Treasury Board urges rethink on government productivity

The Government of Canada must more fully embrace the principles and practices of enterprise business in order to transform the federal public service into a slick, efficient organization, says Jim Libbey, executive director of strategic systems infrastructure of Treasury Board Secretariat.

Traditionally built on program-specific departments and agencies, enhanced productivity in the workplace demands a new approach by Canada’s federal government, he says, and information technologies that enable shared services will provide the necessary platform.

Libbey says that standardization, cost savings and improving internal corporate services were among the biggest drivers for Treasury Board moving toward a shared services approach.

“When we launched our shared systems initiative, we had over 60 financial systems in the Government of Canada across roughly 100 organizations,” says Libbey. “That was way too many, and we managed to reduce those 60 systems to just six.”

But much more needs to be done to achieve really significant improvements in productivity, he suggests.

“The real challenge with shared services, when you take something like the Government of Canada, as massive as it is, is that you have to think of it as an enterprise.”

Coming at government from an enterprise angle goes far beyond technology. A shared services infrastructure begins with identifying common business processes, realigning administrative structures and then redeploying human resources accordingly, the executive says.

“As people are starting to understand it as an enterprise we need to be able to do things much better, like re-allocating resources across departments rather than just within departments.

“One of my favourite reasons for moving to shared services is the need to have a very professional workplace. There’s a lot more we can do, and it isn’t going to be grey-haired old folks like me – it’s going to be the younger generation who are actually going to make it happen.”

Treasury Board’s shared services initiative goes back more than 10 years and is constantly evolving, explains Libbey, who addressed attendees at the Sapphire 2007 congress in Atlanta, Ga., yesterday.

What is today being developed as the Common Administrative Shared Services (CASS) pilot had its origins in fears and trepidations about Y2K. Treasury Board adopted enterprise resource planning (ERP) software from SAP AG mainly to counter the anticipated slew of problems from the Y2K bug, says Libbey.

The relationship between Treasury Board and SAP, a software manufacturer based in Walldorf, Germany, began in the early 90s with an early conceptualization of shared services.

“We ran a very heavy-duty procurement and that competition resulted in our selection of the 4.7 system from SAP,” explains Libbey. “Over the following years, many departments and agencies have moved to SAP as their choice of system.

“We moved through a couple of upgrades and what we did with the 4.7 upgrade was put a lot of effort into standardization across government; so the different departments and agencies are to a very large extent using common business processes.”

That effort resulted in Treasury Board winning the Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) Impact Award in 2006, adds Libbey.

“I think it was about $87 million of cost avoidance over a few years as a result of the work they were doing on the standardization of our using SAP.”

From 1995 to 2001, Treasury Board implemented what was called the financial information strategy, says Libbey. “This was another driver towards standardization and towards partnering and working together.”

Since that period, Treasury Board has undergone a series of studies, he adds. “We did one in 2001, took it to a senior deputy minister committee in November of that year and very quickly learned there are some things you have to do, like walk before you run, warm people up to things, and bring them a step-by-step kind of process, not a big-bang type process.”

In 2005, Treasury Board submitted a report to Parliament on the work it was doing with respect to shared services, says Libbey. “But of course in government you’re driven to some extent by what’s happening at the political level,” he adds.

“At that point in time we had gone through an election: we had a minority government elected, they had to find their way…and so we spent an additional year fine-tuning our proposal.

“We now have a proposal ready to go, and if the government chooses to consider it, (as they have not made the final decision on this) we’re calling it the Common Administrative Shared Services pilot implementation project (CASS pilot).”

Libbey says Treasury Board is hoping to get the go-ahead in the next few weeks from the government.

Related content:

Three Little Letters: As ERP goes, so goes shared services

Finetuning shared services

Identifying the barriers to public sector management

Learning to share

SAP brings ERP to war room operations

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