Shared services is similar to collaboration that might take place between different organizations such as a Hospital Trust or a Police Force. For example, adjacent Trusts might decide to collaborate by merging their HR or IT functions.
There are two arguments for sharing services: The ‘less of a common resource' argument and the ‘efficiency through industrialization' argument. The former is ‘obvious': if you have fewer managers, IT systems, buildings etc; if you use less of some resource, it will reduce costs. The second argument is ‘efficiency through industrialization’. This argument assumes that efficiencies follow from specialization and standardization – resulting in the creation of ‘front' and ‘back' offices. The typical method is to simplify, standardize and then centralize, using an IT 'solution' as the means.
Shared services is different from the model of outsourcing, which is where an external third party is paid to provide a service that was previously internal to the buying organization, typically leading to redundancies and re-organization. There is an ongoing debate about the advantages of shared services over outsourcing. It is sometimes assumed that a joint venture between a government department and a commercial organization is an example of shared services. The joint venture involves the creation of a separate legal commercial entity (jointly owned), which provides profit to its shareholders.