Q and A with Ron McKerlie

Ron McKerlie became Chief Strategist and Corporate CIO ofOntario, Service Delivery, with the Ministry of Government Serviceslast fall. He came to the public sector with more than 20 years’experience in the financial and telecommunications serviceindustry, including stints with Rogers and the Bank of Montreal.Recently, with half a year in his new position, he spoke with LisaWilliams, senior writer with InterGovWorld.com, on the progressthat’s been made, new initiatives under way and his work as a boardmember of World Vision Canada. Excerpts from the conversationfollow:

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

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

The focus really has to be reset around what does the customerneed, what are the expectations and therefore how do you design theprocesses and the work that you’re doing to make sure that you’remeeting their needs, and that’s really probably the biggest thing… I’m not a traditional IT guy. I’ve never written a line ofcode. I’m a business person who understands that IT is just a wayto enable business goals and achieve business goals, so I’m reallyfocused 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, whatsort of progress has been made, what would be your evaluation atthis point?

A. We’ve made progress in a number of areas. We’ve finalized andvalidated the I&IT strategy for the next few years, sowe’ve got that piece of work done, and on the service side we’repretty far along and have almost got a final service strategy interms of how we drive Service Ontario forward … We’ve alsolaunched four infrastructure consolidation projects which are verykey projects. For example, we’re consolidating seven e-mail systemsdown 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 settingcommon standards and tools. So those four projects have been kickedoff, they’ve been staffed, and they’re well under way and there’sgood work going on.

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

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

A. I think the most surprising or challenging aspect is probablythe challenge around the speed of getting stuff done … I’mblessed with having a Deputy Ministry who’s outstanding and aMinister who really does understand it, and has a great businessfocus. But it’s still a very large organization, and gettingeverybody pointed in roughly the same direction has taken anenormous amount of energy in terms of meeting with people andcommunicating and convincing and listening and encouraging … Iguess real substantive meaningful change takes a lot of time, andso 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 Ihoped it was.

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

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

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

A. I think one of the advantages I have over some of mycounterparts is that I have responsibility for both the planningand policy side of it as well as the operations side of it, so it’sgreat to be able to effect change holistically. I know that in somejurisdictions, for example, the CIO has responsibility for policydecisions and setting direction, but the actual operations andimplementation of that is done through others and that makes realchange . . . more difficult in the short-run. So I think that’s anadvantage, I think we certainly have greater complexity then someof the smaller jurisdictions might have.

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

Q. You touched on the importance of consolidating services. Isthat the ultimate goal you would like to achieve, or is there anover-arching goal that you have that you would like to seecompleted while CCIO?

A. That (consolidating services) is not an ultimate goal, that’sa means to an end. But I think the end is, I’d really like to embedin the organization a service culture where we’re really focused onexternally what the citizens of Ontario want and how we can betterdeliver that and make it easier for them to get service from thegovernment, and internally on the ministries and the clusters thatsupport them – that we’re really able to be much more nimble thanwe are.

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

Q. What new initiatives are you working on?

A. Well, there are lots of new initiatives that we’re movingforward on. One of the key ones is we’re currently in the marketlooking to hire a Chief Information and Privacy Officer, and we’resetting up a department within the office of the Corporate ChiefInformation Officer, to really move forward on our wholeinformation management agenda, processes and tools, and help thatas well as to help manage the flipside of information which is ofcourse privacy, and making sure that we do a good job of protectingthe 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’sa trust around information that citizens have to provide thegovernment, and we have to make sure that we don’t violate thattrust.

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

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

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

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