Canadian CIO group teams up with European peers

Canadian CIOs aren’t seeing nearly the budget reductions or shifts towards outsourcing as their colleagues across the pond, based on preliminary data from a joint study by the CIO Association of Canada and EuroCIO.

Although final results of the online survey are expected to be published in July, early statistics were discussed as part of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN) Peer Forum late last week. The research marks the first major collaboration between CIOCAN and EuroCIO, which is a network of pan-European CIO associations and groups.

The survey, which was conducted last November, saw 83 per cent of European CIOs say they saw budget reductions as a fallout of the global recession, compared with 63 per cent of Canadian CIOs. There was also a significant movement to hand off processes and functions to third parties in Europe, with 32 per cent of EuroCIO members noting an acceleration of outsourcing activities. In Canada, the number was only 18 per cent.

Dr. Catherine Aczel Boivie, senior vice-president of IT at Vancouver-based Vancity and a past CIOCAN president, said the results show that there are some major differences in the kind of pressures CIOs around the world are facing. She also noted that the strategic alliance with EuroCIO could provide a much more broad perspective on what managing IT and business means globally. CIOCAN recently fielded the questions a second time and found some differences in the response. Boivie noted that 81 per cent saw an increased importance around governance amid the market turbulence.

Boivie said she has witnessed the impact of the recession first-hand. A past president of CIOCAN, she joined Vancity last September just as financial markets collapsed. “I had nothing to do with it,” she joked, adding that the credit union saw an almost immediate 20 per cent drop in its mortgage business, among other areas.

Vancity has since reduced its workforce by four per cent (approximately 103 positions) through early retirement, voluntary departures, vacancy management and 23 layoffs, Boivie said. Like many organizations, it is also renegotiating software contracts and taking a closer look at open source and software-as-a-service alternatives. Boivie also said that server virtualization efforts will be increased to save costs and improve utilization, while some upgrades will be delayed.

“One of the problems is that everyone thinks their project was special and that their project would be excepted,” she said. “It reminded me of when my son Thomas was five . . . We split a chocolate bar in half and he took the bigger piece. I said, “Thomas, why did you do that?’ He said, ‘What piece would you have taken?’ I said, ‘The smaller one.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s what you got.’”

Vancity isn’t the only organization dealing with rough times. Bob Gagne, CIO at York University, said the school was looking at IT budget cuts of at least 10.5 per cent over the next three years. This follows almost continual budget cuts every year for the last five years, he said.

York University, which serves 50,000 students and about 5,000 faculty and staff, is trying to cope by looking at streamlining or consolidating its application portfolio, which Gagne said has added to the organization’s complexity. “There is barely a platform that exists that we don’t use somewhere in the university,” he said.

Gagne said York U is also looking more seriously at shared services and service catalogues to manage its IT workload, although part of the strategy involves more nuanced communication with other departments.

“Controlling IT costs isn’t IT’s problem,” said Gagne. “I find I’m speaking more and more in terms of services – you can cut this cost, but it will be at the expense of this service.”

The CIOCAN Peer Forum ran April 23-24.

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