Sunday, August 14, 2022

Best of the Best part II

The ITX Awards, launched by CIO Canada publisher IT World Canada in 1997, honour the best in innovation and business value made possible through the intelligent and creative use of IT. In our September issue, we took an in-depth look at overall winner Land Information Ontario, and winner of the Business Value category, Scotiabank. This month we turn the spotlight on the Ontario Government’s Justice Cluster, winner of the Business Leadership category, and Sun Life Financial, winner for IT Leadership.

By Heather A. Smith

Ontario Government Justice Cluster: Fighting crime through collaboration

The circumstances were chilling and all too familiar: a serial rapist was prowling Scarborough. He had broken into over a dozen houses, assaulted eight women and was terrorizing the community. But unlike the case of the “Scarborough rapist”, who managed to evade police by changing communities, raping and murdering three other victims before he was finally caught, this time Toronto police had a new weapon with which to fight – the Major Case Management (MCM) system. And unlike the previous case, the “bedroom rapist” was caught in just six weeks with the help of a system that was able to link three different but similar tips from three different people and highlight a suspect to police officers. A DNA sample led to a quick arrest and conviction, and the prevention of untold suffering.

In the tragic Paul Bernardo case, tips about his involvement languished for years in the thousands of boxes of files collected by three different police departments and were never connected. As a result, following Bernardo’s conviction, Mr. Justice Archie Campbell was appointed to make recommendations on improving police investigations into major crimes in Ontario. His report found that the organizational processes for multi-jurisdictional investigations were non-existent and that there was limited information-sharing between police services.

“If a serial offender moved to a different jurisdiction, he might as well have gone to a different country,” explained Bill Van Allen, Detective Superintendent of the OPP and the MCM Project Director. “We had no experience, no skills and no dedicated resources to manage these types of cases.” Greater cooperation and sharing between police services was therefore a key recommendation of the Campbell Report.

However, even where there was willingness to share, the lack of a standard approach to investigating major cases (e.g., murder, sexual assault, missing persons), meant that there was no effective way to exchange information. “Police departments had to photocopy their documents and physically transport them,” said Rick Codini, MCM’s IT Project Manager. “Information wasn’t searchable and wasn’t manageable.” A major case could involve literally rooms full of file and evidence boxes, making it virtually impossible to cross-reference information or make sure that leads didn’t fall through the cracks.

Even before the Campbell Report was issued, it was obvious to many in the policing community that changes had to be made. Under the leadership of James Young, Chief Coroner and Commissioner for Public Safety and Security for Ontario, a small group of police chiefs began to look at what other jurisdictions were doing in this area. Unfortunately, they found that everyone had the same problems; there were no “silver bullets” available. However, their proposal that every police service adopt a standard terminology and common approach to solving major crimes was incorporated as a second major recommendation of the Campbell Report. A final recommendation was to introduce a case-management tool to allow police investigators to better manage information both within and between jurisdictions.

The MCM system was developed to address these three recommendations. It is the first of its kind in the world and winner of the 2003 ITX Award for Business Leadership. It connects every police service in Ontario to a multi-jurisdictional early warning system, and combines a standard investigative approach with common tools to support the management of major cases.

While the system is world-class, getting there was a “tremendous leadership challenge”, according to Ean Algar, Halton’s Chief of Police. “We had to develop consensus across many different groups of stakeholders, including 66 different police departments.” To address the wide variety of requirements and perspectives involved, a Transition Steering Committee composed of Deputy and Police Chiefs of representative police services in the province, the Chief Coroner, and senior Ministry officials including John DiMarco, CIO of Justice Technology Services, was formed to guide the project.

“A critical success factor for this project was the clear vision this committee brought to its work” stated DiMarco. “From the start, it was committed to making MCM work and there was a clear focus on deliverables.”

The Steering Committee played a crucial role in gathering support for MCM from across the province. Its leadership took many forms. First, it met frequently to make decisions and to ensure the project was on track and had the resources and support it needed. Second, it had to form strategic alliances with the host of different stakeholders (see sidebar). Particularly important was gaining provincial support and resources for the extra costs and work that MCM would involve. Third, communication was crucial. Committee members made many presentations to ensure all stakeholders were solidly behind the project. Fourth, it established a series of sub-committees to deal with such complex issues as governance and software selection in a more hands-on fashion. Finally, it made sure that seasoned, credible investigators were involved in every aspect of MCM.

“Bill Van Allen’s appointment as the Project Director gave us instant credibility in the policing community,” said Codini. “His deep knowledge of investigative practices opened many doors and helped bring everyone together.” Van Allen’s team from several police forces established system requirements, the common method of case management to be followed, and designed training for every investigator in the province.

