Shared services will reap savings by 2014: Fed CIO

OTTAWA — Canada will begin to see positive results and “harvest some savings” from an effort to streamline the way federal government IT services are delivered by 2014, says its chief information officer, and departmental CIOs in collaboration with the newly minted Shared Services Canada will be driving that change.

That was the message Tuesday from Corrine Charette at GTEC 2011, one of Canada’s largest government technology events, who kept shared services front and centre in her keynote speech.

Shared Services Canada, under president Liseanne Forand, has been mandated by Treasury Board president Tony Clement to reduce the number of federal government service across 44 departments to 30 from 300. Consolidating e-mail servers, data centres and networks in the most IT-intensive departments would reap “significant economies of scale,” Clement said Tuesday.

Charette said some important government systems are more than 25 years old and at risk of obsolescence. Meanwhile, the government’s application portfolio has become too diverse, granular, customized and extensive, increasing costs and causing interoperability problems. There are 500 application components in human resources alone, she said.

“It became clear that renewing our IT environment as-is was not feasible,” Charette said. “There are simply too many newer applications, newer technologies, that we haven’t harvested.”

It’s impossible, though, to go from a completely decentralized IT delivery model to a completely centralized model, she said. Shared Services Canada is aimed at creating a mixed environment: clusters of smaller department combining their back offices, like an effort already underway led by Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada; data centre colocation, a road that Canada Revenue Agency, the Bank of Canada and the Finance Ministry have already started own; and horizontal consolidation. For example, there’s no consistency across departments for Web publishing and content management; many even have “roll-your-own” solutions, she said. There’s an opportunity to consolidate on a single platform with more powerful tools.

It will change the game for departmental CIOs, but they will also be increasingly involved in finding opportunities to transform the way IT services are delivered in government, she said. They will have to develop more extensive business cases, comparing more solutions and including options like clustering and private partnerships.

That kind of change can take people out of their comfort zones, said Carol Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. Change has been “a constant companion” in her career, as a Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. executive at the end of the long-distance monopoly, the leader of telecom conglomerate Stentor, and CEO of Alcatel-Lucent in Canada when an industry collapse forced massive restructuring.

“Dramatic change continues to affect your industry,” she said.

The organizations she’s led through change have become more committed and agile, she said. “The biggest leadership challenge is to foster an environment where people buy into the change.”

Communication, a clear set of values and an understanding of the big picture are key to managing through change, Stephenson said.

“You can never communicate too much,” Stephenson said. Asking the right questions, and listening to the answers, is critical, and engenders trust and loyalty. She pointed to an Ivey study that showed a “culture of constructive dissent” among the institutions that survived the 2008 financial meltdown. Companies whose leaders didn’t accept convoluted financial instruments at face value, and asked to have them explained until they completely understood them, avoided collapse.

Shared values are more important than ever given the volatility of change. And it’s an important motivational tool.

“These values can’s simply be handed down,” she said. “All employees have to have a voice in creating them.” Then, not only will employees be less resistant to change, they’ll actually be the ones driving the transformation of the business, Stephenson said.

GTEC continues until Thursday. Forand addresses the conference that morning.

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