Q&A: Greg Georgeff

Like all corporate executives, Greg Georgeff faces a number of ongoing challenges every day. For the past two years, Georgeff, the corporate chief information officer for the Province of Ontario, has been dealing with staff recruitment issues, funding shortfalls and the need to streamline the way the government does business.

But as Georgeff explained in a recent interview with Blair McQuillan, assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review , those challenges help to motivate him.

“It’s the size of it – the diversity, the excitement,” Georgeff said. “And the fact that…at the end of the day, it makes a difference. It makes a difference to you and me every single day how well we do in the IT world in the government. It really does give you a sense of satisfaction to know that what you are doing has a very real impact.” Further excerpts from the conversation follow:

Q. What major initiative are you currently working on?

A. We have a number of transformation projects under way where we’re transforming huge components of the government internally. One example of this is our Integrated Financial Information System (IFIS). It’s being rolled out now and will put everybody within the government on the same financial platform. For the government, we are transforming the way we are doing our accounting.

We have 23 different accounting systems under way now. There’s no consistency across the board. There’s no ability to accumulate information, there’s no ability to actually do any of the standard projecting, predicting and financial management things from an enterprise perspective that you would want in a business that is as large as the government. [IFIS] will save the government millions and millions of dollars over time as well as give us a better way to be able to handle our cash on a daily basis. It’s got a two-and-a-half year horizon in terms of an implementation schedule. The project has been under way for almost two years. It will continue to roll out for another 24 to 30 months.

Q. When it comes to implementing new programs or services, what has to be in a business case now that has not been present in the past?

A: It depends on the project. If you’re thinking about things like an improvement project, the business case is obviously a financial one and is built very much on a return on investment basis. There is a continuing pressure on the government to be able to show returns. There is also a continuing pressure on the government to show that those returns are real.

Q. Do you face any challenges with funding between those in the government who are mandated to produce services and those mandated to provide them?

A. There are always stresses and strains between those two factions. Certainly, one party always thinks that they deserve more of the pie than the other party, and they’re more important to the outcome component of it than their counterparts. That’s just part of business in that environment. Do I think the stresses and strain are greater? Probably not, but they are there.

Governments are traditionally underfunded. There is never enough tax money to go around. There are always many more ideas and more outcomes and more things that we should be doing than we could ever find funding for.

I do think the government is becoming more ‘business-like’ in terms of the approaches and it looks at things like return on investment and cash flow much more seriously. All of the things you would typically measure in the private sector in terms of the viability of a project are certainly being brought to the fore much more strongly in government as well.

Q. What can you tell us of the challenges the Ontario government faces in regard to hiring IT staff?

A. The government has always faced some constraints in terms of acquiring people because of the salary schedules that we offer. The government is never going to be the premier payer. On the other hand, we do offer a very exciting, interesting and opportunistic environment. It’s a great place to work, and those that do join the government tend to stay because it is such a great place to work.

But it’s hard to recruit into the environment because of the financial component. Certainly, in the information technology field that’s just sort of exacerbated because the world is driven by information technology right now. It’s difficult to find qualified people.

We have a number of things that we do. We do university recruiting. We run an aggressive internship campaign. We try to get young people at every opportunity to come in and join the government.

Q. Do you think attitudes about working for a government IT department are changing?

A. I think so. Especially in Ontario people are looking at a government job as being a good job. We have some of the largest projects. We’re certainly at the forefront of using technologies to be able to address our business requirements in a much more exciting way than many facets of the private sector, and we use all technologies.

Q. Are there any challenges Ontario faces that are unique to the province itself?

A. Ontario has a unique challenge inasmuch as over 40 per cent of the people in Canada live in Ontario. We end up with the challenge of scale. We have a very demanding citizenry. Our citizenry tends to be very well connected electronically and so we have very high Internet use. Those electronic user are demanding electronic services and unlike some other provinces we face a lot of challenges from an IT perspective much earlier than they do. Scale makes everything we do very significant.

Q. What has been your greatest achievement since becoming CIO?

A. The achievements I’m happiest about this year have been our initiatives that we call ‘Go e 2003’, which are our electronic service delivery initiatives.

We have brought to bear – over the last 18 months – some 83 new online transaction products. Overall, there were 1,500 products that were actually affected.

It’s going to be much more obvious to everybody in the province of Ontario how much you can actually do using electronic media. You don’t have to go to stand in line to renew your validation tag for your car, now you can do it online. You can change the address on your health card or outdoor card. There are all kinds of services that we offer online and I think that people are going to discover that and be quite happy with the way that services have been brought to them.