Canadian government in IT matters

When Shared Services Canada was created by the former Conservative government in 2011 to consolidate data centres and applications and — hopefully — save money there were great expectations for the department.

Recently, however, it has been the target of complains from the RCMP, Statistics Canada, the Auditor General, the public service and the House of Commons’ standing committee on public accounts.

We’re shortly about to find out how the current Liberal government is overhauling Shared Services (SSC). Last week the Public Services minister Judy Foote filed a response to the public accounts committee promising to meet a Dec. 1 deadline for SSC to file its service and security level expectations for the 43 departments it serves and its pricing policies for departments.

In addition, an updated transformation plan will be released early in 2017. Public consultations and an independent review on that plan are still ongoing.

The revised transformation plan “will be comprehensive and include detailed implementation strategies and revised timelines for the completion of SSC’s transformation initiatives related to email, data centres, network services, the procurement of workplace technology devices, and cyber and IT security.”
It also promised  to deliver a progress report outlining how SSC has refined its methodologies and practices to more accurately determine any promised savings.

“SSC has achieved concrete progress across all areas of the transformation plan since its establishment,” Foote’s response to the committee says. For example, as of March 31 it had closed 62 data centres, installed over 97,000 desktop phones with Voice over Internet Protocol technology, provided Wi-Fi service to over 30,000 public servants, made enterprise video-conferencing available to all 43 departments and agencies and established a Security Operations Centre to strengthen the cyber and IT security posture across the government.

“Notwithstanding this progress, the scale, scope and complexity of the transformation agenda is unprecedented and involves extensive synchronization and co-ordination across all initiatives and the entire government,” it adds.

There’s no doubt the federal government’s IT infrastructure needed to be overhauled. When Shared Services was created it enveloped 50 networks, over 500 data centres and more than 23,000 servers for 43 departments. Its goal was to winnow down to one email system for them, consolidate data centres, create reliable and secure telecommunication networks and promise 24/7/365 protection against cyber threats.

Early in the plan the government promised there would be value seen quickly. In 2011 the CIO at the time told a conference the government would “harvest some savings” 2014, Even outside consultants like Gartner were certain Ottawa was on the right track.

But — as with any huge consolidation program — there have been problems. The problem the government faces is it’s a public institution and things are either examined publicly, by the Auditor General, for example, or through leaks. One leak came to CBC News, which reported in March that at one point RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give SSC any more control over the Mounties’ information technologies.

In his fall 2015 report the Auditor General said Shared Services Canada “has made limited progress in implementing key elements of its transformation plan, and it has challenges in adequately demonstrating that it is able to meet its objectives of maintaining or improving IT services and generating savings.”

SSC “did not establish clear and concrete expectations for how it would deliver services or measure and report on its performance in maintaining original service levels for its 43 partners.” It rarely established expectations or provided sufficient information to partners to help them comply with government IT security policies, guidelines, and standards. In addition, SSC’s reporting against its transformation plan requires improvements because internal reports were not clear or accurate. “Furthermore, although SSC has reported that it is generating savings, it does not have consistent practices in place to demonstrate that government-wide savings are being achieved or to recognize that there are partner costs involved in all transformation projects.”

As part of the government’s proposed response in June Treasury Board released a proposed information technology strategic plan for the next five years. A public consultation on that plan recently ended. The final plan will be released by Dec. 1 to the parliamentary committee.

The government has already done some things, Foote’s report says.  Last December SSC finalized a comprehensive three-year service management strategy for 2015–2018 which sets out how SSC will deliver enterprise IT infrastructure services to meet the needs of its government partners and clients.  The strategy initially focuses on five priority services:email, application hosting, mobile devices, the Government of Canada’s wide area network and videoconferencing.

Foote says SSC’s service catalogue “is more clearly articulating service level expectations and associated performance targets and is establishing a basis for meaningful operational performance reporting.” It details service hours, regularly scheduled maintenance, availability of service, mean time to restore service, external vendor support hours and request fulfillment duration.

The security expectations document is based on a matrix the government is finalizing dubbed RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed), that outlines clear roles and responsibilities in the area of IT security.

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