At this year’s Source to Settle as a Service event, the Head of Finance Shared Services for Transport for London (TfL), Simon Bicknell, revealed something shocking. He and his team had taken the drastic decision to stop using service line agreements (SLAs) to define the shared services and business relationship.
But why change something that was working? 18 months ago when the decision was taken to scrap the SLAs, customer satisfaction was at 95%.
To give some context to the relationship, it wasn’t that long ago that London Underground took TfL to court. Services were being delivered but in a highly formalised way, underpinned by a serious lack of trust. Defining the SLAs took 9 months, were eventually compiled within a 147 page document, and from then on never referred to. Long, protracted arguments over emails about individual bullet points were sent back and forth, and many ‘relationship management’ meetings were being scheduled. In other words, they were constraining rather than adding value to the relationship.
So how did they go about challenging and changing the status quo?
“It was a big leap of faith, particularly given the level of bureaucracy in TfL”, explained Simon. But when they purposely failed to renew the SLA review process, the business didn’t grind to a halt, and complaints weren’t increasing. Finance shared services are still enjoying the same level of customer satisfaction and the relationship with the business has improved.
Crucially, Simon and his team are now able to focus more on continuous improvement. “Previously, it was a blame culture. The focus was on accountability rather than finding creative solutions to problems”. They are now working on a brand new performance measurement programme that allows them to predict risk and track trends – taking a more strategic, less political approach to which services they provide and how.
So what’s the effect of all this change been on shared services at TfL? “It’s fundamentally changes how TfL operates. It’s enabled shared services to become much more embedded as a business partner. If you’re a captive shared service, why would you want to act at arm’s length? We can’t hide behind percentage targets any more!”
What experiences have you had of SLAs? Would you change or keep them? Get in touch with your stories by contacting [email protected]
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