Public Sector Check-Up

Our discussions with some of the nation’s leading public-sector IT executives revealed that there was substantial commonality in their agendas. Delivering government services electronically is still a major priority, and security is getting more attention, due partly to the September 11 terrorist attacks and perhaps partly to increased attacks on computer systems in general. Some government IT executives are getting a little more money to work with; others a bit less. But getting the most out of IT resources is on everyone’s mind.

Here’s a more detailed look at what our respondents had to say:

Michelle d’Auray, CIO, Federal Government of Canada

“As we move more services online, we are also recognizing that there is an opportunity for us to rethink the way we process information, collect it, and make decisions”

‘Government Online’ and ‘Secure Channel’ initiatives were key federal government priorities in 2002, while a number of agencies and departments were also working on major information systems projects and renewing their IT assets, according to Michelle d’Auray.

“The past year we’ve been field-testing the Secure Channel,” says d’Auray. “We were live in terms of issuing certificates in September.”

The first application was an online address-change facility operated by Canada Customs and Revenue. By this fall, SCNet – the network component of the Secure Channel initiative – is due to be complete. About 40 government departments and agencies were using SCNet by January, says d’Auray, and the roughly 80 remaining bodies will migrate by year-end.

Among the projects undertaken by individual departments in the past year was a major multi-year logistics project that will let the Department of National Defence track all of its assets electronically.

The federal government continues expanding electronic service delivery. “For example, you can apply online for Employment Insurance,” d’Auray says, “and without a lot of fanfare there was a 20-per-cent take-up over the past year.”

More e-government services will be ready to go online this year and early in 2004. Meanwhile Ottawa is hoping to build a foundation for better online services in the future by paying more attention to content management for Web services. “We are starting to implement a number of policies and standards and metadata tagging that will make our ability to manage the data a lot more effective,” d’Auray says. “The ultimate benefit is that it’s a lot easier to update your information.”

And in an effort to let more Canadians know how they can communicate with their government online, d’Auray is working on segmented marketing plans for online government services – cooperating, for instance, with associations and organizations that can help Ottawa let certain groups of people and businesses know about new electronic government services.

“Security is always a big IT priority,” d’Auray notes. “It just takes different forms at different stages.” Since the September 11 attacks, Ottawa has been looking at using technology for tracking and pre-clearance of goods and people crossing the Canada-U.S. border. At the same time, attempted intrusions into government computer systems have been on the rise, so securing those systems is a constant concern.

Ottawa is spending $5.5 billion on information technology in the 2002/03 budget year, an increase from the previous year.

D’Auray says one of her biggest challenges is promoting the use of technology to improve the way government works. “As we move more and more services online, we are also recognizing that there is an opportunity for us to rethink the way we process information, the way we collect it, and the way we make decisions.”

Lori McMullen, CIO, Province of New Brunswick

“Budget cuts of about two per cent won’t be a serious problem. Because we’ve invested in IT over the last three or four years, we can ride it out”

New Brunswick has a reputation as a leader in e-government and integrated service delivery in Canada. “Service New Brunswick, its continued growth, and its delivery of additional services to our citizens, continues to be a highlight for the government of New Brunswick,” says Lori McMullen.

In the past year or so, Service New Brunswick has increasingly worked with municipalities, a number of which are now delivering services through the provincial portal. In an experiment in electronic democracy, SNB and the National Research Council recently carried out a pilot project with the city of Saint John using technology to give citizens input into the budget process.

McMullen says electronic service delivery will remain a priority this year, with Service New Brunswick leading a government-wide effort to develop a comprehensive e-government strategy.

The province redesigned its Web site in 2002 and put in place a government-wide electronic directory, which McMullen describes as “one authoritative source about people and information in government.”

McMullen is also spending a good deal of time on service delivery strategy. “We got introspective in the past year,” she says. “We spent a lot of time looking at what IT services it makes sense to deliver corporately to government departments and how well we’re doing it.”

As an example of efforts to centralize where it makes sense, McMullen cites the replacement of about 18 separate e-mail systems with one government-wide system. “I think that has been one of our successes,” she says. “We are using that same model to do things like implementing storage-area networks.” The province is also exploring enterprise software licensing options. In the coming year, McMullen plans a continued focus on benchmarking IT services and reviewing the way they are delivered.

McMullen says budget cuts of about two per cent won’t be a serious problem. “Because we’ve invested in IT over the last three or four years, we can ride it out.”

Bob MacKay, Chief Executive of Economic Development, Province of Nova Scotia

“We have some pretty substantial efficiencies. Because there is a common platform, it’s pretty easy to share services and to develop training and business opportunities”

Nova Scotia has been focusing on building consistent infrastructure across the province, often taking in both the provincial and the municipal level of government. In 2002, the province continued rolling out financial management components of SAP AG’s Enterprise Resource Planning software. The province now holds a master license, which municipalities, hospitals and educational institutions can use to install the same software.

Besides cost savings, this is helping build a common information infrastructure throughout the public sector, says Bob MacKay, the person responsible for IT support to all government departments. “We have, therefore, common metrics. And we also have some pretty substantial efficiencies,” he notes, “because where there is a common platform, it’s pretty easy to share services and to develop training and business opportunities.”

In 2003, Nova Scotia plans to enhance its existing SAP installations with human resources and payroll modules, rolling them out to school boards and municipalities as well as provincial government departments and agencies.

About 18 months ago, the province undertook a comprehensive study of its telecommunications needs and issued an RFP for a full suite of telecommunications services. The winning bidder was hometown company Aliant Inc.

In 2003, the province plans to do the same for its data acquisition and processing needs. Nova Scotia has outsourced data processing for about 10 years, and major contracts come up for renewal this year, so it is a good time to review the province’s needs and how they are being met.

MacKay says Nova Scotia is trying to use its information technology buying power not only to meet the public sector’s IT needs but also to promote economic development in the province. For instance, the provincial government is the anchor tenant for a province-wide mobile-radio system that enables emergency vehicles to communicate from anywhere in the province without changing frequencies. Aliant can now market this capability to businesses as well.

The province delivers a good deal of government information and a somewhat more limited number of transactional services on the Internet. On this front MacKay expects 2003 to be a year of refining those services. “We are moving more now on trying to identify what other transactional services can be delivered online,” he says, adding that the immediate focus will probably be on online services for businesses.

MacKay expects no dramatic new directions in 2003, seeing it as largely a continuation of what the province started in 2002. IT spending will probably be marginally higher this year than last, he says, and certainly no lower.

Bernard Beauchemin, secr