Re: The shadow of government big IT looms...
The idea that this should free up the small research units and institutes from requiring their own costly admin staff for dealing with the day-to-day running. If successful, it was to be rolled out to the other science councils, too.
The logic of combining the support services of the research councils was entirely valid, and other organisations have made improvements in both cost and quality of service by using a shared services approach. For those interested, there is an excellent National Audit Office report on this fiasco that can be found with a quick web search. Key findings were (paraphrasing the findings) that the Research Councils were a bunch of parochial numpties who wouldn't work together, that the costs were underestimated (very little scope change), and the savings overestimated and in particular predicated on unproven procurement savings. The procurement of the project via Fujitsu was a shambles (eg they won the contract despite coming second in the competition), and made the mistake of using an IT company to implement what was basically a business process project.
If the research councils hadn't been such arseholes, the project would have cost about one quarter of the final cost (FFS, the organisations already had systems and processes in place, how can you spend £130m on a back office transaction processing system?). The Research Council bunglers managed to fritter almost £4m just setting up the holding company for the shared service operation. Despite a supposed turnkey contract of about £18m they managed £13m of unbudgeted design and build costs and a further £13m of overspend with Fujitsu, they then spent £11m on "project management".... and so it went on. The most alarming thing is that over and above the (relatively) minimal hardware costs and redundancy costs, all of the costs were staff time. The gross overrun alone (of £50m) is somewhere around 800-1,000 man years of billed effort.
Shared services, done right, is a good, cost effective option. But once the concept crosses the event horizon of the public sector, the costs stretch out towards infinity, schedules extend forever without snapping, and money just falls into the dark, super dense singularity that is "public services".