Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool

Public sector leaders must ensure they spend taxpayer funds prudently. This includes spending on corporate services, where whole-of-agency or cluster services must be provided while operating leanly.

Nous’ Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool allows public sector organisations to compare their performance with similar-scale organisations across a wide range of corporate services functions, including those using shared services arrangements. The benchmarks also cover universities and not-for-profit organisations.

To compare organisations, the tool includes a large and expanding database with information about staff and funding levels across 10 functional areas: communications; finance; human resources; information technology; legal; ministerial; procurement; property; risk, audit and compliance; and strategy and planning. Within these 10 functional areas, the benchmarking tool drills down to about 50 service areas.

The benchmarking tool uses a detailed taxonomy to compare corporate services, while recognising that each organisation has its own structures, arrangements and characteristics. This has allowed us to develop a detailed picture of each corporate service. It can be adjusted to reflect the nature and structures of each organisation, allowing for a more insightful comparison.

The benchmarking tool draws on data from 20 organisations, including federal and state government agencies and not-for-profit organisations. The database expands as more organisations use the tool.

It is difficult and time-consuming for any organisation to obtain from scratch the data contained in the Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool, and it is particularly challenging to develop taxonomies that enable valid cross-organisation comparison. Nous has undertaken this work, iterated with clients to refine the taxonomy and the data, so we are well placed to enable clients to quickly and efficiently undertake comparison benchmarking for corporate services.

The information has several practical applications

Once public-sector leaders have gained insights from the Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool, there are several ways to use these insights:

  • For leaders of organisations that find they have areas to improve, the tool helps them identify what to change. They can learn which parts of their corporate services are high cost relative to the benchmarks, down to the specific service area. They can also discover whether that inefficiency is in the form of operating expenditure, staffing level, or a combination of the two.
  • The tool is valuable for organisations considering a shared services agreement, allowing them to better understand their own costs and those common in the market.
  • Given the challenges of building support for changes among staff, the tool helps by providing objective benchmarks of relative cost to provide evidence of the need for change.
  • For leaders of organisations that find they are performing efficiently, the tool can offer valuable evidence to stakeholders who are urging greater efficiencies. There are sometimes differences between perceptions of an organisation’s efficiency and the true circumstances, so the benchmarking tool can provide a useful reality check.
  • For organisations that find they have a blend of highly efficient and less efficient functions, there is scope to leverage the expertise of high-performers to improve the rest of the organisation. Leaders may find there are useful lessons from those who have successfully managed operating expenses and staffing levels.

We are confident every public agency can benefit from using the Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool.

A federal agency has used the tool to zero in on efficiencies

Recently we used the benchmarking tool to help a large Federal Government policy agency better understand how it was performing on costs. The agency was benchmarked against similar agencies, followed by a larger number of other agencies and organisations.

Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool

To benchmark the agency’s corporate services against comparable federal and state agencies, we grouped its corporate services by functional area. We found the agency had seven functional areas, including finance, legal and communications.

For each of these functional areas, we calculated the average staffing level in full time equivalents (FTE), as a proportion of the total corporate function and as a proportion of the entire agency. We performed the same calculations for operating expenditure.

The next step was to drill down into each functional area to gather data for the specific service areas. For example, under the finance functional area there were the service areas of executive, budget, finance, shared services and financial business support. For each of these, we gathered information on the average staffing level and the operating expenditure, using them to calculate the proportion of each within their respective functional area.

From this information, we were able to give the executive of the agency insights into how it performed against its peers. At a glance the agency could understand where it sat on a simple bar graph, and then probing the detail could reveal specific areas for improvement. Similar information on average staffing level and operating expenditure was available for each of the seven functional areas.

CSBT - HR average staffing level


The information derived from the tool could help the agency make vital strategic decisions about its resourcing. It helped the agency understand specific corporate functions where it was operating more efficiently or less efficiently compared to its peers, and whether that performance relates to staffing levels or expenditure.

Get in touch to find out more about how your organisation can use the Corporate Services Benchmarking Tool.