Ottawa tackles integration

Cobbling together disparate systems can be a nightmare for merging companies, but when the City of Ottawa was faced with merging 12 local municipalities into one amalgamated city, the challenge seemed extreme.

Greg Geddes, director of IT services and CIO for the City of Ottawa, said the process required amalgamating separate payroll and human resources systems. Each municipality used its own systems, ranging from PeopleSoft and SAP to mid-range vendors’ solutions and other outsourced options.

“The City of Ottawa has 12,000 full-time and 5,000 part-time employees, and we had a lot of raw data on these employees,” he said.

Because some sub-agencies of the municipalities had their own payroll systems, the amalgamation process started with 16 pay systems in 2000. Some were merged immediately, but Canada’s capital city was forced to live with eight or nine different payroll systems for the first two-and-a-half years while consolidation plans were solidified, according to Geddes.

“We had 12 different organizations with 12 ways of doing things. As a part of the amalgamation, there was some downsizing in the management group, so often it would be a subject-matter expert from a group that would leave, making it more difficult,” he said.

Because Ottawa’s largest municipality was already using Cogno Corp. products, Geddes and his team opted to stick with the Ottawa-based vendor for the amalgamation of payroll and human resources systems throughout the new, larger municipality.

Colin Saravanamuttoo, product-marketing manager for Cognos in Ottawa, described some of the hurdles that needed to be cleared in order to give the city a single, co-ordinated view of its information.

“There were various complicating factors. In some cases a person would have moved from a department in one municipality into another and there would be duplicate records,” he said.

Another complication was that a large number of the user community for the new systems was in human resources and not in IT, which Saravanamuttoo described as something that could have been a stumbling block. However, this concern proved to be needless.

“There was a very rapid uptake due to the intuitive nature of the product. These users aren’t in IT and aren’t analysts by nature, which is a big testament to us as to how smoothly the implementation was,” he said. “People were forming cubes in under two hours.”

The city used Cognos’ PowerPlay product, which is an OLAP tool that brings data together from various sources and allows users to have self-sufficiency against various data.

According to Geddes, the biggest challenge with the implementation concerned the quality of the information that was in the previous systems.

“There was a lot of frustration in terms of the accuracy of the data, not in the technology that goes into forming the cubes – that part’s pretty straightforward,” he said.

“There were major inconsistencies of granularity. The old region of Ottawa had comprehensive pay systems, but some of the systems were outsourced and were basic gross to net, which impacts any type of exercise. We had to start worrying about taking information from the lowest common denominator,” Geddes explained.

Besides payroll, the city of Ottawa has used Cognos to consolidate telephone and e-mail directories.

“The cube has been invaluable from that perspective,” Geddes said.

In terms of infrastructure, the investment required the purchase of the base tool set, software and hardware, Geddes said, but noted that once you’ve done it up front, it’s not necessary to replicate the infrastructure on each product.

“It wasn’t a huge cost,” he said.

For CIOs facing a merger of two or more disparate systems, Geddes suggested that a good understanding of the new system is mandatory before embarking on the amalgamation process.

“We were able to do this so smoothly because we had experience with the product, but it would have been difficult – and not wise of us – to take a chance on a product set we weren’t familiar with,” he said.