The revelation by the Auditor General of Canada of a lack of IT modernization in government is a barrier to creating modern culture and service, experts say. Why it

Feds legacy IT threatens service delivery, hiring

The Auditor General of Canada’s 2010 Spring Report says the federal government is failing to modernize aging IT systems. One expert warns this has serious implications on hiring and service delivery.

 

While the report’s findings will influence funding allocation for IT administrators looking to refresh IT equipment, the failure to manage legacy systems directly links back to other facets like corporate culture and service to citizens, said John Reid, president and CEO with Ottawa-based CATA Alliance.

 

“You can’t separate the modernization of technology with the evolution of corporate culture within the public service,” said Reid.

 

The federal government can’t run the latest applications on an antiquated infrastructure, nor can it send the message to potential hires that they’ll be working on the most advanced technology, said Reid. “That’s not a signal that you’re creating the modern culture within the modern service,” he said.

 

The report released Tuesday focuses on five agencies: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

 

The Canada Revenue Agency is the sole agency that could, according to the report, “demonstrate that it had adequately identified, managed, and controlled the significant risks associated with its aging information systems.” The Citizenship and Immigration Canada, on the other hand, “has yet to develop” an investment plan using a portfolio management approach to balance IT investments, the report states.

 

Legacy IT systems is a very big issue for all levels of government that must deal with many large systems implemented decades ago, said Bernard Courtois, president & CEO with Ottawa-based ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada). Government will often prefer to maintain these systems for as long as they possibly can, until they are just too old or until they run out of in-house skills to fix them, said Courtois.

 

“The big issue becomes how do you prioritize,” he said. “You can’t run off in all directions and replace everything at once.”

 

The government has been aware of the legacy IT issue, said Courtois, but until now there hasn’t been a process for administrative functions and overhead costs to be reviewed. This would help save money and build more efficient systems, he said.

 

“This is a very significant thing for the government, it’s a very significant thing for the industry, and it’s extremely important for our industry to see that the government is very much aware of this and is very much on this case,” said Courtois.

 

Given the varying interests and priorities of each agency, Courtois isn’t surprised that the report indicates a difference in the degree to which they manage their respective legacy infrastructures.

 

Further compounding the problem is government applications are typically transactional or client specific dealing with “life and death” areas like employment insurance benefits or immigration files, said Courtois.

 

Reid agreed that setting priorities have been a challenge for government especially with the financial crisis and traditionally poor communication between agencies. The heavy investment and accountability in government has worked to “slow things down in terms of innovative decision-making,” said Reid.

 

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau 

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