IT’s leadership role was equally important, but more subtle. It provided all the behind the scenes “heavy lifting”, including project planning, coordination with the user team, alignment with the architecture to facilitate future forms of information sharing, software research and procurement, vendor management, project management, addressing security and privacy concerns, piloting the project, technology training and implementation. The project team and Di Marco’s staff were so committed to making the project a success that it completed the system’s rollout in June 2000, a full year ahead of schedule.

MCM consists of two key pieces of software:

1. Xanalys PowerCase is used for entering and maintaining all investigative information (e.g., reports, statements, tips, persons, vehicles, locations, events etc.). Its PowerIndexing feature uses Intelligent Extraction and Natural Language Understanding to automatically locate “objects” (e.g., people, locations, vehicles) in a witness statement and to identify their relationships to one another. It interprets a witness statement written in narrative form and cross-indexes key objects and relationships for extraction into the triggering database. Its Watson feature draws connections and provides graphical representations of relationships between people, suspected criminal organizations, sequencing of events and forensic objects.

2. Triggering Data Base. This contains selected information for persons, vehicles, locations and phones. It is extracted from the PowerCase database and identifies common information among cases, flagging potential links among different investigations.

The system assists investigators in collecting, managing, retrieving and analyzing large volumes of investigative data. It tracks and links related information between cases to identify possible serial and predatory offenders. Once a link between two or more cases is confirmed, a Joint Management Team is formed to steer the investigation. MCM then provides online connections, giving investigators real-time access to each other’s cases. Other features track the tasks involved in the case and prepare Crown Briefs.

While not a substitute for skilled police analysis, MCM has substantially changed how major cases are investigated in Ontario and provides a valuable tool to improve the focus and efficiency of their analysis. As one investigator commented, “It’s like flying a 747 when you’re used to a kite.”

There have been many less obvious benefits of the system as well. “Simply identifying the possible links between cases has led to many more interactions between police forces, promoting interpersonal relationships and willingness to share information” said Codini. Van Allen noted, “The system enables us to clear people much faster than in the past, helps prevent police ‘tunnel vision’, and is a huge time saver.”

“There is a huge preventative element to this system,” stated Young. “If we can use it to catch people sooner and before their crimes escalate in violence, we will be able to dramatically reduce the incidence of serial major crimes.”

MCM Stakeholders

• Ministry of Public Safety and Security

• Policing Services Division

• Justice Technology Services

• Management Board of Cabinet


• Municipal police services

• Municipal police boards

• Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police

• Common Police Environment Group

• Ontario Police College

• Criminal Intelligence Services Ontario

• Serial Predator Crime Unit

• Centre for Forensic Sciences

• The Office of the Chief Coroner

• Victims’ advocacy groups.

Sun Life:

A Different Approach to Breaking Down the Silos

These days, the holy grail of many organizations is IT integration, but achieving it is easier said than done. Some have done it by throwing out their legacy systems and installing an ERP system; others by using middleware to link a variety of diverse applications into a slick front-end. Sun Life Financial is one of the few who have managed to accomplish true integration of a significant part of their business without a liberal dose of smoke and mirrors. Their Integrated Services initiative, winner of the 2003 ITX Award for IT Leadership, illustrates several critical success factors that have enabled Sun Life to skip an entire generation of services and grow its leadership in a highly competitive market.

Sun Life offers a wide range of financial products and services to both individuals and organizations. Its two major lines of business for organizations are Group Retirement Services (GRS), which provide several types of retirement and savings plans, and Group Benefits (GB), which are purchased by employers (sponsors) to provide life and/or health insurance to their employees (members) and their dependents. Until the late 1990s, each of these lines of business worked individually with their own sponsors and members. A sponsor’s HR department acted as a middleman in the flow of information between the employee and Sun Life. Although the company had some excellent back office systems, the front-end processes were slow and totally paper-driven. They were cumbersome and costly for the plan sponsor to administer and slow and inefficient for the members. In this traditional business model, the financial institution drove the process and controlled the flow of information, and the customer fit into their way of operating.

In 1997, with competition heating up in the e-business arena, particularly in financial services, Sun Life executives realized that the company had to make its services available online. However, as the market leader in both GR and GB, the firm wanted to do more than simply keep up with its competitors. “These business units wanted a tool that would actually help them drive their markets,” said Ted Porchetta, IT AVP of GB. “They had a very strong vision. They wanted to use technology to improve their services, not simply reduce costs.”

