Interview with Rob Dowler, Ontario Ministry of Government Services

As corporate chief strategist with the Ontario Ministry of Government Services (MGS), Rob Dowler is responsible for developing government-wide IT strategies and policies. Dowler recently spoke with senior writer Lisa Williams about I&IT procurement within MGS; his take on open source software, Facebook and going back to school; and how he stays in shape with distance running.

Q. There’s a big push right now to “Go Green” pretty much across the board, in every industry. Could you discuss the work that your office is doing with respect to “green” IT?

A. The Ontario government has recently announced a wide range of “Go Green” initiatives. In our consultations with technology stakeholders, many have suggested that I&IT has a significant role to play in Ontario’s green strategy.

On the facilities side, we’re continually reviewing power consumption in our data centres. In the recently-announced new data centre in Guelph, we plan to incorporate many energy-efficient features leading to certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

Rob Dowler, corporate chief strategist, Ontario Ministry of Government Services

On the end-user side, the Ontario Public Service (OPS) has made more energy-efficient procurement choices: favouring LCD monitors, laptops, thin clients, etc. Clusters and ministries have adopted energy and cost-saving usage policies, like powering down PCs at night and on weekends and using power-saving settings through the day. We’re also paying more attention to disposal and recycling to reduce heavy metals found in e-waste.

On the operations side, many ministries have used I&IT as an enabler to facilitate telecommuting and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobile trips. Ontario has taken important first steps in each of these areas and our consultations indicate interest in seeing what more can be done as we build our future I&IT strategy.

Finding perspective amidst IT’s green agenda

Q. What is Ontario’s approach to open source software?

A. Recent industry studies have suggested that the standalone open source software market will likely grow by 26 per cent per year over the next five years. Ontario, like most large users, has a keen interest in the new products emerging from this growing segment of the I&IT market.

Some analysts have suggested that organizations like ours can save as much as 30 per cent, primarily on licensing fees, by acquiring open source.

However, you have to factor in the costs associated with support, maintenance, training and indemnification that are not always included in open source software acquisitions.

This spring, Ontario completed consultations and will shortly release a new policy guideline that will provide clusters and ministries with a solid framework for considering open source acquisitions.

The framework ensures that total cost of ownership has been factored in and provides for different levels of risk management, depending on whether the application is targeted for a development or production environment.

Lost in space: Digital preservation for eternity

Q. What is the status of I&IT procurement within MGS, how has that process been made easier for potential bidders to work with government?

A. Ontario conducted an extensive review of its commonly used I&IT contract terms in consultation with representatives from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).

ITAC and other industry participants were particularly interested in determining whether there were opportunities to address and refine Ontario’s terms and conditions to achieve a more commercially sensitive allocation of risk.

As a result of the ITAC discussions, Ontario has agreed to test new contract provisions and to continue to pilot a new approach to procurement which provides more room for post-award negotiations.

These new initiatives will be evaluated to determine whether they result in faster and more efficient I&IT contracting processes while fostering broad-based participation by the vendor community.

Ontario partners ITAC to ease procurement pain

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