UNIT4′s central UK government deal implies a shared services shift

SUMMARY:

Hot on the heels of winning an important deal with other government departments and pivoting its own business model, UNIT4 announced its first central government shared services deal, this time as the solution provider to the Department of Transport. It is yet another way point in the company’s transition to a services first business.

unit4-screenHot on the heels of winning an important deal with other government departments and pivoting its own business model, UNIT4 announced its first central government shared services deal, this time as the solution provider to the Department of Transport. The deal, which is rumored to run low eight figures over the life of the services agreement, sees UNIT4 make its first major strike against the SAP/Oracle hegemony.

Arvato, a German business process outsourcing provider is the main contractor in the seven year arrangement. It is the first time that the UK government has chosen to outsource a shared service center to the private sector.

According to Information Age:

The “planning assumption” of the project is that other government departments, including Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, will in future also use the outsourced function as a shared service.

Commentary

This is an important deal at multiple levels. Here’s why:

  1. The accepted SAP/Oracle hegemony is now under question. Calls to Oracle partners suggest they believe the UK government will never be able to get away from using their software because they are so deeply entrenched within government. Only recently, it is said that Safra Catz, Oracle president cut a substantial deal with government over payroll upgrades. The Arvato deal puts a question mark over those assumptions.
  2. While UK government might well continue to award large contracts to the ‘usual suspects,’ the planning assumptions outlined above suggest a different strategy that gives a seat at the table to smaller, more nimble and cost effective alternatives. In essence, those large contracts will now come under increased scrutiny.
  3. None of the parties to this deal are disclosing costs or anticipated savings. This should not surprise given the UK government’s long history of failed or expensive projects. However, UNIT4 does have a track record of success in this area. In Norway for example, it has 115 departments running off a single shared instance. In Australia, it counts Queensland as a success, contrasting with IBM and SAP’s recent troubles at Queensland.
  4. UK government has set itself a stretch goal of £600 million in IT savings over the coming years. Sources say the low end of expectations is in the £128 million range. Much depends on the ability of departments to learn from project success and collaborate with one another. That is always difficult where politics are involved. However, the changed mood suggests that in the UK at least, government is determined to wring significant change out of its IT investments. Whether this translates into strong growth for firms like Arvato and UNIT4 remains to be seen.