This mandate gave IT the permission it needed to demonstrate what it could do for the company. “Fortunately, we have always continually invested in our architecture and maintained a strong foundation in our back-end systems,” explained Cathy Wong, IT Director of GRS Customer Solutions. As a result, Sun Life had robust, scalable real-time back-office systems. These formed the essential infrastructure from which many possibilities could be explored. “This investment in our bread and butter systems paid off in the power we were able to bring to bear in this situation,” said Porchetta.

IT brought the same vision to bear in its insistence that the company develop a central customer information file (CIF) as part of any e-business solution. IT recognized that this was a key enabler for many different business units. “Building a CIF is a mammoth undertaking,” stated Porchetta. “Many companies have tried and failed to develop one.” So challenging was the process of developing it that there was considerable questioning amongst the users as to whether this was the right approach to take. “IT provided real leadership, drive, vision and resources in insisting on a CIF file,” said Heather Sauve, an AVP in GRS. “It has helped us build bench strength and move to a new level of service that other companies cannot match.” In addition, IT undertook a second enterprise infrastructure initiative to develop common components for e-business projects (e.g., user-IDs, passwords).

Developing e-business initiatives

While IT was building these important cross-functional capabilities at the infrastructure level, both GRS and GB began to develop business-unit-specific e-business initiatives. Rather than insisting on a single massive e-business project, which might have been politically difficult to sell, IT teams initially worked with each business unit to review and redesign their existing business processes and get rid of some “old thinking” about separate delivery channels that would have inhibited closer integration. Thus, IT at Sun Life took an unusual approach to the development of integrated services – separate, but parallel development teams. Two “horizontal” IT teams worked on the CIF and common infrastructure and two “vertical” IT teams with users on line-of-business specific solutions. These efforts were coordinated in a weekly meeting of the senior IT and business managers involved. Together, they planned the co-evolution and implementation of these projects.

The GB team reengineered their entire claims submission and payment process. Under the old model, this process took seven to ten days. With its new online approach, a plan member can submit a claim online, view an explanation of benefits and receive payment, all within 24 hours. This process can also be personalized by plan and member so individuals can not only see what benefits they are entitled to, they can find out how much they have spent on vision care or when they can next visit a dentist. Similarly, the new GRS process enables members to monitor and manage their own retirement savings and provides additional direct debit opportunities if they want to make further savings.

Both groups wanted true online enrolment (not just an online form) to eliminate potential errors in rekeying information and relieve the sponsor of the cost of paperwork. As well, both wanted automation of the termination process (when a member leaves the sponsor company). This eliminates sponsor administration for people who are no longer employees, enabling an individual member to drive the process directly from his/her own computer without interacting with a former employer. Sun Life gains as well because it is able to offer these individuals options for their RRSPs and other benefits and keep them as individual customers. This feature alone helped it retain $95 million in assets in 2001 that would normally have left the company.

Thanks to the innovative governance structure guiding the overall integration effort, leaders from both lines of business soon recognized the many commonalities involved in their new processes and this led to increased cooperation and finally, true collaboration. “The collaboration on this project was just incredible,” stated Mark Fujita, who was Director of E-business development for the GB team at the time. “Through this process, the silos really came down and we all realized we had to work together. In the beginning, we really saw ourselves as separate initiatives, but over time, we have come to see that these initiatives really are a total solution.”

Implementation and delivery of the different projects also had to be carefully coordinated. “IT had to take a real leadership role in prioritizing and defining good deliverables,” said Tom Noble, IT Director of GB Customer Solutions. “We had to deliver functionality in 90 day chunks. IT’s knowledge of the business helped us to shape what we could do in each time period across all these projects.” The effective coordination of this work and the balancing of the strategic and tactical perspectives meant a very robust and flexible solution could be delivered in a shorter period of time.

The teams’ vision in maintaining an integrated approach to their work has really paid off. Sun Life now promotes GB and GRS as a total package. Today, about 40% of its customers are joint GRS/GB clients. “We hear all the time from customers that our integrated services have put us two or three years ahead of the competition,” said Sauve. “Employers are looking for seamless delivery so service integration has been a natural evolution for us.” Looking forward, Fujita is now leading a drive to even further integrate Sun Life services as well as with sponsor employee portals, HR systems and the systems of third party service providers. He was recently named AVP of Integrated Services, responsible for improving both GB and GRS functionality. “What we have done so far is just Phase 1,” said Fujita. “Phase 2 will focus on total benefits solutions and keep us as the leading service provider in this marketplace.”

Heather A. Smith is a freelance writer and a Senior Research Associate, Queen’s Centre for Knowledge-based Enterprises, Queen’s University School of Business, Kingston, Ont. She can be reached at .

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