How Alberta revamped its IT services

OTTAWA – The province of Alberta went through an IT revamp reminiscent of what the year-old Shared Services Canada organization is attempting, and came through it with key measures of user satisfaction running in the 90 per cent range.

How did Alberta do it?

Consultation and careful service management were important, Ron Boehm of Service Alberta said at the annual GTEC government technology conference here.

Boehm, the agency’s executive director of service delivery and support, said the province had three mainframes, 16 service desks and 13 ways of supporting desktop computers and worksites when it began working on the IT reorganization in 2005.

Service Alberta broke IT operations into four bundles: service desk, mainframe, desktop and worksite, and managed security. It contracted these out to different suppliers – keeping things competitive rather than “putting all the services in one basket and saying okay you take it all,” Boehm said.

The first example of consultation came when Service Alberta released drafts of its requests for proposal through its purchasing system, asking potential suppliers for feedback. The idea was to see if the province’s goals and cost assumptions were realistic.

“We got a lot of feedback from the marketplace and I feel that that really helped us balance the service costs with the service levels and the service scope that we wanted,” said Boehm.

Service Alberta also took time to consult with the various ministries it serves as it developed the RFPs, he said. This consultation took time but paid off by making the process run more smoothly from that point on.

“You can pay me now or pay me later,” he observed.

Another key decision was keeping Service Alberta’s own IT service management tool and insisting that all contractors work with it. One contractor uses its own service management system internally and migrates data into Service Alberta’s, Boehm said, but the province gets all the data in one place and under its own control.

The province set many service levels to be measured – in hindsight, possibly more than necessary, Boehm said. It also built a service catalogue describing 33 primary services with details such as cost, how to obtain the service, hours of operation and how to obtain support for it.

A service module allows authorized personnel to request services online. Requests must come from authorized people because they may involve expenditures that have to be authorized or security implications.

Service Alberta is using Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT) and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) frameworks to help it manage and measure the effectiveness of its processes. “The application of COBIT and ITIL was quite important to this,” Boehm said.

The agency measures satisfaction by surveying every third person who submits a service or support ticket, and has found measures such as problems being resolved to their satisfaction and staff being knowledgeable and polite running between 85 and 95 per cent.

Boehm offered some lessons learned from Alberta’s experience.

–Limit the service levels you track to important ones and define exactly what they mean.

–Make sure there are real implications for missing service level agreements.

–Define costs for future transitions – “right now we negotiate every project,” he said. “Some of those negotiations can be pretty extensive.” And make sure contracts require suppliers to innovate and reduce costs year over year.

–Use a common service management tool and retain ownership of it, he also advised.  

–Finally, in measuring service delivery times, define clearly when the clock starts (Service Alberta’s answer is, when an authorized individual makes the request)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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