Q and A with Ron McKerlie

Ron McKerlie became Chief Strategist and Corporate CIO of Ontario, Service Delivery, with the Ministry of Government Services last fall. He came to the public sector with more than 20 years’ experience in the financial and telecommunications service industry, including stints with Rogers and the Bank of Montreal. Recently, with half a year in his new position, he spoke with Lisa Williams, senior writer with InterGovWorld.com, on the progress that’s been made, new initiatives under way and his work as a board member of World Vision Canada. Excerpts from the conversation follow:

Q. Let’s start with your background, I know you were most recently at Rogers Communications as Vice-President of e-business. How did that help prepare you for the work you’re doing now as CCIO?

A. My background’s really 25 years in financial services and telecommunications. Rogers was a pretty small piece of that, but overall I guess what I’ve learned in the past and in the business world is that success comes from doing a lot of things well, but that the focus of everything you do has to be around the customer. And what I bring into the (Ontario Public Service) is to refocus on the customer whether it’s internal for the I&IT work that I’m doing or whether it’s external to the citizens of Ontario for the service delivery work that I’m doing.

The focus really has to be reset around what does the customer need, what are the expectations and therefore how do you design the processes and the work that you’re doing to make sure that you’re meeting their needs, and that’s really probably the biggest thing … I’m not a traditional IT guy. I’ve never written a line of code. I’m a business person who understands that IT is just a way to enable business goals and achieve business goals, so I’m really focused on what is the government trying to do, what are the goals, and how do we use IT to enable that.

Q. Now that you’re at the six-month point in your position, what sort of progress has been made, what would be your evaluation at this point?

A. We’ve made progress in a number of areas. We’ve finalized and validated the I&IT strategy for the next few years, so we’ve got that piece of work done, and on the service side we’re pretty far along and have almost got a final service strategy in terms of how we drive Service Ontario forward … We’ve also launched four infrastructure consolidation projects which are very key projects. For example, we’re consolidating seven e-mail systems down to one, we’re consolidating multiple help desks into two, we’re consolidating multiple data centres into much fewer, virtualizing servers and reducing server hardware, we’re setting common standards and tools. So those four projects have been kicked off, they’ve been staffed, and they’re well under way and there’s good work going on.

I think the other area that we’ve moved significantly forward on is by April 1 we’ll have transferred the reporting relationships for about 624 staff into our service delivery unit here. So we’re consolidating all of the support for infrastructure, IT infrastructure, which will make it much easier to set standards and get to common platforms and common systems, so that work has gone along well, we’re just about complete on that.

Q. At this point what would you say has been the most surprising or challenging aspect of your position?

A. I think the most surprising or challenging aspect is probably the challenge around the speed of getting stuff done … I’m blessed with having a Deputy Ministry who’s outstanding and a Minister who really does understand it, and has a great business focus. But it’s still a very large organization, and getting everybody pointed in roughly the same direction has taken an enormous amount of energy in terms of meeting with people and communicating and convincing and listening and encouraging … I guess real substantive meaningful change takes a lot of time, and so speed and just how long it takes to move things is probably – it’s worse than I thought it was, or at least it’s not as good as I hoped it was.

Q. And would that vary greatly from your experience with the private sector?

A. It varies hugely from Rogers, which was very quick in terms of decision-making and getting things done.

Q. And with respect to being CCIO of Ontario, how do you think that varies compared to other provinces – for example P.E.I., which is very small. Would you say there are advantages that you have in Ontario?

A. I think one of the advantages I have over some of my counterparts is that I have responsibility for both the planning and policy side of it as well as the operations side of it, so it’s great to be able to effect change holistically. I know that in some jurisdictions, for example, the CIO has responsibility for policy decisions and setting direction, but the actual operations and implementation of that is done through others and that makes real change . . . more difficult in the short-run. So I think that’s an advantage, I think we certainly have greater complexity then some of the smaller jurisdictions might have.

There’s a lot going on here and we’re spread geographically throughout the province … we’re separated by distance as well, which makes communication challenges difficult. But I think overall, I would rather have the combination of policy and operations than have one or the other. I think that’s one of the benefits we have here, it was set up well.

Q. You touched on the importance of consolidating services. Is that the ultimate goal you would like to achieve, or is there an over-arching goal that you have that you would like to see completed while CCIO?

A. That (consolidating services) is not an ultimate goal, that’s a means to an end. But I think the end is, I’d really like to embed in the organization a service culture where we’re really focused on externally what the citizens of Ontario want and how we can better deliver that and make it easier for them to get service from the government, and internally on the ministries and the clusters that support them – that we’re really able to be much more nimble than we are.

We have performance metrics in place … and we’ve embedded that process of continuous improvement because we won’t get it right the first time. We know that this is an inner process of change, and it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take us coming back to it again and again. But if people start to realize that it’s okay not to get it perfect, it’s better to get on with it, move towards the goal, and then correct as you go, then I think I will have felt that I was successful.

Q. What new initiatives are you working on?

A. Well, there are lots of new initiatives that we’re moving forward on. One of the key ones is we’re currently in the market looking to hire a Chief Information and Privacy Officer, and we’re setting up a department within the office of the Corporate Chief Information Officer, to really move forward on our whole information management agenda, processes and tools, and help that as well as to help manage the flipside of information which is of course privacy, and making sure that we do a good job of protecting the privacy of the citizens that we serve.

Q. And that (privacy) is a big issue right now obviously.

A. It’s a big issue, and it will always be a big issue. There’s a trust around information that citizens have to provide the government, and we have to make sure that we don’t violate that trust.

Q. You’re currently on the board of World Vision Canada. Could you talk about the work you’re doing with them, and why that’s something that’s important to you.

A. Well, World Vision’s a great organization; they’re a humanitarian and relief and development agency, and they work all over the world. Primarily in Canada they raise money, although they do some work with immigrants who are new to the country, and also with some of our First Nations people. But primarily in Canada they raise funds for deployment elsewhere in the world.

I’ve been involved with them for a couple of years, just totally impressed with the quality of leadership, the passion around what they do and the way that they carry out their job day in and day out. As part of the board responsibilities, it’s really to help with governance and oversight and to use my personal influence where I can to help them meet their goals and move towards success for them, which is to take care of children, widows and orphans around the world, and that’s what they do, and they do it very, very well. 068895

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