One of our Cost Sharing Group projects is the Benefits Realisation Analysis and Modelling project (BRAM) which is run out of Falmouth Exeter Plus (FXPlus) in Cornwall. FXPlus is the service partner which is jointly owned by the universities of Falmouth and Exeter to manage the combined campus at Penryn.

The project was funded to create a tool to allow the benefits of using FXPlus as a vehicle for the joint venture to be evaluated and monitored, to allow regular progress to be reported. An objective of the project is not only to give a useful management tool to FXPlus but also to develop the tool so that it can be applied in the sector more generally for institutions which are looking at innovative sharing of services.

A few weeks ago, the project team appointed Sockmonkey Consulting to take the project forward, and yesterday we had our first review meeting to discuss progress.

During the intervening weeks, Simon Perks, of Sockmonkey, has undertaken a literature review to see whether there are any studies which offer something similar to the aims of the BRAM project. He found that there is plenty of literature written to convince organisations to move to shared services. There is more which considers how costs savings can be achieved, with some setting out an estimate of how much can be achieved. But once this body of evidence is gathered together it becomes clear that all quantifiable benefits either come in at 20 per cent or they are 40 per cent. So, we can only conclude that management consultants have a herd instinct as much as the rest of us.

We are left with the impression that there has not been much work done in this area. And, if the evaluation of benefits is less than robust, then the monitoring of performance against these ‘targets’ must also be questionable.

Although we didn’t know it when we funded the project, the tool which the BRAM project will develop is likely to be ground-breaking, and if successful will highlight the forward thinking of the higher education sector.

But you don’t even have to take our word for this. I have already been contacted by an organisation representing the social housing sector which is running a conference on shared services in February. They have asked me to speak about the higher education sector’s experience – but, in particular, they want me to talk about the BRAM project. They are really interested in what it will offer them.

Over the next couple of months, Simon will use FXPlus as the first test site for the tool, but he is keen to make contact with any other institutions interested in evaluating it and providing him with feedback. If you would like to get involved please contact Simon (e-mail simon@sockmonkeyconsulting.com).

As an aside, we took five minutes to discuss how we will give the new tool a decent profile when it is launched. This will involve using sector representative bodies such as BUFDG, AHUA and AUDE to promote the tool. But the tool also will need a catchy name which helps when discussing it. One of us came up with the Higher Education Realisation of Benefits Evaluation and Reporting Tool, but HERBERT doesn’t seem quite right. If anyone can think of anything better we’d love to hear from you! No prizes on offer just a warm glow of satisfaction.