Crunching numbers

Getting people throughout the Government of Ontario to buy into the notion of one financial system for the province was an enormous challenge, according to the three key members of the team charged with designing and implementing the system.

But all three agree that the initiative has been a success.

In fact, Assistant Deputy Minister David Fulford says that gaining widespread acceptance for the Integrated Financial Information System (IFIS) has been the biggest challenge he has faced since joining the Ministry of Finance as the IFIS project’s executive lead in March 2001.

Fulford’s view is echoed by Ted Keys, systems integration executive for IBM Global Services, the private sector lead. It’s also an issue that’s been addressed by David Hallett, assistant deputy minister and chief information officer for the Central Agencies Information and Information Technology Cluster, Ministry of Finance.

Fulford believes people were initially slow to act because they thought IFIS wouldn’t be implemented.

“That just motivated me even more,” he said.

Each ministry wanted to keep its own financial system, said Keys. “It’s natural to see some apprehension, even fear, when something new is introduced. But we’ve been working with all the players through a step-by-step process, helping them to understand what’s to their benefit. It hasn’t always been easy.”

Hallett believes that the initial difficulty in gaining acceptance for IFIS had to do with the “cultural and operating environments” across government.

“You are asking ministries to change the way they think about and manage government finances,” he said. “Moving from an environment where each ministry essentially built and operated its own financial systems to a new environment where everyone is using one fully integrated system is quite a big shift in thinking.”

The goal of IFIS is to replace all major financial systems with one “out-of-the-box” Oracle Financials software solution. The result will be the largest financial system in Canada, managing almost $70 billion annually. And to achieve this goal, Ontario is working with a consortium of private sector companies.

Prior to IFIS, ministries handled bookkeeping on their own, using a variety of legacy systems that were based on different technologies and limited the ability of government to share and leverage financial data effectively. Financial information across ministries was inconsistent, and at times there were problems with efficiency and accountability.

IFIS proposes “one financial system for better business solutions” in all 22 Ontario ministries and three central agencies. Nine ministries and the central agencies have already implemented the system and eight more are set to go this fall.

Keys, who has been on the project for two years, said the relationship between the public and private sectors is necessary because the IFIS project is too big for one group to implement. He feels that the co-operative venture has succeeded because “we formed a team that is stronger than any one of the players. We have a real appreciation of each player’s skill set.”

Keys attributes much of the project’s success points to Fulford’s team-building skills. “Fulford manages the political and stakeholder environment very well,” he said. “He keeps people well informed so that IFIS is always current on their agendas.”

Fulford agrees that team building has been one of his priorities, adding that his ultimate goal is for everyone to think and act as one team. He holds regular team meetings, sees the value of strong communication, and ensures that “we continuously have information sharing throughout the project.”

Effective communication helps to facilitate change management, said Fulford. “People naturally resist change. But it’s not about our technology, because that’s proven. The success of IFIS depends on change management.”

“Managing scope is an essential part of the change process,” said Hallett, who has been the project’s internal information technology provider and business system operator since October 2001.

Hallett is impressed with how well the ministries have supported the IFIS initiative.

“I believe they are fully committed to ensuring that this new financial system is implemented successfully.”

Brad Hilderley ( [email protected]) is a communications analyst with the Ontario Ministry of Finance.

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