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The head of Statistics Canada, Wayne Smith, resigned on Sept. 16 because he felt he did not have control of his computer systems. Reports say, “Statistics Canada needed to be more agile because it was facing huge challenges in a world of big data including: demands for up-to-the-minute information that businesses and planners rely on, declining response rates on traditional surveys, and meeting the government’s need for statistics in new policy fields.”

In an organization that is only about their information and which has big data, it is reassuring to see that they understand their IT is their business. What is disturbing is that the federal government Shared Services is not involving the users enough and that they feel they have control. Twice now the head of Stats Canada has had to resign to protect their own ethics.

The decision of the previous Conservative government to make the long-form census a voluntary survey led to the July 2010 resignation of Munir Sheikh, Smith’s predecessor. Good ethics demand that when we feel we have an ethical responsibility, that we turn that feeling into a conclusion and act on that conclusion. It is clear both Sheikh and Smith have felt that call to action and have acted on it. They want to gather good information and manage it well.

Macleans quotes an email from Smith, obtained by The Canadian Press, as saying: “This loss of independence and control is not only an apprehension, but an effective reality today, as Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programs through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada. I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect.”

It is to his credit that he realizes resignation should not be the first action taken on an issue. We should always look for collaborative and constructive ways to resolve issues. We must do our best before we step away and leave a situation that needs a strong ethical voice. Stepping away quietly is not always an option either. In this case, we can hope that the media coverage of his resignation will help to get the action that is required.

Not all the action needs to come from the government. Shared Services Canada needs to provide the government with good advice and quality services. Consolidation projects are common in most IT shops and usually have good justification. When theirs was announced in 2013, it was going to reduce risk by focusing on “infrastructure consolidation of the government’s data centers, email systems, and network—not attempting the more ambitious goal of consolidating applications.”

IT World reported that Bell Canada and CGI got the contracts for the email portion. This is not yet complete and now Shared Services are starting to revamp their procurement systems. Most alarming of all is that the groups being served, or at least Stats Canada, do not feel that they are part of the governance of these big projects and want independence to control their own projects.

I hope the IT folk are telling the politicians that best practice is to always involve the clients in the project. Stats Canada can teach the IT folks lots about big data. It is our job to listen.