Information management comes to the table

Canadian government I&IT executives recognize that data disorder in the public sector is unsustainable. “Information management bubbled up near the top as one of the things we need to work together on at the recent Lac Carling conference,” says Roy Wiseman, CIO for the Region of Peel in Ontario.

“What we’re finding is that as it gets more attention within individual jurisdictions, people are starting to be given significant roles to make sense of the information we manage.”

Instead of working in isolation, a new sub-committee has been formed to develop common standards and guidelines across all levels of government, he says. “Realistically, there will be pockets in government with differing approaches, but as in most disciplines, if we make it more consistent, we’ll find our needs are not all that different.

The government is aware there’s a lack of resources to deal with information management issues, says Tom Thackeray, assistant deputy minister of information services at Service Alberta and chair of the new sub-committee.

“That was one of the reasons we formed this new sub-committee: no one province has all the necessary resources to tackle all the issues,” he says.

“We’re all facing the same challenges, so why can’t we work together to find some common solutions, so we’re not all spending money trying to solve the same problem? If we have 10 jurisdictions throwing in 10 cents, then we have a buck.”

The sub-committee has representation from the curatorial area, in addition to the municipal, provincial and federal levels, he says. “All government sectors have been invited to the table, and we have participation from about 70 per cent of jurisdictions.”

The sub-committee had its first meeting in late April to decide on short and longer-term priorities, he says. Some jurisdictions have agreed to take the lead on a number of initiatives. “We’ll meet again in the fall to develop a workplan to move forward on the agenda, but this will be an ongoing effort for the next few years,” he says.

Many in the public sector are beginning to realize there are fundamental information management issues that can’t be solved by throwing more technology at the issue. “We’re getting there – we still don’t have 100 per cent buy-in, but it’s greater than yesterday, and tomorrow it will be better.”

The sub-committee will focus on an array of management issues, he says. Some high-priority items that have been identified are developing information architectures, meta-data standards that are consistent across the country, and digital preservation and archival strategies.

“We need to get a common lexicon, so no matter where you are across Canada, when you say enterprise information management, we all know what you’re talking about,” says Thackeray.

The point is to get people to think about managing information consistently throughout its lifecycle, be it paper or electronic, in whatever format or media it may be found.

CIOs and senior IT professionals will play a crucial role in developing the technology infrastructure to support this, he says. “They need to be able to enable solutions. Business folks will go to technology folks and say, this is the problem we’re trying to solve; do you have any recommended solutions?”

Good information is vital in all areas of government, and the consequences will be dire if order isn’t imposed soon on the increasing piles of disordered data. “As a public servant, I need to ensure that I’m able to provide the necessary information to politicians so they can make decisions,” he says.

“If something isn’t done, it’s going to impact everything from policy development to program delivery, because we won’t have the information to make decisions. It will be a mess.”

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