The government of Canada is looking to update its internal telecommunications systems and reduce the costs of supporting legacy infrastructure.

Shared Services Canada (SSC), responsible for information technology services for departments within the federal government, has awarded a seven-year, $176 million contract to Telus to deliver a workplace communication network.

In particular, the organization says that over 80,000 legacy landlines will be replaced with VoIP telephone services, which allows phone calls to be made over digital computer networks, adding to the more than 100,000 VoIP already in use. It will also be further integrating real-time communications like instant messaging and desktop videoconferencing, and in general, converge voice, video, and data technologies to ensure the utmost continuity in service.

SSC is hoping that upgraded communication services will result in better employee productivity, connectivity, mobility, and collaboration while also reducing the costs and environmental impacts of travelling and commuting.

“Upgrading our communication services will equip employees with the modern tools they need to enhance productivity to deliver the programs and services Canadians deserve,” Steven MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough,  and minister responsible for SSC, says in an Oct. 5 statement.

Telus was awarded the contract after what the SSC calls “an open, fair, and transparent procurement process.” It is expected to support “hundreds of jobs across Canada,” the company says.

“Whether in a corporate boardroom, an entrepreneur’s office, or the work stations of our federal Public Service employees, Telus’ goal is always to place our industry-leading expertise and collaborative solutions at the service of our customers, so they can better achieve their objectives,” François Gratton, executive vice-president at Telus and partner solutions and president of business solutions east and Telus Québec, says in an Oct. 5 press release. “This is why we are delighted to be able to support Shared Services Canada in ensuring that each and every one of our citizens, regardless of location, can access and receive the services they need to make their lives easier.”

Red flags for expensive government contracts

This new Telus contract comes as new information regarding the Phoenix payroll system debacle comes to light, raising red flags around how government money is awarded. The issue-laden Phoenix system was launched in February 2016 as a way to standardize the way public servants are paid, but it has resulted in employees being underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all. The federal government has spent at least $400 million trying to fix it but current backlogs of public servants waiting to be paid keep rising, with the latest figure set at 257,000 cases, according to the Hill Times.

The system was developed by IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for almost $200 million, but CBC News has discovered that there may have been a conflict of interest in the early days of the project. Canada’s public broadcaster has learned that these two companies may have influenced an internal government report that recommended a new pay system in 2009, and then profited off the contract awarded to them by the government to create such a system.

This potential conflict of interest is a “cause for concern,” CBC reports, which could lead to this newly announced internal telecom system overhaul being heavily scrutinized.

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