Capitalizing on convergence

Sharing infrastructure, business processes and information sources across departments and agencies is crucial to achieving the Canadian Government’s IT vision, according to Michael Turner, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Information Technology Services Branch.

Digital convergence is the high road to cost savings, greater productivity, smarter procurement processes and to making “self-service” a reality for millions of Canadians in their transactions with Government, Turner told participants at the GTEC 2004 conference.

He said the government proposes to put in place new efficiencies that save $12 billion in operating expenses over the next five years – and reallocate these funds to priority areas such as healthcare. “Increased use of shared and common infrastructure certainly seems one of the more effective ways of accomplishing that.” To that end, Turner said, the Treasury Board has initiated a review of the $5 billion annual Federal expenditure on information and communication technologies (ICT).

Canadians are clamouring for online “self-service” as the preferred mode for accessing government services and information, irrespective of the agency or department providing them, Turner said. He added that along with an integrated service experience, citizens and businesses expect security and privacy to be an inherent part of all their online transactions with Government. “These needs can only be met through the convergence of technologies.”

Turner discussed “convergence” initiatives already underway in Government including: standard information modeling, construction of unified interfaces, providing agents from different government departments and organizations collective access to integrated portals, and creating shared information sources supported by common back ends and databases.

The importance of convergence as a strategy for enhancing service delivery is recognized by diverse teams within government, Turner said.

This common realization, he said, was very apparent during the proceedings of a working group on the Government’s Service Delivery Vision that he co-chaired.

Turner said convergence and consolidation extends to government procurement. “We need a procurement system that relies less on standing offers and more on specific contracts with major suppliers to provide more standardized equipment at a better price in large numbers.”

He said the Public Works Department is in the process of reducing the number of small projects to enable staff and expertise to focus on more complex projects, and in this way offer internal clients a better service experience.

A unique perspective on convergence was offered by Rick Bergquist, Chief Technology Officer, PeopleSoft. Bergquist said innovative business processes – both with the private sector and government – are changing how technology applications are deployed.

In the years gone by, he said, various enterprise applications and processes – such as HR, Payroll, Accounts Receivable and Order to Cash – functioned independent of each other. He said that is changing dramatically because of the new focus on ‘business services’ that cut across conventional boundaries. “Traditionally, a given process – whether in a commercial organization or government department – occurred within the four walls of the department or organization, now the Internet allows us to push that process down to the customer.”

What’s needed, he said, are technologies that facilitate this shift. “For instance, we must identify how to harness unique pieces of functionality within an application and reuse them in business processes.” Responding effectively to the new business paradigm, he said, also requires a move from excessive customization to shared services. He said the fact that within the Canadian government there are currently 23 separate installations and versions of PeopleSoft, is simply an example of the traditional approach still at work.

“Today, we’re seeing organizations focus on operating within a shared services environment – and that involves moving away from excessive customization.”

Bergquist said when he started working at PeopleSoft 15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon to have organizations customize their enterprise applications by as much as 20-25 per cent. “Today ERP, CRM, and supply chain systems have matured to a point where an organization can determine what is really different and only customize elements that add unique value.”

Best in class organizations, he said, now only customize applications by around 5 per cent. “That’s as true of government as it is of the private sector.” Selective customization, he said, contributes to a shared services approach, as one can now have a common set of applications meeting common needs far more cost-effectively.

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