Case Study: Singapore Public Service SSO – Part 3
SSON is pleased to share with our readers a series of articles contributed by Clarence Ti, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Public Service’s shared services organization [Vital.org won Honourable Mention in the 2007 SSON Excellence Awards for "Best New Shared Services"]. In this series Ti explores four key milestones along the shared services journey: aiming for Service Excellence; developing Operational Excellence; focusing on Productivity Growth; and Engaging Staff.
The Formative Years – In Search of Productivity Growth
Stories from a Government Shared Services Centre (Singapore) Part 3
Read part 1 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series
Read part 2 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series
Read part 4 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series
For a shared services centre of about 500 people, we currently complete about 10-20 work improvement projects annually, from which we expect significant productivity savings. In 2010, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a 2-3% productivity growth per annum for Singapore. How does this translate in practical terms for a shared services centre?
But first – a little about us. Vital.org was formally launched in July 2006 as a captive shared services centre for the Singapore Public Service, serving initially just shy of 20 agencies in areas such as payroll administration, HR services, finance services (primarily dealing with vendor payments) and learning & development services. Today, Vital.org serves over 100 distinct government agencies in the original service lines as well as new areas, such as asset management and travel management. By 2010, over a million transactions have passed through our hands, organised along nearly 600 distinct lines of services. Vital.org has a staff of close to 500 people serving a population of some 80,000 public servants.
Productivity by the numbers
Of the 500 staff at the shared services centre, 450 are directly involved in operations. A simple way to think about operational productivity is in terms of the number of transactions that are processed through a shared services centre. A 3% productivity growth can be interpreted as having the same number of people processing 3% more transactions per year. We can also, loosely speaking, take the opposite view: given the same number of transactions, can we process these with 3% less people? Practically speaking, this means that we must strive to process the same number of transactions with 437 people next year, and then 424 the following year, and 411 thereafter.
As a young shared services centre, we were in an enviable position in that the number of transactions were growing as we took on new clients and existing clients gave us more work. As such, on an overall basis, we were still growing.
Productivity as a ground movement
Lest we lull ourselves into thinking that productivity is just a numbers game – it is not. At the organisational level, improving productivity reduces our cost to serve. At the individual level, these projects are attempts to do the same work in a more time-effective manner or in a manner that would reduce all sorts of human errors, avoiding time wastage in re-work.
Here’s a short list of project categories that we like: We like projects that seek to reduce manual data entry, especially if the information is already available in any one of the disparate systems that we currently operate; typographical errors and transcription errors are expensive to detect. We like projects that reduce manual tracking of cases, especially if these need to be tracked over months. We like projects that reduce manual computation. We like projects that allow the upload of a mass of cases, recognizing that in some systems updating of cases screen by screen can be time consuming.
These projects reflect an organisation’s respect for its employees’ time – seeking to make good use of their time, and reducing opportunities for human error when possible.
Productivity by community
As a captive shared services centre, we are fortunate to be working with both systems and policy owners whose own policy and systems reviews impact us positively. Their own work improvement projects – whether redesigning transactions so that they can be added to the suite of employee self services; or building in more system checks that eliminate manual verifications; or building interfaces so that data can flow between related systems without the need for duplicative human entry – often eliminate the most mundane parts of the shared services work.
The journey has just begun
For the productivity movement to succeed as a ground movement, our experience suggests that a good starting point is respect for our staff’s time. We are concerned if our pace of innovation is slow. This is by far the hardest question to answer. At the very least, a 3% productivity growth is probably a good starting point.
To read more about Vital.org, please see: "Strategy questions from inside a captive shared services centre"; and "Building a managed travel program across the government in Singapore"
About Mr. Clarence Ti
Clarence Ti was appointed as the Chief Executive of Vital.org on 2 January 2010.
In the public service, he has served in the Economic Development Board in both Singapore and the United States, where he was Director of the San Francisco Centre; the Singapore Land Authority, where he was Director of Land Business & Management; and the Ministry of Law, where he was Director of Strategic Planning. During his career, he has served in areas of investment promotion, business & operations management, planning & co-ordination, and legislative & policy reviews.
He holds both a Bachelor of Science degree with High Honours and a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA with distinction from INSEAD. He is also a Certified Financial Analyst.
Vital.org, a department under Ministry of Finance, was formally launched in July 2006, as part of the Singapore Public Sector’s effort to aggregate common administrative services and reap economies of scale to bring about greater business value for the whole of Government. It currently serves more than 100 Ministries, Departments, Organs of State and Statutory Boards in Singapore. The suite of services includes finance services, human resource services, payroll and claims services, learning and development services and travel management services. Vital.org won the Honourable Mention Award under the Best New Shared Service Organisation (under 3 years in operation) Award during the Annual Asia Pacific Shared Services & Outsourcing Awards 2007. Visit www.vital.gov.sg for more information.