Federal CIO puts focus on collaboration


OTTAWA – Collaboration established itself early as the theme of the 20th annual GTEC conference here this week, and the federal government’s chief information officer joined in with her Report from the CIO.

“Collaboration is what will power the transformation of the public service,” Corrine Charette said in her half-hour address to a packed auditorium.

In Ottawa these days, collaboration particularly means Shared Services Canada, the new agency announced last year to take over and consolidate several aspects of federal IT, with goals such as replacing multiple departmental  e-mail systems with one government-wide system and drastically reducing the number of data centres.

The details are still being hammered out.

Coming up with a government-wide master plan is “a good logistical challenge,” Charette acknowledged in an interview with IT World Canada on Tuesday, but “we’re at really the tipping point of major transformation.”

In January, Shared Services Canada launched its e-mail consolidation program, which aims to meld all government e-mail into one system by 2015. Currently the project is at the stage of choosing the technology to be used, Charette said. Some departments will join sooner, others later depending on their situations. “It’s clear it’s going to provide savings to government.”

Another collaboration initiative involves moving departments from their own individual human resources systems to a government-wide shared system. Starting last January, standardized processes developed by the government’s chief human resources officer are being integrated into PeopleSoft software, Charette said, and the goal is to move all departments to one common software platform.

Tailoring complex software platforms like PeopleSoft to meet the needs of different departments can be a challenge. In Western Australia, a shared services initiative somewhat similar to Canada’s ended in failure. One of the problems, according to a report from the state’s Economic Regulation Authority, was the difficulty of customizing Oracle software to meet the needs of multiple departments.  Speaking at last year’s GTEC, Liseanne Forand, Shared Services Canada’s founding president, said “those initiatives are inherently difficult.”

But given that the Canadian government has already developed standardized HR processes, Charette said in an interview, “the actual distinct needs across departments in HR are not that enormous.”

In her speech Charette also noted that the government has nearly completed deployment of a new online credential solution, and is in the midst of a government-wide shared records management project called GCDocs.

She told IT World Canada that GCDocs is an example of cloud computing within the government. Both private and public cloud computing and infrastructure as a service have potential for the federal government, Charette said. “We’re going to flesh out our cloud strategy to really provide more guidance to CIOs,” she said.

She cited the government’s Open Data plan as an area where a public cloud model might be applicable.

The entire Shared Services vision will take years to realize. Charette said she expects Shared Services Canada to have a plan for the consolidation of networks and data centres by the end of this year. But she said the new agency will deliver cost savings in the next two years. Those appear to come largely from consolidation of existing IT staffs. Already close to 7,000 government IT employees have moved into Shared Services Canada.

Government cost-cutting efforts are having an effect on IT throughout the federal civil service, said Charette. “We are just being that much more vigilant in how we construct business cases.”

In her speech she outlined a three-pillar IT strategy. The first pillar is modernizing IT, which includes Shared Services Canada and increased focus on cloud computing. The second is transforming service delivery. Canada was a leader in this in 2003-04, Charette said, but “other jurisdictions have gone beyond us because we did not continue to invest.” She said the government is moving toward a “tell us once capability” allowing citizens to switch among different means of communicating with government – such as telephone and the web – without repeating information already supplied.

The third pillar is connecting with citizens and business, which Charette said includes the Open Government initiative and increased use of the web, mobile technology and social media.

Charette said her office plans to publish a strategy for achieving IT modernization in the next couple of months. That document is expected to include more details on Shared Services Canada’s plans.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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