communications, project management, desktop management etc)
  • structure
  • funding
  • governance
  • and some others that I can’t remember (but can find out if anyone wants to know)

After much discussion, this was again put up on the wiki (with all the lit review material) and comment invited. By this stage not everyone was playing nice, and there was some tension among the project team members. The period of time allowed for comment closed, and the project team tried to reach agreement on the model to recommend. This proved impossible.

The model that most wanted was a hub-and-spoke model, with an IT person allocated to be the contact for each organisation participating. All IT staff in organisations would go to the IT unit. Funding was to be on the basis of size of organisation, with a multiplier for importance of IT to that organisation. Governance was eventually set at 3 tier.

  • Each organisation would send their CEO to the Steering Committee level, making high level strategic decisions.
  • There would be a planning and operational level group, consisting of senior staff with responsibility for IT management from each organisation, with operation IT staff from each organisation to be co-opted as required.
  • Each organisation would have an internal IT planning group, which would include the IT representative for that area.

The stumbling block for the library was that it didn’t look much different to what was promised a number of years ago, and has never worked. The model required the library ( the largest organisation with by far the most mature use of IT services) to pay by far the greatest contribution, but only had the same voice at each level ofthe governance structure as tiny organisations who had very immature demands for IT. This couldn’t be supported by the Library. In one particularly heated project team meeting, I was accused of behaving as if all organisations were not equal. In terms of need, contribution and maturity, I make no apology for believing that not all the organisations were equal, and that therefore they should not all have equal control.

At this stage, I moved on to another position and another state, voluntarily and with great regret. But it was timely for me to leave, to allow whatever happened next to progress cleanly without the leftover baggage that  I carried.  I don’t know what has happened since, but I wish the fabulous people that I worked with in the Library all the very best.

Now that I have had some time to reflect, I genuinely believe that in that context, and in many others, libraries have to take hold of their own IT destiny, and manage it themselves. Kathryn has recently said in the context of the need for expertise to tweak open source products “it is a new skillset we need to add to our staff, just like a Systems Librarian or a Web Librarian”. In principle I agree – finally, having exhausted every ounce of energy and creativity I had to try to find another way to work with a shared service model.

But it isn’t that simple. If we bring the IT skills into the library, they still have to work within a greater IT context that is managed by the parent IT unit, according to standards they set and the rules they control – unless the library goes completely on their own. That option brings with it a whole range of risks and management skills that libraries rarely have, or have been allowed to develop. In some cases, I think it is the only solution.

I think it is time for the library community to develop a whole set of standards for IT in libraries – those that the IT community have developed don’t work for us, and probably don’t work for anything except corporate IT. Maybe we need a companion standard to ISO 20000, which is specifically for us.


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