Ontario, B.C. form Oracle user alliance

The Ontario provincial government is spearheading the evolution of a Canadian Oracle Users Group (COUG) committee after the province announced it had tendered a $16.2 million contract to Oracle Corporation Canada Inc. to provide software and related technical support services.

Officially announced on April 20, the software implementation is geared to streamlining the province’s accounting practices and save Ontario taxpayers an estimated $47.6 million in standard accounting aspects such as accounts receivable and accounts payable management, management consolidation, purchasing management, cost accounting, and cash forecasting and treasury management.

British Columbia, Quebec and the Maritime provinces (excluding Nova Scotia) are expected to be a part of what Bob Coke, assistant deputy minister for Ontario’s Ministry of Finance and the Integrated Financial Information System Project (IFIS), loosely referred to as the COUG after he and Howard Thomas, executive director for B.C.’s Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations, had shared resources and information pertinent to both province’s Oracle-based initiatives. Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are presently running systems other than Oracle while Saskatchewan has yet to adopt an ERP solution due to financial constraints.

Coke explained that at the conclusion of an independent financial review in 1995 when the Progressive Conservative party first came into power, 17 of Ontario’s 22 ministries had each developed their own accounting systems. By December 1998, the province had issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a solution to the data communications dilemma plaguing the government’s various departments. Eleven painstaking months later, Oracle Canada emerged victorious as a deal was struck between the two entities on November 19, 1999.

“The plan isn’t to do this overnight,” Coke cautioned. “We’ll do revenue expense first and then move to capital assets…our time frame is about four and a half years, so by mid 2005 [the full roll-out will be complete].”

Ontario chose Release 11, Oracle’s Financial, Projects, Purchasing and Order Management applications for its enterprise-wide, financial information system as a means to empower its 62,000 employees with self-service business intelligence tools. These applications will run on the Oracle8i database; accessible from a standard Web browser.

Delivering benefits

“Right now it takes us about six months to do a year-end consolidation, for example,” Coke explained, while attending the Oracle Applications User Group (OAUG) spring 2000 conference in Philadelphia. “There’s a $15 million benefit (using Oracle) for our benefactors just for that.”

The buzzword in Canadian parliamentary buildings these days is eGovernment. But as Coke’s colleague Joe Liscio explained, putting all government services on-line takes time and cannot be hastened or compared to private industry due to the magnitude of such a project.

“We’re building a single financial system, that is the basis for eGovernment,” said the director of Ontario’s change management, education and training for IFIS.

Ontario and Quebec have not adopted ERP in a major fashion. But there is an advantage in not having done so: the opportunity to learn from leaders such as Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island to create an efficient system with less bruising along the way. Herein lies Coke’s COUG aspirations.

“We had sessions with Ottawa, the Manitoban government, the Alberta government, and when we got out to British Columbia I met Howard (Thomas) as we were sort of catching up with our first foray into this exchange of information,” Coke said. “And he said, ‘This is something we should keep going as it’s invaluable stuff’…we ran into countless numbers of lessons. we gained a great deal and formalized it into a Canadian Oracle Users Group.”

The COUG has met thrice thus far and plans are in the making for a future meeting. Ottawa unknowingly initiated the provincial exchange when Revenue Canada freely handed Ontario $1 million worth of information and design on disk to Coke and Liscio after the two had bore witness to the federal government’s established system and commented on how impressive it was. And from that act of generosity, the initiative spread.

“About a year and a half ago (the B.C. government) implemented two ministries fairly rapidly and they’ve been operational for one year,” Thomas said of his government’s efforts to end the accounting systems mayhem. “We’ve since added 17 ministries of 20…we’ve got all but three ministries now up on our financial [Oracle suite].”

Thomas would not comment on the potential savings B.C.’s taxpayers can expect to see from the Oracle implementation, but he hinted it could be in the millions.

Establishing the COUG

As far as his involvement with the COUG is concerned, Thomas said his and Coke’s efforts to establish an inter-governmental forum has been greeted with open arms by other regions in Canada, not just those running an Oracle solution.

“We first met in Alberta, which isn’t using Oracle, but they expressed interest in sharing in the experience,” he remarked. “Last fall…we managed to get six provinces and representatives from the federal government (involved). I think it’s indicative of what government is trying to do, this is not a meeting of the minds of technologists, it’s a meeting of the minds of strategists.”