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Data: The Next Shared Services Frontier


Rob Stewart-Ingersoll

Date Published

Jul 06, 2023
7 minute read
Data as a shared service

We’ve discussed shared services in this space before. It’s changing how organizations do business, but what’s next? The Clearing’s data lead, Rob Stewart-Ingersoll, discusses why data may be the next big thing on the shared services horizon.


Level-set: Shared Services

Before we dive into the specifics of data as a shared service, let’s cover the basics. For a full primer on shared services, I recommend reviewing The Clearing’s Shared Services FAQs – co-authored by my colleague and shared services expert, Linda Dourney. In a nutshell, however, shared services are when an organization provides a service that is offered to more than one “customer.”

Think of a shared services organization (SSO) as a business offering specific services and pricing structure. Here’s how Linda described it in our primer.


Data as a shared service



The Benefits of Leveraging Data

The benefits of considering data as a shared service across federal agencies are like the benefits that organizations get when they modernize their data infrastructure. By modernizing, organizations get their data out of silos and centralize and standardize governance processes around it: storing it, managing it, and analyzing it. In other words, all the things you must do to make effective use of it.

The reason why approaching data as a shared service has similar benefits is that the challenges of legacy systems and prior ways of holding data lent themselves to similar siloed environments. That makes it really difficult for people within one silo or even those above silos to put all the pieces together because they’re in different places; they’re all operating in different types of tools; they’re in different formats; and they’re built around different sets of data governance rules. So, to the extent that larger organizations can reach that centralization and standardization, leaders and others gain the ability to see how data intersects across the organization.

Taking it up a level, you have the same potential across different federal agencies. There are a number of use cases for how that might be useful, but you also have the potential to reduce redundancy because a lot of the data is similar across agencies. So, when that’s the case, having a centralized repository administered uniformly is a much more efficient and controlled system, allowing data people to focus on data and freeing agency employees to fulfill the mission. That benefits agencies and the efficiency is a pass-on benefit to the American public.


The Challenges of Sharing Data

The biggest challenge is cultural. Naturally, agencies want to hold onto their data and are a little suspicious about why somebody else might want it. All else being equal, we tend to be protective of our data – whether that’s at the individual or enterprise level. I think that’s true in any organization. So, the bigger we get, in terms of talking about sharing data, the bigger that challenge becomes, right? For me, that’s the biggest thing – it’s not technical as much as it is human-centered.

However, I don’t want to downplay the technical aspect. As Linda reminds me, when you get into cross-agency work you will likely have to deal with regulatory, contractual, and legal questions about the data, its ownership, and the ability it. Those are answerable questions, but they’re important and can hamstring efforts like this. That’s why starting within one agency and sharing across departments is often the best way to get leaders on board with data as a shared service – there’s less trepidation. Once they see the benefits, they become the ambassadors that promote shared services to colleagues in other agencies.


Advice for Leaders

I often consider this question from a pure data perspective. As such, I asked Linda what advice she would provide from a non-technical, shared services perspective.

Here’s her answer – then I’ll provide my data-led take.

“Just dive in. Shared services present leaders with the opportunity to be an ambassador for a new way of doing things. The federal government puts out policies every day – what can you identify as an opportunity for shared services to help your agency (and others) meet those standards?

Consider the executive order on customer experience (CX). It stands to reason that if agencies are going to be measured on CX, then they will need to measure customer satisfaction. However, this is a great example of the federal government throwing out the problem for individual agencies to solve instead of driving the solution. 

In this void, imagine if one enterprising leader identified the right tool for agencies to measure customer satisfaction consistently. For arguments’ sake, let’s say the tool is Qualtrics. Now, imagine another leader identifies another tool that may work but not as well. In the current landscape, the government may end up paying for multiple licenses for sub-optimal tools instead of one license for the right tool.

However, what if our first leader approached the problem with a shared services mindset, created a use case for Qualtrics, and became an ambassador for approaching the measurement of customer satisfaction data as shared service? While the challenges discussed above still stand, the more leaders who adopt this mindset the more likely it is an optimal outcome will be achieved. In this specific case, the right tool for the job; money saved on licensing; an easier path for the data scientists evaluating the data; and shared customer insights that lead to a better experience for the American public.”

Now, here’s what I would add to Linda’s advice from a data perspective. First, it’s incumbent upon any organization (whether it be a federal agency or private company) to be as data-driven as possible. And part of being data-driven is identifying the right tools and practices to maximize your data’s decision-making impact. My advice for leaders is to simply inform your colleagues and counterparts at other organizations on what’s working for you. These simple discussions form the basis of shared services adoption, which could ultimately improve outcomes across organizations and free up resources for mission-critical tasks.

In closing, I believe the potential for shared services in the data space is huge – particularly for the federal government. However, as Linda detailed above, it’s also very complex.

If you’re ready to pursue a shared services approach to data, let’s talk. With a preeminent shared services team and in-house data specialists, The Clearing can get you started on the right foot. I can be reached at; Linda is available at – we look forward to chatting.